Thursday, November 20, 2008

How Important Is a Strong Finish?

by: Michael Steffes

I must admit I have been following the team from afar this week, not quite living up to my "Addict" status. Regardless though, I did find something that I felt deserved a bit of a look. Mike Holmgren seems to be leading a charge for the team to finish strong. His contention is that it will spring-board the team into 2009. He referenced this in the Monday press conference, using the 2002 team as an example. Under Holmgren they won their final three games that season, and then started a run of 5 straight playoff appearances in '03. Holmgren is taking this approach again. He responded to a question yesterday about guys getting reps for next year by saying,

"I'm not going to do that. We're trying to finish up here strong, and win some down the stretch. To do that, you play with the guys who should be playing.
I understand Holmgren's position, and know that fans are split about 50/50 on whether or not young guys should be getting playing time. However, if he thinks that it will build the foundation for next year, that point can be argued. Let's take a look at some of the teams that have made dramatic turnarounds this year:

Miami Dolphins (1-15) finished 1-5, 2008 (6-4)
Atlanta Falcons (4-12) finished 1-5, 2008 (6-4)
New York Jets (4-12) finished 2-4, 2008 (7-3)
Chicago Bears (7-9) finished 3-3, 2008 (5-5)
Carolina Panthers (7-9) finished 3-3, 2008 (8-2)

None of these teams finished on a run of three straight like the 2002 Seahawks, but all of them did get a win(s) down the stretch. However, you could make the case that the teams who made the biggest improvements did so through a change in their coaching and management. This is something the Seahawks cannot avoid and is likely to be good for the organization. The team that did the best down the stretch, the Carolina Panthers, is a team that is very similar to the Hawks. Last year they suffered injuries to many of their key players. And in fact, they did play young players at the end of the year, including an undrafted quarterback. This was what gave them momentum into the 2008 season.

It would appear that there is no one right way to do it. The important thing is that 2009 has very little to do with 2008, especially when there are changes at the top. Will evaluating young players help? I would think so, but only because the personnel department will stay the same. I would think the most important thing the Hawks can do, which they have already started, is getting healthy for next season.

There has been an unholy number of injuries this year, but this might be good news. Despite those who blame the training staff, this is not the root cause of injuries--playing football is. Players get hurt playing this game. Thus, over any extended period of time injuries on a specific team move towards the league average. Suffering a lot in one year, in essence, lowers the probability of injuries the next year. We can only hope this is the case. However, if you look at the Rams, they have stayed relatively healthy this year after a huge number of injuries last year. It hasn't done them much good, though.

So, if the Hawks can get healthy, and maybe find a diamond in the rough amongst their young players, they can make a dramatic turnaround next year. Will they? It is hard to tell, but finishing strong will likely have little to do with it. ~END~