NFL Team Previews: Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks haven’t had a winning season since 2007, even if they did claim the cheapest division title in NFL history, at 7-9 back in the 2010 season. But if the ’10 team was overrated because of its first place finish and upset playoff win over New Orleans, the ’11 team’s 7-9 finish is underrated because they finished the year strong and they have the ability to make the incremental improvement necessary to get in playoff contention. TheSportsNotebook previews the 2012 Seattle Seahawks…

OFFENSE: Seattle made waves in the offseason when they signed free agent quarterback Matt Flynn to a $17 million deal based on two starts during his career backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Then the Seahawks made waves again this August when they gave the starting job to third-round draft pick Russell Wilson, fresh off leading Wisconsin to a Big Ten title.

As a Wisconsin fan (though not a Packer fan), I love Wilson for what he did last fall and the fact he seems to be a truly class act off the field. But I have doubts that he can be a regular starter in the NFL. His accuracy isn’t NFL-caliber, nor is his height. He makes an ideal backup, but his earning the job over Flynn makes you wonder just how badly the Seahawks must have misfired in their free agent gamble.

Or perhaps Wilson’s superior mobility is the reason for the change, given the problems on the offensive line. If he’s healthy, Russell Okung is a solid left tackle, but that precondition hasn’t been evident in his young NFL career. Right tackle is a problem regardless, as are the guards. Max Unger at center is the only one who combines durability and consistency, meaning that not only will the quarterback be on the move, but Marshawn Lynch will have to make his own breaks at running back.

If there’s a silver lining in the pass protection problems it’s that the receivers aren’t worth getting the ball tool. Sidney Rice is the one player with talent here, but his questionable with the shoulder and knee problems that have plagued him since his breakout year of 2009. After Rice, Doug Baldwin has hamstring problems and I’m not sold on Golden Tate or Deon Butler.

DEFENSE: After that spiel on the offense you probably wonder why I said at the top that this team can compete for a playoff spot. It’s because of what’s available on this side of the ball. The front four has excellent talent all the way across, and it starts with Chris Clemons who produced 11 sacks at defensive end. Jason Jones and Brandon Mebane  control the interior. On the opposite end is Red Bryant, a 28-year-old who makes me think of the character Morgan Freeman played in Shawshank Redemption. “Why do they call you Red?”, asked Andy Dufresne of Freeman’s character. “Probably because I’m Irish,” the African-American Freeman jokes.

The linebackers are okay—nothing special, but good enough to get by in a 4-3 scheme that’s more dependent on the defensive line. Leroy Holl and K.J. Wright are functionable on the outside, though the middle is a problem.

When he get to the secondary we’re at another area of strength. Richard Sherman is a very talented corner, and the safeties—Karim Chancellor at the strong safety spot, and Earl Thomas patrolling centerfield—are outstanding. The other corner is a weak spot, but between these three, plus the tremendous push they’ll get on the defensive front, Pete Carroll can figure out a way to compensate.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN PROJECTIONS: 7.5—In spite of my concerns with the offense, I’m taking the over. The defense alone can get this team to seven wins and whether it’s Wilson or Flynn, the Seahawks will still get better quarterback play than they did a year ago. The ceiling isn’t much higher than nine wins, but this team will beat expectations and be in the playoff conversation the last couple weeks.