Here is my not-so-crazy dream scenario for the 2011 Seahawks:
Things start slowly, with two legitimate losses out of the gate coming on the road to the 49ers and Steelers and resulting in an entire fan base's outpouring of embarrassment and shame, respectively. Prospects are only minimally salvaged when the Blue Man Group squeaks past the Cardinals at home by intercepting a tipped Kevin Kolb pass just over mid-field as Arizona was driving for what would have been a winning score.
Two-touchdown losses at home to Atlanta and at New York put the Hawks at 1-4 heading into the bye week and mild outrage drifts across the Puget Sound as sports radio hosts and even the Seattle Times editorial page calls for a quarterback change.
Ever the gamesman, Carroll sticks with Jackson, whose middling statistics fail to reveal the unfortunate circumstances that have spoiled his Seattle tenure, from a leaky pocket to ill-timed fumbles and a few key missed interference calls. These circumstances have caused the Hawks to average a mere 13 points a game. The defense, on the other hand, is allowing nearly 27 points per four quarters. The pass rush is ragged, the linebackers are average, and inexperienced corners are repeatedly burned for long gains. Earl Thomas leads the league in tackles.
Coming off the bye the Hawks lose a shootout to Cleveland thanks to a late turnover, and dread hits as next week's showdown with the Bengals suddenly becomes must-win just to retain some semblance of NFL credibility. All the while Mike Holmgren smirks from a luxury box high above Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The horror, the horror, as the Hawks lose for the 2nd time at home, a 10-3 snoozefest to the winless Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson throws for 104 yards, rushes for 43, and throws two picks. Carson Palmer's blood pressure remains high throughout the contest.
Week 9: Charlie Whitehurst travel to Dallas making his first start of the season. He performs admirably in the massive Cowboyplex, and the defense begins to show signs of coming together. Whitehurst leads a game-tying drive capped with a TD pass to Mike Williams with 1:43 to go, but still they drop a heartbreaker, 27-24, on a last-second Cowboys field goal.
The Hawks then bring their dismal 1-7 record to CenturyLink field for a date with the underachieving Ravens who are hungry for a win against the NFL's cellar dwellers to get back into the playoff hunt. They weren't counting on a rejuvenated Seahawks offense, whose offensive line has begun to show signs of greatness, and the Hawks come out on top 24-17.
This sets up a date on the road with St. Louis, the media darlings who not only lead the West at 5-4, but possess an incredibly lightly back-loaded schedule with 5 games against division foes. But they didn't count on the two-win Seahawks putting up a fight. The Hawks record six sacks and two interceptions, and Charlie keeps drive after drive alive with textbook bootleg passes. Hawks silence the Edward Jones Dome faithful with a 54-yeard Steven Hauschka FG as the clock reads zeroes.
Winning ways continue at home and the 12th Man starts to get his swagger back. A Washington blowout and surprise win over a league-leading Philadelphia team caught in a trap game scenario suddenly have the Hawks, whose running game is grinding out clock and whose defense is making plays, taking a 5-7 record into a nationally televised home game against the Rams who keep winning.
Sniffing playoff hopes that seemed extinct long before even the Bengals loss, the Hawks see this as a statement game. A second late in the season, must-win division game against the Rams in as many years, and they aren't ready to call 2010 a fluke. Seattle wins 27-17, with a late Rams touchdown making it seem closer than it was.
Don't look now, but the 6-7 Seahawks are only a game out of first place, have won five straight, and have three winnable games remaining: at mediocre Chicago, at home against the 49ers and closing out in Arizona, who at 8-7 can make the playoffs with a win and a St. Louis loss.
Weeks 15 and 16 are revenge weeks, with Pete Carroll getting Pac-10 supremacy over Jim Harbaugh in a home blowout (the 49ers, at this point, are egregiously waging a Suck for Luck campaign) after the Hawks exorcising 2010 Soldier Field demons the week before.
With the storybook on the line at Arizona (win and you're in at 9-7), the up and down game is responsible for 12 heart attacks on the west coast, but the Hawks claw their way out with a dramatic punt return touchdown in the 4th quarter to rally from a 17-point second half deficit to win 35-34.
NFC West Standings
1. Seattle 9-7 (5-1)
2. St. Louis 9-7 (4-2)
3. Arizona 8-8 (2-4)
4. San Francisco 3-13 (1-5)
Of course, the alternative to this not-so-crazy scenario is home wins against Cincy, SF, Washington, maybe Arizona and one flukey road win. Hawks go 4-12 or 5-11, but make some progress over the course of the season and stand a chance at sniffing the playoffs in 2012.