Cliff Avril looks at his teammates this time of year and thinks, you don’t even know.
Seattle begins its fifth consecutive postseason run Saturday night against the Detroit Lions in an NFC wild card game at CenturyLink Field. Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, all they know is playoffs, playoffs, playoffs. Every year, year, year.
As a rookie he played for the 2008 Lions. That team went 0-16 — the most unplayoff-like NFL indoctrination possible.
“I think a lot of younger guys, they’ve been in the playoffs four straight years, five straight years, so you can get spoiled in it and not understand how special it is,” the Seahawks Pro Bowl defensive end said this week.
“For me, personally, I embrace it, because I know what it’s like to never have been.
“I think I went one time in Detroit in five years.”
Playoff experience is the big advantage the Seahawks are counting on this postseason. They believe because they’ve been here before, and have won big in the playoffs, they can instantly flip from a regular season of concerning inconsistency.
This Seahawks core not only has made postseason appearances as common as winter coffee in Seattle, it has made two of the last three Super Bowls. Seattle is 7-3 in the playoffs since 2012.
But these Seahawks aren’t the same as the previous playoff ones. That playoff experience only runs so deep.
Which is to say, not that deep at all.
Seattle has eight guys, 37 percent of the starting offense and defense, making their first postseason start Saturday. That includes four-fifths of its iffy offensive line: undrafted rookie college basketball player George Fant at left tackle, second-year man Mark Glowinski at left guard, rookie first-round draft choice Germain Ifedi at right guard and former guard and tackle Justin Britt at center.
The newbies include the starting backfield of veteran fullback Marcel Reece, signed late in the season after eight years in Oakland, and tailback Thomas Rawls. Rawls was out with a broken ankle last January, as a rookie, when Seattle won at frigid Minnesota in the wild card round, then lost, 31-24, at eventual NFC-champion Carolina in the divisional playoffs.
The defense has three starters making their playoff debuts against the Lions: rookie defensive tackle Jarran Reed, strongside linebacker Mike Morgan and free safety Steven Terrell.
Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and Avril have been telling these Seahawks — those in the playoffs for the first time, and even the postseason veterans — to prepare and play with an extra appreciation for where they are.
“To see ‘Rube’ enjoy it like he does, and Marcel Reece to feel it, and Cliff, too — he was on one side of it, now he’s in where he’s winning and having playoffs and stuff like that — those guys really understand it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I don’t know that Kam and ‘Sherm’ and those guys can sense it the same way. ...
“The messaging is strongest when it comes from the guys who have not had it before and now they feel it. They can tell you what it’s like, and I want them to tell the young guys. The young guys don’t know, the second- and third-year guys, they don’t understand sometimes, which is OK. Part of this is feeling comfortable in this setting, comfortable winning, comfortable with expectations, comfortable with division championships … the way you perform in playoff time and the expectations of that. It needs to be normal if you’re going to do it consistently.”
And as much as the Seahawks are a team with different pieces, they are a team with a different style. The top-ranked running game that has been Seattle’s calling card during the playoff seasons slumped to 25th this season.
Quarterback Wilson picked up the slack despite being sacked 41 times and injuring his knee and ankle, throwing for a franchise single-season record of 4,219 yards, breaking the record he set last season.
Even the defense has slipped from its prime. This season was the first time since 2011 that the unit did not lead the NFL in fewest points allowed, falling to third in that category.
Terrell’s first time in the playoffs is the most potentially problematic for Seattle’s quest for a third Super Bowl appearance in four years. He’s replacing Earl Thomas. The Seahawks’ three-time All-Pro broke his tibia on Dec. 4 against Carolina.
Expect the Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford to attack Terrell much as Arizona did on Christmas Eve in Seattle’s last loss: with crossing routes in front of him and deep post and seam routes at him.
After all, Detroit is the first Seahawks playoff opponent since Thomas entered the league in 2010 to not have to face No. 29 in the middle back of Seattle’s defense.
Offensively, the Seahawks’ task will be the same it’s been all season: Get the line to play well enough, and for long enough, to establish even a semblance of consistency in the running game and pass protection.
Detroit is 27th in pass defense and 30th in getting sacks, which suggests Wilson will continue his throwing that set a Seahawks record. But all that will equal another wasted opportunity if Seattle’s offensive line — with those new playoff participants — doesn’t protect Wilson.
What are veteran line coach Tom Cable and the Seahawks going to learn about the lowest-paid and one of the youngest lines in the league this postseason?
“How much fun they can have,” Cable said.
“Really,” he said. “They’ve earned this, so this is an opportunity to enjoy what these coming weeks bring. We’ve trained them all year, so it’s nothing new to us. Not different. Our culture is championship culture, and every week has been a championship game. So can you truly relax and enjoy it, because you’ve worked so hard to get here.”
Rubin never went to the playoffs in his first seven seasons in the league. Those were all with Cleveland — which is exactly the opposite of Seattle in recent playoff pedigree.
That’s why last January, the 310-plus-pound Rubin was running around during the Seahawks’ wild card win at Minnesota like he weighed 110 pounds. Despite wind chills of minus-20 degrees, the thankful Rubin played possessed. He had a sack, then ran down the field and recovered a fumble by Vikings star runner Adrian Peterson near the sidelines. That set up the winning points in Seattle’s 10-9 victory.
“Oh, man! I was wiggin’ out. I was happy as hell,” Rubin said this week. “Everybody was like, ‘Why is this guy so (fired up)?’
“It’s exciting. But it’s normal here. … It’s a blessing. It’s just indescribable. And just to get the chance again this year to keep climbing in the playoffs, it’s just a blessing. I’m not going to waste this opportunity.”
The Seahawks hope they have eight other players feeling exactly that way Saturday night.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
Rookies in the playoffs
Seahawks starters making their first playoff starts:
George Fant, left tackle
Mark Glowinski, left guard
Germain Ifedi, right guard
Marcel Reece, fullback
Thomas Rawls, tailback
Jarran Reed, defensive tackle
Mike Morgan, linebacker
Steven Terrell, safety