The Seahawks concluded their final practice of the week Thursday ahead of Saturday night's Wild Card playoff game against the Detroit Lions, and head coach Pete Carroll likes where his team is at heading into what will be their 13th postseason game since Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over in 2010.
"It's getting close to game time now, guys can feel it," Carroll said. "Practice has gone great. We're looking forward to it with a lot of excitement, and hopefully we can play a good football game and light up the 12s and make this one of those kinds of nights at CenturyLink that we love. That's everybody's intent, and the work has been right on it. We're looking forward to a good night."
Here are five takeaways from Carroll's final press conference of the week before Saturday's game:
1. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel is out for Saturday's game.
While Seattle's 53-man roster is mostly healthy ahead of this game, one player who won't be available is defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, who has "a concussion that did not respond," Carroll said. McDaniel's injury came in Sunday's win over the 49ers, and could affect the depth in Seattle's line rotation, though they do have John Jenkins available to add to the mix. Jenkins, who signed with the Seahawks in November, has been inactive for the past five games, but could see playing time this week if the Seahawks want to add depth to that position group.
McDaniel, who was a starter with the Seahawks in 2013 and 2014, re-signed with the Seahawks during training camp this year, and has played in every game this season, starting 10. Jarran Reed was the starter in the other six games, including the past three.
2. Devin Hester "looked fast and quick and confident" in his first couple of days with his new team.
Carroll confirmed that just-signed return specialist Devin Hester will handle kickoff and punt return duties on Saturday, and the Seahawks are excited to be able to add a player as experienced and talented as Hester at this point in the year.
"The fact that Tyler wasn't back there was obvious—and he's been a great fixture for us—we wanted to have, if we could, a guy that you have to respect and take care of," Carroll said. "This guy is as good as you can find and he happened to be out there. His numbers are ridiculous and his history is extraordinary. He was ready to go so we jumped on it."
Asked how Hester looked in his first two practices, Carroll said. "He has done fine. He just jumped right out. He was battling yesterday at practice. He looked fast and quick and confident and all of that. He did everything he could."
In particular, the Seahawks are happy to have someone as experienced as Hester in such a critical role.
"This is another part of our team that we're counting on," Carroll said. "We want him to do a really good job taking care of the football, making great choices back there. Everybody that we had here that was going to go did not have a lot of background or experience. We felt like it was really important to get the experience and the decision making. A guy that's been there and played in weather and all that kind of stuff his whole career, I think we're very fortunate to get him."
3. Momentum heading into the playoffs might not be that big of a deal.
Talking about the ups and downs his team has been through this season, Carroll last week mentioned that his 2013 team went 2-2 over its final four games, only to eventually win the Super Bowl. And in fact recent history suggests that the hot teams heading into the playoffs aren't always the ones that win titles.
Over the past 10 seasons, the eventual Super Bowl champions are a combined 21-19 over their final four regular-season games, and every one of those teams lost at least one of their final four games. And yes, a few of those losses were by teams who had playoff seeding wrapped up, but most came in meaningful games by teams that managed to get on track when it mattered most. Included on that list of recent champions are two teams that finished the regular season 1-3, and five others that finished 2-2, which happens to be Seattle's record over the last four games.
"We'll find out and see what happens," Carroll said when asked how much momentum matters heading into the playoffs. "I don't think that (final) month means everything. I don't think that. There have obviously been a bunch of different teams that have done different stuff going in, and then turned on a real good show to get going in the playoffs. We'll see what happens."
4. Stats that matter.
Carroll was asked what statistics are most indicative of success for a playoff team, and not surprisingly the first thing he mentioned was turnover margin.
"It's always the football, that's always first," Carroll said. "That's not going away. That's taking care of the football, turnover ratio, it's always the deciding factor as we look at it. That's number one."
And indeed that stat has been a pretty good predictor of success for the 2016 Seahawks, who are a perfect 7-0 when winning the turnover battle and just 3-5-1 when negative or even in that category. Dating back to 2012, the Seahawks have the second best turnover margin in the NFL at plus-51, trailing only New England at plus-65.
Another less-known stat Carroll mentioned involves the combined number of rush attempts and completed passes that a team has in a game. Carroll and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable have both mentioned that stat this week, noting that a total of 50 rushes and pass completions is the number they strive for in a game.
"That 50 number has always been pretty key to winning football games," Carroll said. "… That's an old number. As far as I know, that goes all the way back to Vince Lombardi. That's when I first heard about it."
This season, the Seahawks hit or exceeded that number five times, going 4-1 in those games, with the only loss coming in Week 16 against Arizona. The Seahawks also had six games with 48 or 49 combined completions and rush attempts and won five of those. Seattle's only win in a game where they weren't close to 50 combined runs and completions was their Week 9 win over Buffalo in which that number was only 32.
5. The Seahawks are "counting on running the football."
The Seahawks averaged better than 160 yards-per-game on the ground between Weeks 11 and 14, showing they are still capable of running the ball, but they have struggled some in that since that impressive stretch, gaining 72, 78 and 87 yards in the past three games. But even if the running game hasn't gone exactly as planned of late, the Seahawks aren't giving up on trying to be a balanced team going forward.
"We're counting on running the football," Carroll said. "We're going to keep doing it. We had a good spurt a few weeks back, four or five weeks in a row we were in it pretty well then. (Russell Wilson) finally got back to his legs it made a difference and got us going again. We're counting again, we're not thinking anything but that."
One way the Seahawks hope to get the running game on track is by getting Thomas Rawls the ball more often, something that hasn't happened regularly since he got back from a seven-game absence caused by a fractured leg.
"He has been ready for about four or five weeks, and we can really see that he can turn it around and count on his legs and count on his quicks and all that kind of stuff," Carroll said. "We haven't got him the ball as consistently as we would like, and any runner needs to get the football to start to get a feel for it. Like I said last week, I want him to get the ball 20 times this week. We'll see what happens, we'll see how the game goes. He has been great about it, he has been on point, he has been tremendous in rehab through the process. Just to make it back physically is one thing, but mentally he made it back, as well. We're really proud of him."