Thursday, August 7, 2008

Team Preview: Seattle Seahawks

2007 Record: 10-6

Seattle put forth another solid campaign in 2007, coming out two games ahead of Arizona in a division that also featured San Francisco and St. Louis. Seattle made another playoff run, only to fall short in Green Bay. Seattle survived a first-round scare from the Washington Redskins, who had them on the ropes after a botched kickoff return. A huge stop by the defense and a missed field goal by Washington turned things around for the 'hawks who piled it on at the end with two interception returns for touchdowns.

While the Defense won the game for them in round 1, it lost the game in Green Bay. Seattle ran up a quick 14-0 lead on the Packers, who then proceeded to score touchdowns on six consecutive drives to pull ahead to an insurmountable lead. Seattle's offense was held to 200 total yards in the snowstorm at Lambeau.

Seattle's offseason was plagued by the departure of franchise running back Shaun Alexander, who remains a free agent as the first week of preseason football heats up. Seattle brought in Julius Jones from Dallas to help fill the void left by Alexander. Jones will likely split time with Maurice Morris, a speedster who played well in Alexander's absense last season.

Seattle's offense will once again be formidable, with Matt Hasselbeck at the helm with targets in former Penn State star Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson. Burleson set team records last year for his kick returning skills and became a solid receiver in the process. Deion Branch is still hampered by a knee injury but should be back during the first half of the season. In the mean time, Seattle is scrambling to find a third wide receiver. Ever since the Seahawks loss in Super Bowl XL, they have been struggling to find a solid tight end. They drafted John Carlson from Notre Dame with the 38th pick in the draft to help fill this void. They also drafted Owen Schmitt, bruising fullback from West Virginia in the 5th round to help with the blocking scheme for the running game.

On defense the Seahawks will be good once again, with Patrick Kearny returning to anchor the defensive line after his 14.5 sack season last year. Seattle had the sixth best scoring defense last year, giving up only 32 touchdowns, two more than the league-low Eagles. Seattle was also 5th in the league in takeaways with 34 and 5th in turnover differential with a +10 mark. Seattle also ranked 4th in the league in sacks last season with 45, an average of 2.8 per game.

Now comes the big question: is Seattle's success based on the fact that they play in a bad division? They have won the division championship four consecutive years and are obviously the team to beat going in to this year once again. However, let's also not forget that the last time a team from the NFC West not named Seattle had a season over .500 was 2003 when St. Louis went 12-4. Since then, St. Louis has gone 8-8 twice and Arizona reached the 8-win mark last season. However, this has meant minimal competition for the division crown.

Has Seattle gotten complacent? I doubt it. Mike Holmgren's team should win this division again, though they'll get their best run in five years for the crown. Though they split with the Cards last season, Seattle clinched the division title with its Week 14 victory over Arizona, allowing them to rest starters and coast for the final three weeks. Subsequently, Seattle went 1-2 in those last three weeks with losses to Carolina and Atlanta. After the Week 14 victory, Seattle was sitting at 9-4 and easily could have ended the season with 11 or 12 wins if Holmgren had been willing to play his starters and more than a base defense. But Seattle had locked up the #3 seed and was content to coast into the playoffs injury-free.

Will this be the year Arizona breaks Seattle's streak? The Whizard of Az is building a good team down in Glendale, but I still think this is Seattle's division to lose. With games against the AFC East, Seattle gets three easy opponents in Buffalo, Miami and the Jets to go with their guaranteed four wins over St. Louis and San Francisco. Their schedule heats up in Weeks 5-8 where they face the Giants, Packers and Tampa Bay: two division champs and the Super Bowl Champs. In one of the best Thanksgiving day matchups in recent memory, Seattle plays Dallas in a game worth setting the turkey down to watch. Additionally, if the Patriots make it past the Steelers with an undefeated record, Seattle will be the last team standing between them and another undefeated season. However, after their stretch of Washington-Dallas-New England, the 'hawks have two gimmie games against the Jets and Rams before they travel to Arizona to close out the season. Chances of that game actually mattering are slim because it's likely Seattle will have wrapped up the division by that point. But here's to hoping that a Week 17 game will actually decide a division for once.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 11-5
John's 2008 Prediction: 11-5

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