All playoff games carry a degree of historic potential. But this particularly feels like a watershed game for the Seattle Seahawks.
They probably shouldn’t beat the Falcons in Atlanta, given their current streak of losses in seven consecutive divisional-round road games.
But at times, the Seahawks seem to engage their most competitive selves when faced with the most significant challenges. And sometimes we make too much out of the meaning of single games whose outcome can be determined by a crazy bounce.
But look at the stakes.
Beat the high-scoring Falcons in their own building and anything will seem possible, maybe even a championship game at home. And we have seen three times where that leads.
Lose this one, though, and a lot of serious questions will be asked about the momentum of the team as it’s currently constructed.
So maybe this becomes the tipping point where the Seahawks find another way to get to a conference title game (and maybe Super Bowl) or once again stall in the divisional round after back-to-back inconsistent seasons.
Forced to bet, I’d say the Falcons win. They’re favored by five points at home and have the top scoring offense in the NFL. And the Seahawks have won only three of their eight road games this season.
But they looked like their old selves in a 26-6 victory over Detroit in the wild card round last Saturday. It marked the first time they’d strung together back-to-back wins since before Thanksgiving.
They ran the ball in a way that enhances the threat of all of their other offensive talents. And the defense dominated.
So which Seahawks will show up? And will they show up ready to play from the opening kickoff — unlike the team that fell behind 31-0 at Carolina in the divisional round last season?
Maybe these questions and the doubts, and obvious high stakes, are exactly what the Seahawks need.
Don’t they thrive on being unpredictable? Finding ways to feel like the slighted underdog? Needing the sternest challenges to elicit their finest performances?
The only times the Seahawks have made it to the Super Bowl have been by staying home — by being seeded into a bye, winning two in their own park, and then heading off to the big game.
So this could be something very new. They frequently challenge one another to “find a way.” Well, a road win in the divisional round surely would be a different way.
Maybe the slow start and failed rally last season at Carolina will be the lesson carried into the Georgia Dome.
Losses can do that.
“We’ll be in situations that we’ve never been in before when we lose,” receiver Doug Baldwin said this week, “and then once we get in those situations again, we say, ‘OK, well, I recognize this. I’ve been here before and I know how to handle it this time.’ ”
It would be a lesson belatedly learned. They have trailed a cumulative 72-0 at halftimes of their past three road divisional-round losses.
A loss by the same formula might cause a re-examination of the Super Bowl “window” of the core group.
That sounds harsh. Back-to-back 10-win seasons and divisional-round appearances are successful by almost any criterion.
But does it seem like success to those who went to back-to-back Super Bowls in 2013-14?
Baldwin made a rational explanation of his perspective on the matter, saying that staying in the championship hunt on an annual basis signifies success.
“Obviously, I would love to win championships every year, but we know how difficult that is,” Baldwin said. “But if you put your team in a situation to be able to compete to win a championship, I think that’s success in itself.”
Having the franchise quarterback and a stable of defensive thoroughbreds contractually locked up should be enough to keep the Seahawks a top divisional contender on a yearly basis for a while.
But a win over Atlanta today would get them to their third conference title game in four seasons, and that seems an entirely better trajectory than merely staying competitive.