I feel like the best way to do this is to compare this year’s roster to last year’s roster, see how they match up, and use that as your basis when looking at this year’s schedule. Obviously, pitfalls abound in this strategy – teams on paper rarely translate to results on the field; similarly teams who look good or bad prior to the regular season rarely all live up to expectations – but what else is there to do on a Friday before the first Sunday of the year?
We can start with quarterback, because why not? At this point, Russell Wilson has proven himself to be one of the truly elite players at his position. If I’m building a real-life NFL team from scratch, there aren’t many players I’d choose ahead of him. Now, a lot goes into how you can predict his level of play: how does the O-line block, how does the running game help take some of the pressure off his shoulders, how do the receivers fare at getting open and making plays down field? In a vacuum, Russell Wilson should be no worse than he was in 2018, with maybe even still a little more room for growth.
I thought the Offensive Line was pretty great in 2018. Not perfect, but certainly better than we’d seen in quite some time. That unit is largely intact, with one injury-plagued veteran (Iupati) taking over for another (Sweezy). Duane Brown is still a stud and a leader, Justin Britt is fine, D.J. Fluker is still a beast, and Germain Ifedi took a HUGE step forward last year. In 2019, his final season under his rookie deal, Ifedi should be even better, as he looks for a big payday going into 2020. Ethan Pocic is a real wildcard here, as he could see significant playing time with injuries along the interior (indeed, he looks like he’ll be starting in Week 1 for Iupati). I was on his ass a lot last year, but word out of pre-season is that he’s really grown in his second season under Solari. If he ends up winning a starting job by season’s end, he could be a boost over what Sweezy was in 2018, saying nothing of whatever Iupati has left in the tank in 2019.
Similarly, the Running Game was pretty great in 2018. I don’t know how much room for improvement you can expect here, when you’re talking about one of the league’s best. Carson, when healthy, is a Top 10 running back, maybe even as high as Top 5 or 6. C.J. Prosise, when healthy, is as dynamic as anyone. I don’t hold out a lot of hope that he CAN stay healthy, but there might be a game or two when he really goes off. I think everything rests on Rashaad Penny, as he was pretty underwhelming as a rookie, and looked even more underwhelming (somehow) in the pre-season this year. If he takes a step back, it could get dicey if injuries mount. If he takes a step forward, then we’re talking about one of the most talented running back rooms in the league.
The Wide Receivers look to be the biggest concern on the team, but I would argue that’s a little overblown. The one thing I’ll agree with everyone else about is: who will be that security blanket on 3rd down? That’s been Doug Baldwin since Russell Wilson came into the league. Even though Tyler Lockett may play in the slot more, I don’t know if his role is going to be drastically different from what it’s been. He’s a great player and fits this offense perfectly. I think this team is going to have to develop their security blanket, but in the early going, I think it’s going to be a different player every week. Don’t sleep on Jaron Brown. Don’t forget how much this quarterback and this offensive coordinator likes incorporating tight ends and running backs into the passing game. Eventually, I think John Ursua will be the next Doug Baldwin and I have no problem saying that before he’s played a single regular season game; but in the early going, it’s going to be Security Blanket By Committee. And, I know Russell Wilson is good enough to make that work.
In total, if I’m being honest, I think the offense will be remarkably similar to what it was in 2018, and I’m okay with that. I think that offense is good enough to win a championship, if everything breaks right. It also might be a year or two away from playing at a championship level, but with a Top 5 QB, you can never rule it out.
Where I honestly have more hope is in the defense. Not enough was made of just how much of a shitshow that side of the ball was in 2018. Earl Thomas went down in week 4! K.J. Wright hardly played at all. Mychal Kendricks was suspended for a huge chunk of the season, then I think he got injured towards the end. Even with Frank Clark and Jarran Reed tearing it up, the D-Line was a disaster that didn’t get nearly enough pressure on the quarterback, and was the worst against the run I’ve seen in the Pete Carroll era. That aspect alone – run defense – was always what I’ve been hanging my hat on, when it comes to this team drastically improving itself from year to year. If you shore that up, and return to playing at a Top 5 level against the run, it’ll make up for A LOT of ills everywhere else.
The other big concern, obviously, is the pass rush. But, I’m here to declare that concern is largely unnecessary now that we’ve traded for Clowney. I think – playing exclusively along the line, with a lot less dropping back into coverage – we’re talking about a guy who can fill that Frank Clark role to a T. I’m looking at 15 sacks as a target that I think he can easily reach. Ziggy Ansah I’d be a little more cautious with, but with both of these guys you’re talking about highly-motivated individuals looking to get PAID in 2020; it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if we’re talking double-digit sacks for both! With Poona Ford’s emergence as a bona fide starter, and with Jarran Reed returning after a 6-game suspension, we’re talking about a front four that will rival the best. My worry, of course, is getting to see them all together, because what are the odds one of those guys gets hurt before Reed comes back, and we’re waiting until the last month of the season to get the gang all back together (I’ve seen it a million times)?
I also love what I’ve been seeing from the linebackers – the heart and soul of this defense – when it comes to blitzing and otherwise picking up the slack. Kendricks has looked like a man possessed when he’s gone after quarterbacks in the pre-season! Bobby Wagner, we all know, is highly capable whenever he blitzes up the middle. The Seahawks will find ways to get home more than they did in 2018. Combine that with a drastically-improved run defense, and there’s a lot to like about this side of the ball.
The one major downside is the secondary. It’s also the facet of the game Pete Carroll is best able to coach up. I’ll be blunt here, they haven’t looked great in what little I’ve seen from them in the pre-season. But, we also have yet to see the full complement of defensive linemen & linebackers in front of them (on the flipside, we really haven’t seen that much of opposing starting quarterbacks and whatnot, but that’s neither here nor there). I’m not high on this unit whatsoever, and I’m barely clinging for dear life to the fact that Carroll is a Secondary Whisperer. I keep hearing about how well Tedric Thompson plays in practice (mostly from coaches/players, less so from media), but you never see it in games. I think moving Shaquill Griffin to the opposite side of the field was a huge mistake, and eventually he’ll be supplanted by Tre Flowers. I also think it’s highly likely that those guys are as good as they’ll ever be, and there really isn’t any improvement or development to look forward to. That’s sort of a worst-case scenario for this group, but it feels likelier to come to fruition than it did at the tail end of last season.
Now, to be fair, they weren’t horrible to my eye in 2018 (take my eye with a grain of salt, of course); they were just sort of okay. When compared to the L.O.B., as the commercial goes, “Just okay is not okay.” But, compared to the entirety of the NFL, they were middle of the road or maybe a little worse. If they’re the same thing in 2019, with improved pass rush and improved run defense, that might be good enough! The pass rush alone might make their lives a whole lot easier, as errant/tipped throws fall into welcoming arms.
Taken as a whole, in short, I think the offense will be about the same, and I think the defense will be a lot better. Last year, the Seahawks finished 10-6 and made the Wild Card game. This year, I think that should account for a couple more wins, and here’s where things get mighty interesting.
Yesterday, I was writing about how I thought it was only a matter of the Seahawks getting off to a hot start, as we’ll eventually run into our torrid finish. If we divide the season into thirds (so to speak), in the first five weeks, we’ve got games against Cincinnati and Arizona that should be cake walks. There’s a road game against Pittsburgh and a home game against the Saints where we should go 1-1 (ideally losing to the Steelers, as AFC losses mean less). That just leaves Week 5, a Thursday Night game at home vs. the Rams that could mean the whole season. Lose that game, and the Rams – once again – will be in the driver’s seat. Win it, and we should be 4-1 in the first third of the season, with at least a share of the division lead (and a tiebreaker advantage to boot).
In the next five games, we’ve got home games against the Ravens and Bucs that we should win, as well as a road game against the 49ers that should go our way. That leaves road games against Atlanta and Cleveland where again I would hope we’d split, to finish 4-1 in this stretch. If that falls into place, that puts us at 8-2 heading into our BYE week.
By the time we come back, it’s already the last week in November and we’ve got our stretch run (where, again, the Seahawks traditionally play their best ball). At this point, throw your pre-season projections out the window. The Eagles, Vikings, Rams, and Panthers all look like potential world-beaters (to some), but who knows where they’ll be at that point? At Philly seems like a legitimately insurmountable task, but it’s also a Sunday Night game, and you know how we play in those. The Vikings are at home. I’m of firm belief that Cam Newton will be lost for the season by the time we go to Carolina (but, even if he’s there, I don’t think they’ll be all that amazing). And, as we saw in 2018, we were one or two plays away from beating the Rams twice, so I can’t just mark that game down as a loss just because it’s in L.A.
Even with those tough matchups, we still close the season with a couple home games against the Cardinals and 49ers. If we can go 4-2 in those final 6 games, that gives us a 12-4 record and we might be playing home games well into January.
The point is, I think 12 wins takes the NFC West. Especially if two of those wins are against the Rams.
As I noted yesterday, I think the Seahawks get a 2-seed behind the Eagles. Contrary to what I wrote yesterday, I could easily see a 5-seeded Rams team going into Philly and shocking the world, thus forcing a potential NFC Championship Game back in Seattle. And you know what happens when Seattle hosts an NFC Championship Game …
Look, it’s idiotic to predict a Seahawks Super Bowl appearance this year. I get that. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen. BUT, I think everything is on the table. I think 12 wins is on the table. I think a division title is on the table. I think a first round BYE is on the table. I think home field advantage throughout the playoffs is on the table. I think the MVP is on the table for Russell Wilson. I think Executive of the Year should already be locked in for John Schneider. I think Coach of the Year is on the table for Pete Carroll. And yes, I think a Super Bowl appearance is on the table.
What’s more likely? The Seahawks win the NFC West, or the Seahawks fail to make the playoffs entirely? Well, the smart money is on the latter. But, this is the time of year for perpetual hope, and so I’m choosing to be in the Glass Half Full camp. I know I’m setting myself up for heartbreak later on, but I’m willing to take that chance.