NFL Predictions 2011: Why the Seattle Seahawks Will Repeat as NFC West Champions
The Seattle Seahawks were the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record after finishing the season with a 7-9 record. They then beat the defending Super Bowl Champions New Orleans Saints before falling to the Chicago Bears in the divisional round.
Many think that last season was a fluke, but the team, after making improvements during the offseason, has a strong chance of repeating as division champs once again in 2011.
Improved Passing Offense
The Seahawks were very active during the short offseason, acquiring some big name players on both sides of the ball. They signed WR Sidney Rice, TE Zach Miller and QB Tarvaris Jackson, instantly improving the team's offensive passing attack.
Jackson comes into a familiar system and gets a fresh start after some mediocre seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Contrary to popular belief, Jackson can be a solid starting QB, but he struggled during the preseason mostly due to the fact that the offensive line gave him no time to throw the ball downfield. He also has the ability to extend plays with his excellent mobility. Look for the Seahawks to run a lot of plays that have him rolling out of the pocket and throw on the run.
With the 6'4" Rice joining the 6'5" Mike Williams, the Seahawks have a great tandem of receivers who have the size and speed to cause many matchup problems for opposing defenses. Zach Miller is productive at tight end and he could be a valuable bail-out option for Jackson. Expect to see improved play from Jackson and an overall more dangerous offensive team.
More Balanced Running Game
The Seahawks have three good running backs in Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington and Justin Forsett. Last season, Lynch got the bulk of the carries and Washington and Forsett were mainly used as third-down backs or special teams. The Seahawks will likely use more of a rotation of backs on first and second down as well, not just using Lynch as the primary back.
Washington played very well during the preseason as the Seahawks played him more to get a feel of what he could do as a running back and not just a kick returner.
The Seahawks ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing offense last season, but expect that ranking to improve and for the 'Hawks to boast a more balanced running attack this season.
Much Improved Defense
The Seahawks defense was atrocious all around last year. The team ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every major statistical category. This team is built to stop the run and pressure the opposing quarterback, and when healthy, the Seattle defensive line is very good at stopping the run.
The team has Brandon Mebane at defensive tackle clogging up the middle and has Red Bryant and Chris Clemons at defensive end. David Hawthorne and KJ Smith will man the middle, as Lofa Tatupa was released. Malcolm Smith, Matt McCoy, Aaron Curry and Leroy Hill will rotate at the outside linebacker. The linebacking unit is not necessarily improved from last year, but Hawthorne could end up being an upgrade over Tatupa and KJ Smith has potential.
The secondary struggled most of last year. The team has a decent veteran corner in Marcus Trufant, but he has struggled some over the past few seasons. Rookie Brandon Browner has excellent size for a cornerback (6'4", 220 lbs.) and he appears slated to start opposite Trufant. Safety Earl Thomas played well as a rookie, but he had a tendency to give up big plays. Kam Chancellor is a question mark at the other safety position. He could become a great run-stopper, but struggles defending the pass.
Overall, this unit has no where to go but up, and this defense should make some decent strides as they get healthy and more experienced.
Excellent Special Teams
One bright spot for the Seahawks was the play of the special teams unit. Leon Washington set a franchise record for kickoff returns with his 101-yard return against the San Diego Chargers, a game in which he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. They also had excellent kickoff coverage.
The team ranked fifth in average opponents' field position to start drives. However, with the new kickoff rule that has teams kicking off from the 35-yard line, the Seahawks' special teams advantage will be much more limited as the number of touchbacks will be greatly increased. Overall, this new rule hurts the Seahawks attack, as it takes away one of the biggest advantages the team has.
Overall, the Seahawks are in good position to repeat as division champs. While the Rams and the Cardinals will likely make a strong push for the division crown, the Seahawks have the most complete team and they are confident after their playoff run last season. Expect the Seahawks to pull out some surprising wins and make the playoffs for the second straight year, probably with 8-9 wins for the season .