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2011 NFL playoffs: Seahawks have a chance despite lackluster regular season

The spotlight is back on losing teams in the NFL playoffs after the Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams in their regular season finale in Seattle to win the NFC West with a record of 7-9. The Seahawks became the first team to reach the NFL playoffs with a losing record in a non-strike season.

Falcons President Rich McKay, the co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, has said he wants the franchise owners, at some point, to reconsider a re-seeding proposal that would enable a wild-card team with a superior record to be seeded ahead of a division winner. Currently, the division winners get the top four playoff seeds in each conference. The wild-card teams get the fifth and sixth seeds. The higher-seeded team in each postseason matchup plays at home.

But owners have rejected such proposals in the past, wanting a team to be rewarded for winning its division.

"It's part of the system, and I think it's the right system," White said. "It's going to happen that way some years. The Patriots didn't make the playoffs a few years ago when they were 11-5 [in the 2008 season]. Now the Seahawks make it at 7-9. But those are the extreme examples. . . . This is an anomaly. I mean, you're asking me about 1982. So it doesn't happen very often. I don't think you change things just because anomalies happen."

The Seahawks aren't a particularly imposing playoff opponent for the Saints, the defending Super Bowl champions. Before beating the Rams last weekend, the Seahawks had lost three straight and five of six games. All five defeats in that stretch came by at least 15 points. The Seahawks lost, 34-19, at New Orleans in November. They finished the regular season ranked 28th in the NFL in total offense and 27th in total defense.

The history of losing teams in the playoffs doesn't favor the Seahawks, either. In 1982, the Browns lost their playoff opener to the Los Angeles Raiders, 27-10. The Lions were beaten by the Washington Redskins, 31-7, in the opening round of the playoffs.

But Saints Coach Sean Payton said no opponent should be overlooked, particularly at playoff time.

"I think more than anything else, it's playing your best football at the right time," Payton said at a news conference this week. "And that time is right now."

The Seahawks do have a veteran quarterback capable of getting hot in the passing game in Matt Hasselbeck, who returns to the lineup after backup Charlie Whitehurst started and won the Rams game. But their best chance for a first-round upset might stem from the fact that the Saints must make a long trip to play in one of the league's loudest venues at Qwest Field.

"You get the ball bouncing the right way for you," White said. "You get a team having to travel across the country to play in that loud stadium out there."

Three of the 8-8 teams that reached the playoffs - the division-winning 2008 Chargers and two 2004 wild-card teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Rams - won one postseason game each before bowing out. The Chargers won at home against an Indianapolis Colts team that had gone 12-4 during the regular season.

And if the Seahawks really want to have their hopes for postseason success buoyed, they can think about the Arizona Cardinals of two years ago. Those Cardinals were much maligned after losing four of five games late, including a 47-7 loss at New England in the next-to-last game of the regular season, to finish 9-7. But the Cardinals crafted three victories in the NFC playoffs to reach the Super Bowl before losing narrowly to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Two years ago everyone, including myself, was saying the Cardinals were the worst team ever to make the playoffs, and they came within a whisker of winning the Super Bowl," White said. "Is Seattle now the worst team ever to make the playoffs? Yeah, probably. . . . But anything can happen in the playoffs. That's why the goal is to get there."

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