The Seattle Seahawks look to be just as good as they were in 2012.
For the record, I am not a Seattle Seahawks fan.
In fact, I primarily cover the San Francisco 49ers.
Okay—get your boos, curses and smart remarks out of the way and allow me to describe some takeaways and analyses of Seattle's prospectus for the 2013 season.
As a fan of a division rival, an outsider can provide a different perspective. External viewpoints can provide a unique analysis of what my team will have to face in the upcoming season.
Make no mistake; the 49ers will circle both matchups with the Seahawks this season and the perspective from this writer will hopefully have served some purpose.
There is no downplaying the budding rivalry between the two teams in the NFC West as both teams prepare for what promises to be an exciting season.
In many ways, both the Seahawks and 49ers are very similar. Both have emerged as top contenders, not only in the increasingly talented division, but also as contenders for the NFC crown. The Seahawks and 49ers are both led by dynamic and well-known head coaches that succeeded at the collegiate level.
In addition, both teams employ quarterbacks that can utilize a hybrid skill set which is becoming more popular in today's NFL. The running game is also a primary factor in both team's offense. Both have a stout defense.
Plenty of similarities exist between the two teams and, in many ways, the two franchises are very evenly matched heading forward into 2013. It is a safe bet that the division title will be determined by what happens between Seattle and San Francisco.
What I Like about the Seahawks
All one has to do is look at the statistics from his 16 starts in his rookie season last year to determine that: 252 completions for 3,118 yards and 26 touchdowns against 10 interceptions in the passing game. To think all of that was done without a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver threat is pretty incredible.
Then, one can add his mobility and rushing capabilities into the mix. Having nearly 500 rushing yards along with four touchdowns is also pretty special.
He deserved his Pro Bowl selection—no doubting that.
If any 49er fan wants to point out how great Kaepernick is, he or she would not be able to get very far without mentioning Wilson.
Behind Wilson on offense is running back Marshawn Lynch. Like San Francisco, Seattle relies heavily on the running game and Lynch—a First-Team All-Pro last year—will again carry the bulk of the Seahawks' ground attack.
Lynch's running style, which was once heralded by Washington Post writer Matt Brooks as "jaw dropping and earthquake inducing," epitomizes the nature of Seattle's ground attack. His uncanny knack for breaking tackles is part of the reason why he has been able to easily crest the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last two seasons.
Considering just how well San Francisco was able to stop the run last year, Lynch's 214 rushing yards between the teams' two matchups is quite impressive.
It is no wonder why Seattle signed him to a four-year, $31 million contract before the 2012 season.
Of course all of that would not be possible without an effective offensive line.
Lead by Pro Bowlers Russell Okung and Max Unger, the offensive line should be just as effective as it was last year. I do have some questions and concerns—which shall be described later—but the line needs to be viewed as a strength heading forward.
Unger elaborated on the recent success by saying via Oregon Live:
You have to score points, you have to win games in order to get a lot of recognition. Especially on the [offensive] line you have to keep your quarterback clean, you have to do that kind of stuff and the benefit of that is people recognize our quarterback is not getting touched, we're running the ball a lot something good must be happening.
It is a simple statement from Unger yet his points are critical to ensure continued success.
Then there is the defense.
That defense should be putting fear into the minds of every 49er fan and around the league.
Seattle's defense is hard-hitting and aggressive and there should be no lack of that in 2013.
Last year, the Seahawks defense was first overall in the NFL in points allowed. Notably, San Francisco was second by 28 points—I did mention similarities.
There are some notable changes that took place over the offseason including the addition of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to replace Gus Bradley who left the team for a head coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, along with linebacker O'Brien Schofield, were brought in to bolster a pass defense that had 36 sacks last year.
Rookie defensive tackles Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill may also factor into the equation.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner expressed his hopes about Seattle's defense in a recent interview published via The Everett Herald by saying:
I think it's going to be a lot better. We've got a lot of players coming back, so we've got that chemistry going and we're just picking up where we left off last year. So I feel like it could be a little scary for everybody else.
Of course one cannot discuss Seattle's defense without noting the secondary.
Led by cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman along with safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the backfield only got better by adding veteran corner Antoine Wilfield during the offseason.
It is no wonder why CBS Sports columnist Pat Kirwan cites the Seahawks secondary as one of, if not the best in the NFL.
What Concerns Me about the Seahawks
While Seattle's question marks may be music to 49er fans' ears, there are a number of things I would be worried about if I were a Seahawks fan.
Moving back to the offensive side of the ball, questions still have to be asked about the passing game. Granted, Seattle relies heavily upon Lynch and the running game and Wilson can make plays as well as anyone else in the league.
Yet the passing dimension is something that cannot be overlooked entirely. Last year, wide receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice hauled in a net total of 95 receptions but neither broke the 1,000 yards-receiving plateau.
The offseason addition of receiver Percy Harvin was supposed to alleviate this to a large extent, especially considering the lofty trade made in the process, but now Harvin is on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list and will miss a large portion, if not all, of 2013.
David Steele of The Sporting News broke down the trade as one of the worst made in recent history. He elaborates further by writing:
The Seahawks were—and they’re no closer to the Super Bowl today than they were before they gave up three draft picks, including last April’s first-rounder, and $25.5 million guaranteed to get him from Minnesota back in March. That’s why they got [Harvin], to get closer to the Super Bowl, past the 49ers in the NFC West, and in the NFC. [The Seahawks] didn’t get him so they could run in place while Harvin rehabbed—again. That was always the caveat in the deal. Harvin would be a difference-maker, the weapon that would separate the Seahawks from the 49ers, where otherwise they were running neck-and-neck in just about every way. But only if Harvin stayed healthy.
The criticism may be pushing it a bit.
First off, Seattle was great in 2012 without Harvin and there are few reasons to suspect anything different this year. Secondly, Harvin is signed through 2018 and will eventually have his impact.
Whether or not the passing game will improve in 2013 is up for debate, yet Rice, Tate and rookie Chris Harper may be able to step up.
Doug Baldwin may also be a player to watch according to head coach Pete Carroll.
While the offensive line is regarded as one of Seattle's strengths, there are some concerns about both guard positions. Paul McQuistan retains the starting job at left guard resulting from James Carpenter's foot injury suffered earlier this month.
When healthy, Carpenter is a beast and for Seattle's sake, the injury is not long term.
The battle over right guard is still up in the air as described further by Field Gulls columnist Danny Kelly. He writes:
Because of injuries to Carpenter and still developing competition between a slew of guys at right guard, it's still pretty unclear who will be starting at either guard position in 2013. Overall though, is this a group that can make a big jump in 2013 from their form in 2012?
Hopefully these concerns do not become a proverbial crack in the line.
Another note of concern surrounds Seattle's defense and, more specifically, the pass rush.
The team amassed 36 sacks in 2012 with defensive end Chris Clemons leading Seattle with 11.5. Now Clemons is recovering from an ACL injury suffered in last year's playoffs and how effective this element will be shall hinge on his return.
Last season, the Seahawks ranked 18th in sack percentage—where they were able to get to the quarterback at times he threw.
While the defense was good, could they strive to be more consistent in 2013?
The additions of Avril and Bennett help alleviate this problem to a good extent. However, statistics, being what they are, will have to be proven on the field during the regular season.
That is yet to happen.
Instead of relying on two or three players to generate the pass rush, Seattle may be more inclined to shuffle its formations and utilize some of its additions and depth to generate chances.
An article by Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times highlights this approach. He writes:
In other words, this will be far from a one-man job. The Seahawks think that between adding a few new pieces, refining a few existing ones, and changing a few schemes that they will find the right answers. We’ll find out soon.
Whether or not these schemes work is yet to be determined. If it does work, Seattle's defense will be that much more potent. If not, the secondary will again have to bear the brunt of the passing game—a prospect not all that bad considering their talent.
Seattle is deep—really deep.
That is an unquestionable bonus. There is an allotment of depth along both the offensive and defensive lines where attrition can take its toll.
Both Wilson and Lynch have reliable backups in QB Tarvaris Jackson and running backs Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.
What the Seahawks lack in wide receiver star power, they more than make up for it in depth. Chris Harper may be a player to watch during his rookie year and it would not be surprising to see Doug Baldwin benefit from the absence of Percy Harvin.
The secondary also has plenty of depth which gives them numerous options in the various nickel and dime packages necessary against the plethora of pass-first offenses they will face.
If one had to match Seattle's depth against the 49ers, the edge clearly goes to the Seahawks.
One also does not have to question the Seahawks dominance at home over recent years.
Yet the consistency is almost night-and-day between home and road games which is something that should be a legitimate concern.
At home, Wilson threw 17 of his 26 touchdowns and was only intercepted twice leading the Seahawks to an 8-0 home record. On the road, his touchdown/interception ratio was 9-8. The Seahawks were 3-5 away from CenturyLink Field.
By contrast, the 49ers were 5-3 on the road under head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2012 and 6-1-1 at home.
While Seattle has a decisive home field advantage, going undefeated at home a second year in a row will be more than challenging. Even a 6-2 home record could cost them the division if their road record does not improve.
In a division that is likely to see some tight races, this could be a key factor in what happens come playoff time.
The road factor easily goes to San Francisco.
Regardless of perspective, both the 49ers and Seahawks are in excellent shape to make a run for a Super Bowl appearance.
It is no wonder why both San Francisco and Seattle sit atop the NFL power rankings—No. 1 and No. 3 respectively.
Both appear to be equally matched at the outset and the Seahawks have arguably the best chance of any other team to thwart the 49ers current reign atop the division.
There is depth behind a dynamic defense and Wilson and Lynch shall continue to be forces when the regular season begins.
San Francisco, and the rest of the NFL, should fear Seattle this season and there are plenty of reasons why.
Yet the regular season still has to play itself out and plenty of factors are yet to enter the mix.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.