This is done for fun. My fun, maybe your fun--I think every fan plays out the season, plays out its contingencies, mostly what will go right but maybe sometimes we ideate the bad stuff too, like exorcising a demon. Pre-season predictions serve two purposes, one noble and one asinine. The latter is a desire to be right, to be know to be right. You won't be. I won't be. Those that shock and awe with their statistics, will not be right either. We will all be right about something, and if we're selling something, a premium database, our credibility, our clever foresight, whatever, we will trumpet what we were right about and obscure the many, many things we were wrong about. This is asinine. The former, the noble purpose, is fun, discussion, to provoke thought, laughter; to concoct red herrings we can look back and laugh at, to create foreshadowing that seems all the more painful/powerful when it proves fateful, and to construct a matrix of expectations to consider it all through.
I clumped seasons together to avoid making this painfully long and repetitive. 6-10 is my projected floor, but should a rash of horrible injuries occur, so horrible I will not name names out of respect for the superstitious, the Seahawks could finish 5-11. And if a lahar plows through the CLink, and all that is left of our beloved Hawks is bones and terra cotta trachea molds, I could maybe, maybe see this team finishing 4-12. Otherwise, this team's so damn good, the predominate downside is that of a respectable also-ran which looks like a competitor late into the season. The upside ...
As in a circle, light and love enclose it,
as it surrounds the rest and that enclosing,
only He who encloses understands.
Overview: Even at their worst, even should the whole shithouse go down in flames as Morrison and Burroughs and several million other people have said, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks would be an overachieving 6-10. One that wins some blowouts, loses some close games and would be positioned to rebound, patch holes, and be a contender again in 2014. Such is the luxury of youth, talent and exceptional roster construction. But sometimes, like it or lump it, a 50 cent lighter is taken to that bag full of oily rags stashed in the crawlspace of your season, and all that's left of your dreams are melted celluloid and creosote.
Offense: Injuries ... but no serious injury to Russell Wilson. Here's why: Injuries to starting quarterbacks have become scarce. This seems to be some combination of rules and intensified enforcement of rules by the NFL and a gentleman's agreement among coaches*. But regarding Wilson specifically, he's shown talent/skill at avoiding big hits. If a sack can be impressive, Wilson's body control and calm whilst being sacked, has impressed me.
But many of Seattle's most important players on offense have been injured in the past few seasons, the NFL is violent such that almost any player could be thought prone for injury, and even some of the finest franchises in NFL history have suffered lost seasons because of injury.
For this team to plummet to 6-10, the injuries would have to be extensive, to critical/nigh-irreplaceable players and often season-ending. Russell Okung, Max Unger, Zach Miller and Sidney Rice--Unger and Miller represent the nigh irreplaceable: Miller is the only complete in-line tight end on the roster and one of the few in the entire NFL, and though I have faith in Tom Cable, and though I think center is one of the positions a team can weather the loss of**, Lemuel Jeanpierre did not impress me at all in the preseason. If the loss of Miller and Unger would chip away in part because of the low on-roster level of replacement, the loss of Okung and Rice would hurt most because they are simply so good and so good at positions of exceptional importance.
Stack enough injuries and an offense with aspirations of greatness and a credible claim to being very good falters badly, and is eaten alive by the suddenly ferocious NFC West.
Defense: The pass rush is undermined by a tangle of injury, post-injury ineffectiveness, and a somewhat new scheme that hasn't fully matured. The two-gap style interior uglies the Seahawks build their base defense around-- Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and now Tony McDaniel--are all disruptive, pressure rather than sack kind of pass rushers. If not complemented by an excellent LEO or some combination of LEO and SLB, the base defense is good at stopping the run but critically bad at rushing the passer. Given his lowly origin story and Seattle's somewhat novel approach to the Monte Kiffin 4-3, it was all too easy to underestimate Chris Clemons, but dude was excellent. Will he be excellent nearing 32 and following an ACL tear? To be seen. As it is to be seen whether Cliff Avril is a sufficient replacement and whether Bruce Irvin takes the leap (by developing power and pass rush moves and/or being better played to this abilities). 6-10 assumes Clemons fades, Avril disappoints and Irvin nears bust status. It also assumes Michael Bennett--one of the few real irreplaceable parts of defense--goes down to injury. He is playing with a torn rotator cuff, but I'd rather not speculate on what fells the sub-package specialist. Only that Seattle will dearly miss him.
A lacking pass rush undermines the secondary. It's not hard to see how this might happen. Seattle is big and physical at corner and strong safety, but as the clocks ticks and receivers begin to scramble for space, that size becomes an anchor and that physicality becomes a magnet for flags. There's a window of time in which Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor are very good, and Richard Sherman is All-Pro. Window expired, all can be exposed.
Special Teams: Seattle ranked third in special teams value by Football Outsider's metrics, but a season a go, Seattle ranked 16th. Special teams play is volatile and since we're scouring for bad news, a few missed field goals at critical moments, a lack of replacement for Leon Washington on kick returns, and a return to Jon Ryan out-kicking his coverage (which really just seems to mean, a return to the coverage not being able to keep up with Ryan's punting) factors into a rash of close defeats.
Etc.: Maybe Slothrop's erections couldn't predict the next bombardment--the point being, a lost season can have almost any character. While it's easy to extrapolate from what appear today to be patterns--predicting the players that have been hurt will be hurt again, inflating the potential penalty damage incurred by the secondary, etc.--the real bullets might find unexpected players. I am sad to report even Earl Thomas is not indestructible, and for all his calm, for however slow the game seems to play out for Wilson, shit happens. And so do interceptions. This is the Biblical Plague season. It knows no earthly limitations.
7-9, 8-8 or 9-7
Overview: 7-9 to 9-7 is a range that includes both bad teams that got breaks and good teams that didn't. Seattle could be either. Transfer some of the calamities from that above 6-10 team over, and you've got a bad team ... but what I want to look at in this win-loss range is how the Seahawks could be a good team screwed by fate.
Offense: In which we must confront the possibility that Wilson misses some time because of injury. That beautiful, decidedly not-chess club brain of Russell's could ... let's not talk about it. But here's the twist: Tarvaris Jackson does not prove to be much as a backup. I know that's minor heresy, and for whatever gadzooks reason, we expect men of a certain character to be fixed in their opinions and my going opinion of Jackson is that he's a quality backup, but I can conceive a universe in which I am very wrong, because I can conceive a universe in which Jackson is very bad.
Referring to Wilson's brain as beautiful yet decidedly not chess-club is not some kind of sideways attack on his intelligence. Instead it's an appreciation for a very different kind of intelligence. One that is not circumspect, methodical and considered, but intuitive, decisive and damned-sure. In other words, not like some chess-club plotzer, but like Black Death Blackburne, pounding whiskey, punching out Steinitz, and sacrificing the queen for a quick checkmate. To wit, this
(bigtrain21's excellent work, but you know that.)
is never planned, and all the more beautiful for it.
Strip away enough detail and Wilson and Jackson are comparable, but in the discards you'll find timing, touch and read. If Jackson fills in for a two or three game stretch that ranges Weeks 5-7, well maybe the Nerf'd offense and overpowering defense suffices. But if it's 13-15 ... Jackson has never been particularly accurate, at times throughout his career his interceptions numbers have spiked in damning fashion, and within this competent to very good backup quarterback lurks a panicky scrambler that can be critically overextended against excellent defenses or when playing from well behind. 0-3, 0-2, 1-2 ... bad backup play can knock a fringe contender into respectable also ran.
Defense: But why only a fringe contender? Why only a respectable also ran? A team with the run game, the defense, and the special teams of the Seahawks should be able to survive even Tarvaris. Well, about that defense ... Michael Turner (once-not ironically nicknamed "the burner") and Jacquizz Rodgers tore hell out of Seattle's rush defense in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Particularly, they targeted Seattle's edges. If you include an end around and a quarterback scramble, Atlanta ran 20 of its 26 rushes to the tackle-end, or 77%. League average is 48%. Those rushes averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Just running back rushes averaged 7.4 yards per carry. And it wasn't too hard to see why. Without the surprisingly stout Clemons manning the LEO, or maybe more pointedly, with the strikingly fine-boned Irvin manning the LEO, Seattle's edges eroded.
So here goes: Clemons is no longer Chris Clemons, Avril proves lacking, Seattle's design of crushing the run with the base formation and setting up passing downs to prey upon with its sub-packages, that design falters, turnovers dry up (turnovers are liable to dry for almost any reason) and Seattle's defense, though still good, is not great.
Etc.: Consider how many things have to go wrong for Seattle to be mediocre. Wow.
10-6 or 11-5
Overview: We're onto the good teams portion of our projections, but for a team as talented as Seattle, a merely good team will still involve a lot going wrong.
Offense: First some one-liners:
We're probably assuming Wilson stays healthy, but if he misses a game or two, Jackson steps up.
We're also probably assuming Wilson isn't exposed or whatever--that he sucks.
The offensive line holds together, because of health and by force of Tom Cable's coaching.
Now some more measured comments: So Wilson continues his ascension but wide receiver talent holds him back. I am one that thinks Sidney Rice is legitimately good even among that rarefied peer group of no. 1 receivers, but his incredible resolve in traffic, his ability to make catches that leave him vulnerable, what I'm saying is it's easy to say he's very good and also to say his nickname could be The Anvil. Injuries could, particularly if the gruesome rigor mortis like poses he too often gets bludgeoned into presage hidden concussions, injuries could shorten Rice's season and his career. The next man up would presumably be Jermaine Kearse, and maybe Kearse is more than the sum of his parts and proves to be a capable no. 1, but probably not. It's essential to remember just how incredible the average no. 1 is. Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Brandon Marshall--every one next level talented: incredibly fast, mostly, or otherworldly powerful, explosive, agile ... you know the adjectival cliches. Kearse is not this. Maybe Kearse is Marques Colston. Maybe Golden Tate is a Welker, Cobb, DeSean Jackson type, one of a unique set of skills and talent. But most likely, most, most likely, Seattle has an average-ish receiver corps with Rice, and a below average receiver corps without Rice. Wilson, the play-action offense, it compensates. Without Rice, and particularly should the play-action game dry up ...
The play-action offense could dry up because the run game just isn't exceptional again. Or the run game could just not be exceptional again, and that would take its own kind of toll. We think of the Seahawks run game as being good in 2011 and great in 2012, but the difference if we just reduce run plays into points is a massive 65.3 EPA. Seattle ran in 2012 like a lot of teams wish they could pass. Maybe the read option is just not as effective or Marshawn Lynch has peaked or the blocking isn't there, whatever, the run game suffers, Seattle's wide receivers are not so good that Wilson can put the passing game on his back, and the offense trends toward the low end of good.
Defense: This is a defense that can rush the passer, especially at home. This is a defense that eats the run and spits out fumbles. But this isn't an elite defense, and it's not elite because ... well, let's start with Brandon Browner. Browner was flagged 29 times over the last two seasons, easily the worst in football. It wasn't that long ago Thomas Beekers was examining how rotten a player he is. Those penalties could indicate a need to compensate for suboptimal quickness, etc. Without getting scout heavy, my point is, there is some indication that Browner is a Pro Bowl player that could become flash paper. Seattle has depth, so it's not lost without him, but he'll likely stick around until he up and proves he's broken, and that'll hurt. Then, consider Richard Sherman. Sherm's excellent, so I'm not thinking a Browner like implosion, but last season he was best-of-best good, and that, especially among corners, is a hard standard to maintain. And Kam Chancellor is a smart, skilled player who really isn't as quick as you'd rather, and while it's not a problem now, speed peaks early, and there's no get-faster kind of injury.
Excellence is tough to maintain. Excellence in the secondary is often no more than winning a jump ball, deflecting an otherwise long reception, capping a long run, intercepting a tipped pass, jumping a route instead of blowing coverage. This is a defense with a good secondary. It goes turnover nuts against bad quarterbacks. It gets picked apart by good quarterbacks. And without its best unit playing its best, Seattle's defense is merely top ten.
Etc.: Which means, yes, 11-5 could be a relatively bad season.
12-4, 13-3, 14-2 or 15-1
Overview: That might seem like a lot of win-loss records to group together, but once a team is 12-4, it's great, and that greatness isn't really marred or polished by winning or losing close games, fumble luck, strength of schedule, etc. These are the great but not perfect teams. These are the teams we should expect to battle for the Super Bowl.
Offense: Rookie quarterbacks just do not perform like Russell Wilson. Someone somewhere's probably mentioned the sophomore slump. We should be talking about the second-year leap. This from now until calamity is Wilson's peer group: Aikman, Elway, Fouts, Manning, Manning, Marino, Tarkenton and Unitas. A group so exclusive it does not contain Brees, Brady and Rodgers. Because the group Wilson belongs to is a group of quarterbacks that played and played sufficiently well as rookies to stick as the starter. They were not eased in. They did not scuffle before finding themselves. They won the position and impressed. Some impressed relative to expectations. Some flat performed. And among this incredibly distinguished company, few impressed like Wilson.
Wilson averaged 8.1 adjusted yards per attempt in 2012 or 118% of league average. No one, not one in this (not particularly exhaustive sample***) could find that level of performance with a blood hound. Except one: Johnny Unitas. And the leap, the immense progress of the above players between their rookie and sophomore seasons, is hair-bending. Not weighted for attempts because why would I, Wilson's exclusive company added another 1.4 yards an attempt in their second season. That puts Wilson in 1984 Dan Marino territory.
When we think of this offense, what the run game can be with the addition of Christine Michael, the return to health and eventual promotion to the first string of James Carpenter, the breakout of Golden Tate--when we think of this team's potential, we should think first about the stratospheric heights to which Russell Wilson could climb.
This season Wilson emerges not just as a great story and good quarterback, but a great quarterback building a Hall of Fame career in real time. That rare magical phenomenon: the LeBron James, the Ken Griffey Jr., the player so singularly good, that moment to moment, play to play, discussion doesn't concern enshrinement but whether Wilson could be the greatest ever.
Defense: Playing from a lead, loaded to bursting with talented pass rushers, and starting a deep, more talented than ever secondary (including ridiculously overqualified nickel back Walter Thurmond III), Seattle stifles, stomps, terrorizes and turns second halves into turnover fueled blowouts of historic proportion. Brandon Mebane makes the Pro Bowl.