When NFL team message boards are spewing with giggle-filled chatter and youthful-like optimism surrounding his or her favorite team’s chances of making the playoffs, it can only mean one thing.
That's right, folks, it's annual bold prediction time.
And for the team from South Alaska, hopes are running as high as they've been since 2006, the year after losing to the Steelers/refs in Super Bowl XL.
And why shouldn't they be?
For the better part of the preseason, the 4-0 Seattle Seahawks looked downright unbeatable.
Yes, I know it’s only preseason. And while I’m fully aware that preseason records have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the regular season (case in point: the 2009 Seahawks also finished the preseason with a 4-0 record, but ended up going 4-12 during regular season), it would be hard for any skeptic who watched all four preseason games to not fall absolutely in love with this team.
Without further adieu, here are my five bold predictions for the upcoming season.
Hope you can enjoy the Kool-Aid!
We know it’s impossible to avoid serious injuries from occurring throughout the course of a season. That’s just the nature of the brutal sport we love.
If the Seahawks are to be serious playoff contenders, they’re going to need to stay relatively healthy on the offensive side of the ball, which is easier said than done for a team that has seen more than its fair share of injuries over the past few years.
However, in 2012, the Seahawks will be enjoying a break that for once doesn't land one of their top players on IR—a lucky break.
With bounce-back seasons from both Russell Okung and Sidney Rice, the Seahawks' offense will improve substantially.
Between the two, Okung’s health stands out as being the most important to the Seahawks' success. Okung can be a dominant force when he’s on the field and healthy. However, the problem for Okung has been a string of non-related injuries that have limited him to only 22 games in his first two seasons. In 2010, he suffered two high ankle sprains (one in each leg), and in week 12 last year, he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle after taking a cheap shot from the Eagles’ Trent Cole. If any good news can be drawn from this, it’s that his injuries appear to be random occurrences, and not lingering issues.
Meanwhile, Rice’s first season with the Seahawks was a forgettable one. After signing a five-year, $41 million deal, Rice played in only nine games last year, netting a paltry 484 yards on 32 receptions, before being shut down for the year after suffering his second concussion.
The Seahawks can be successful even without Rice, but my guess is he comes back strong and plays a full 16 games.
Predictions for the oft-injured Russell Okung and Sidney Rice:
Okung starts and finishes all 16 regular season games and makes his first Pro Bowl.
Rice starts 15 games and finishes with 60 receptions, 1,100 yards, and 7 touchdowns.
As a rookie fifth-round pick last year, and with only two years of experience playing the cornerback position, Richard Sherman was probably initially viewed as a project more than a starting corner. Yet, after injuries to both starting corners left the Seahawks desperate to plug holes, Sherman was given the nod to start opposite Brandon Browner in week six.
How he responded was simply remarkable.
Starting in just 10 games, Sherman finished the season with 55 tackles and 4 interceptions. These stats may be nothing to gawk at, sure, but according to STATS LLC by way of HeraldNet.com:
…Sherman was beaten 37 times in 88 targets last season for a rate of 42 percent. By comparison, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was targeted 89 times and burned 36, a rate of 40.4 percent. Of cornerbacks with 80 or more targets against in 2011, Sherman's rate was fifth-lowest in the NFL...
Not bad for a rookie who played his first two years in college as a wide receiver.
Predictions for Richard Sherman:
After getting snubbed from last year’s Pro Bowl roster by his fellow teammate, Sherman finally gets the national attention he deserves. Emerging as an elite shut-down corner, the rest of the NFL gets put on notice during the Seahawks upset win at home versus Green Bay in Week 3’s primetime showdown.
Sherman gets two picks and limits WR Greg Jennings to less than 50 yards and zero touchdowns.
...That is, at least statistically speaking. I don’t think this unit is the best in football—yet. But I do think they take over the top spot in terms of fewest points per game allowed and highest number of takeaways.
Playing the 49ers, Rams and Cardinals twice, along with the Jets and Dolphins, helps this stingy Seahawks defense produce high-dividends for all fantasy football owners. With an improved pass rush to compliment the league’s best secondary, the Seahawks should easily surpass last year’s total number of takeaways (31).
Also helping this defense will be the dominant ground game and improved play from the quarterback position. As the old saying goes “the best defense is a good offense.” And with the Seahawks able to run the offense more efficiently with Russell Wilson at the helm, the defense should be able to get, and stay, off the field with more frequency, leading to lower negative stat totals against them.
I still believe the 49ers have the best overall unit in football, but this year they will take a dip statistically. Credit Mike Sando at ESPN for recently pointing out that the 49ers 2011 defense allowed an average of 422.5 yards per game when facing good offensive teams like the Eagles, Lions, Giants and Cowboys.
This year, the 49ers face an even tougher slate of offenses, going up against the Packers, Patriots and Saints, as well as the Lions and Giants once again. The 49ers defense is still a solid pick-up in every fantasy league, but no longer will they be the best.
Predictions for Seahawks Defense:
Fewest points per game allowed.
Highest total number of takeaways.
No. 1 scoring defense in fantasy football.
What? These are supposed to be “bold” predictions.
Behind the stellar play of the defense, a strong running game and Russell Wilson’s veteran-like game management, the Seahawks surprise the nation and win the NFC West. They finish the regular season 11-5, just ahead of the 10-6 San Francisco 49ers.
The five losses will come at home to the Cowboys and Patriots, and on the road to the 49ers, Lions and Bears.
At 11-5, the Seahawks will earn a rematch of their Week 12 loss to the Bears. This time, with home-field advantage, the Seahawks get their revenge and upset the odds-favorite Bears by a final score of 23-17.
The Seahawks’ amazing story comes to a halt, however, when they fall short to the eventual Super Bowl-winning Packers, losing 24-21.
NFL Coach of the Year – Pete Carroll & NFL Executive of the Year – John Schneider
In case you hadn't heard, the Seahawks made quite a bit of noise this offseason, which carried over into the preseason as well. Controversial decisions, such as dragging on a three-man quarterback competition, investing in high-risk players (Terrell Owens, Bruce Irvin, Kellen Winslow) and "overpaying" Matt Flynn, have thrust both head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider into the limelight.
While that noise has generally faded, the many critics (including our own B/R writers) who took turns lambasting both Carroll and Schneider's moves will be watching closely, waiting for their opportunity to scream, "I told you so!"
However, Carroll and Schneider couldn't care less about what the critics say or think—nor should they.
In two years, this unconventional, yet dynamic, duo have rebuilt an aging and soft team into an up-and-coming, young powerhouse. With over 500 transactions in less than three years, Carroll and Schneider have shown they will do whatever it takes to get the best group of players on the roster, even it that means bringing in guys like Terrell Owens only to cut him a few weeks later, or benching a newly signed quarterback making $19.5 million over three years for a rookie third rounder.
That's the beauty of Pete Carroll's "always compete" philosophy. There's no politics involved here, it's an open competition to let the best man win the job. And it appears Schneider believes the same.
Shortly after joining Carroll in 2010, Schneider began an expansive overhaul to rebuild the Seahawks' roster. Of course, there were some misses along the way, but overall Schneider has made some incredible, under-the-radar moves that haven't received enough attention.
Among the most noted transactions under Schneider's tenure thus far have been the acquisitions of Chris Clemons and Marshawn Lynch through trade, as well drafting late-round gems like Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor (both fifth rounders).
This year, Schneider finally gets his just desert for re-signing key free agents, as well as finding the latest crop of gems from this years' draft: Russell Wilson (third round), Robert Turbin (fourth) and J.R. Sweezy (seventh), who projects to be a starting guard even though he played on defense all throughout high school and college.
In terms of evaluating and securing talent, it’s hard to find a GM and coaching combination that have have accomplished more over the past few seasons. This year, Pete Carroll and John Schneider get the last laugh and share in the credit for the Seahawks' successes.
2012 Pro Bowlers:
Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch, Michael Robinson and Russell Okung.