Only four NFC teams have records better than the Seahawks' 7-5 mark: Atlanta (11-1), Green Bay (8-4), Chicago (8-4) and San Francisco (8-3-1). Another way to look at it: Four teams are only a game worse at 6-6, and St. Louis is a half-step back at 5-6-1.
Three-quarters of the way through the season, that sort of snuggliness is not unusual in the NFL. But it is a reminder that if the margins of victory get any smaller, the games will have to be watched by the latest technology innovation: HD electron microscopes.
Look at the Seahawks' outcomes: Nine of the 12 games have been decided by seven points or less. The Seahawks are 4-5 in those games. They are a few sneezes and a bout of indigestion from 11-1 or 1-11.
Exhilarating as was the Seahawks' 23-17 overtime win in Chicago, they are the NFL's ultimate if/then team: If one play had gone differently, then . . .
That's why the drug-appeal cases of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are so significant this season. From a standpoint of quality production, these top-tier cornerbacks are irreplaceable this late in the year. Their absences would seriously damage an already fading defense.
It probably wouldn't be big deal Sunday, when the Seahawks host 4-8 Arizona, which has lost eight in a row and has become the Greece of the NFL.
But against a good offense . . . think of it this way. Sherman and Browner were on the field in the final seconds of regulation when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler completed a 56-yard bomb to Brandon Marshall that set up Chicago's game-tying field goal to force OT. That ball was in the air for sufficient time to have re-enacted the Industrial Revolution in real time, and still the Seahawks defense couldn't close on the play.
Bad as it was, the splendid Marshall probably would have scored against a less able group, as well as a few times before that (10 receptions, 165 yards). The potential veteran eplacements for Sherman and Browner are too old (Marcus Trufant) and too out of game shape (Walter Thurmond, returning from a long injury rehab).
The fate of the Seahawks season may well hinge in a New York hearing room instead of on the field. Both players have maintained they did not take a banned stimulant. Sherman has his appeal hearing Dec. 14, Browner's date is so far unknown.
For Sherman, that means he will play at least the next two games. But in either case, the chance of an upheld appeal is said to be slim, although the NFL and players union will not release names of players who beat the rap, under the old have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife custom.
In the Seattle Times Sunday, reporter Danny O'Neil's interview with special teams player David Vobora, who spent one season (2011) with the Seahawks, had a telling quote. A St. Louis Rams linebacker in 2009 when he was suspended for four games for violating the same substance abuse policy that threatens the Seahawks, Vobora said, "There is an appeals process, but I'm going to be real about it. There's not much of appeals process. It's, 'you're guilty' and you're going to have to serve it, regardless."
Given how commissioner Roger Goodell handled the infamous "Bountygate" case against the New Orleans Saints, the shoot-first protocol seems an NFL staple.
The guilt or innocence of the players is not knowable to outsiders and not the issue here. The issues are transparency, due process and fairness. According to sources quoted by league-owned media, the positive tests occurred in September, private notice went out in October, the story was leaked anonymously in November and appeals will be ruled on presumably in December. The "system" is believed to be the only known export of North Korea.
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