While the 2010 season saw a fortunate playoff berth for the Seattle Seahawks after they finished 7-9, 2011 was not as kind to a repeated 7-9 record. Looking for a return to the playoffs, the Seahawks must improve on the offensive side of the ball, as last season they ranked 23rd in points per game.
The NFC West, arguably the weakest division in the NFL, now finally has a front-runner. After a trip to the NFC Championship, the San Francisco 49ers are the favorite to repeat as NFC West division champions.
Therefore, if the Seahawks hope to make a push for the playoffs, they must get over the .500 mark and take the title from the hungry defending champions.
The following are four components of the Seahawks that must be clicking for them to stay viable in a relatively weak conference.
Marshawn "Beastmode" Lynch is ready to have a huge breakout season after rushing for a career-high 12 touchdowns in 2011.
Vaulting off his unfathomable run in the previous year's playoff game against the Saints, Lynch showed remarkable improvement in 2011. The strength of the season: the end, as the six times he rushed for over 100 yards came in the final nine games.
Unfortunately, many teams are going to stack the box against Seattle and try to force any offensive production through the air.
Lynch's style matches this perfectly, though, and should be why he sees most of the carries.
His desire to break tackles and scrape extra yards out of runs made him a fan favorite and team leader at Cal. While it never seemed to click in Buffalo, Lynch now seems comfortable and ready to put together a stellar season.
If the Seahawks are making a late-season playoff push, it will be because Lynch is once again rushing for over 1,000 yards and going after his career mark in touchdowns.
After receiving a huge sum of guaranteed money, the Seahawks now look for Flynn to be the star quarterback that his skills displayed in Week 17 against the Detroit Lions.
While Flynn is competing against incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and third-round draft pick Russell Wilson for the starting spot, Flynn will undoubtedly start at some point during the season based on his contract alone.
It won't be easy for Flynn, though, as his skill players are a clear downgrade from the Green Bay Packers receiving corps.
Any improvement from the quarterback position would be appreciated, as last season Jackson threw 13 interceptions with only 14 touchdowns.
This is not to claim the Seahawks have an easy schedule because they don't. That said, relative to the other members of their division, the Seahawks' schedule provides them more winning opportunities.
With the NFC West playing non-conference games against the AFC East, the Seahawks caught a huge break getting both the New England Patriots and New York Jets at home. Along with that, they have the Green Bay Packers visiting in a Monday night game in September.
Winning two or all three of those games could be a huge swing for the Seahawks' season. In contrast, the favorite 49ers have to travel to New England, New York, New Orleans and Green Bay—all difficult road games.
Seattle is one of the largest home crowd advantages in sports—a 6-2 home record could be enough to keep them in the race for the NFC West.
Last season, Seattle's ninth-ranked defense allowed 19.7 points a games, carrying the team through a sluggish seven wins.
The Seahawks once again are looking to win off the strong foundation of defense. Besides the Flynn signing, no huge improvements were made to the offense. Therefore, defensive struggles will continue to be the theme for the Seahawks' 2012 wins.
The measuring stick, though, should be the 49ers, as they are the team to beat in the NFC West. Any playoff questions between the two could be answered as the 49ers visit Seattle in Week 16.