Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per day in reverse order of our initial 2015 power rankings.
NO. 1: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Look at just about any preview magazine this summer, and it’ll tell you that the Seattle Seahawks’ time is up.
Respectfully, I disagree. The best team in the NFL this year is the same one that was the best in the NFL two years ago and arguably the best in the NFL from Week 1 to the Super Bowl last year, but had one ill-conceived play that cost them a second straight Super Bowl.
The Seattle Seahawks have been the class of the NFL over the last two years, and they might be better in 2015.
The addition of tight end Jimmy Graham could take Seattle to another level. They paid up to get him, giving center Max Unger and a first-round pick to New Orleans, but 6-7 guys who have 51 touchdowns in five seasons and are just 28 years old aren’t available often.
I think if you pick another team to win the Super Bowl, it’s because you’ve gotten bored picking the Seahawks. They’re still the best team.
“We’re very confident but we’re not cocky,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “Practice is still as intense as it was, we’re still paying attention to details like we have in the past. Everything seems to be going good, but we have to make it happen on Sundays.”
Offensively, Graham changes everything, because Seattle hasn’t had an elite target for Russell Wilson before. People keep expecting running back Marshawn Lynch to slow down, which is understandable with all the carries he has had. But he was actually better last year than he was the year before, and looks like the same old “Beast Mode” this camp.
“Nothing different.” receiver Doug Baldwin said about Lynch this camp. “Marshawn is Marshawn. He’s still crazy explosive.”
Some of the depth is slowly being chipped away on defense, like losing cornerback Byron Maxwell and cutting tackle Tony McDaniel, but that great Seattle defense from last year returns mostly intact. They allowed 267.1 yards per game last year. Nobody else allowed fewer than 300. They’ll be fine.
“Everybody is flying around making plays, I feel like the guys are out there getting more and more confident,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “I think it’s just young guys growing older and knowing the scheme.
“I think the sky is the limit for this defense. I think this can be a great defense.”
Will contract issues trip up Seattle? Safety Kam Chancellor is holding out. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett isn’t, but he’d like a pay bump. Still, I think we’re a year away from seeing Seattle really start to feel the effects of all the big contracts they’ve handed out. For 2016 the Seahawks have $107.4 million of the cap committed to 12 players, according to Spotrac. That’s a worry for another day, though. Chancellor should eventually report, Bennett will be fine, the Seahawks’ free agents next year will play with visions of a big contract coming in a few months from someone, if it’s not Seattle.
The Seahawks were a dominant team last season. I think they were a better team last season, top to bottom and beginning to end, than the Patriots. With Graham added to the offense and so many key players back, I don’t see how they’re worse.
2014 review in less than 25 words: If not for Patriots cornerback Malcom Butler’s great play, we’d be talking about Seattle going for an unprecedented third consecutive Super Bowl.
Is the roster better, worse or about the same? You can argue that the losses of Maxwell, McDaniel, Unger, guard James Carpenter, defensive end O’Brien Schofield and linebacker Malcolm Smith outweigh what they brought in — namely Graham, cornerbacks Cary Williams and Will Blackmon and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin. But Graham is so good and he fills such an obvious need that I’m saying the roster is better.
Best offseason acquisition: From the looks of what the Seahawks are doing in camp it doesn’t seem like Graham will catch a ton of passes in between the 20s, and I wouldn’t bet on him getting to the 85-catch mark he has reached four straight seasons, but in the red zone he’ll unsurprisingly be a beast. In red zone work during Wednesday’s practice he caught three touchdowns from Russell Wilson and made them look easy, with a bigger spike celebration for each of the three (the Seahawks really like celebrating in practice). The Seahawks haven’t had that red-zone balance before. That’s where the trade will pay off.
Achilles’ heel: Anything you could pick would be a stretch because there’s no clear weakness on this team. Perhaps it’s the cornerback positions after Richard Sherman. For most of 2013, the Seahawks had Brandon Browner at the No. 2 spot with Maxwell coming in off the bench. That’s unbelievable. Browner and Maxwell are gone, and now it’s Williams in a starting role and probably Blackmon at the nickel. They aren’t incapable, but they’re not Browner or Maxwell either. Something tells me the Seahawks secondary will be fine, though.
Position in flux: The Seahawks have the best set of safeties in the NFL, but you could see potential issues at the start of camp, as Earl Thomas sat out as he recovers from shoulder surgery and Chancellor held out. They were replaced by DeShawn Shead and Steven Terrell, who have each barely played in the NFL. You’d assume Thomas and Chancellor will be good to go by Week 1, but it’s a situation worth monitoring. The defense would take a big step back going from an elite safety to someone entirely unproven if there was an injury or Chancellor’s holdout lingers.
Ready to break out: One player who stood out often when I was at Seahawks camp was rookie receiver Tyler Lockett. The Seahawks traded a third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round pick to move up and take Lockett in the third round. When a team moves up to get a player, that should instantly tell you they really like him. And Lockett was a handful for the defense in practice, because of his quickness and hands. He could have a big impact in the return game, and he might help the offense too by the looks of things. He looked like he can make a difference right away.
Stat fact: Among NFL teams last season the Seahawks finished sixth in passing yards per play, first in rushing yards per play, second in passing yards allowed per play and second in rushing yards allowed per play. That’s incredible roster balance, and dominance.
Schedule degree of difficulty: The schedule seems easier if you figure the 49ers are taking a big fall. The Seahawks have tough road games at Green Bay, at Cincinnati, at Dallas, at Baltimore and at Arizona. The Packers game seems especially important when considering the effect it could have on playoff seeding.
This team’s best-case scenario for the 2015 season: If Graham is the same dominant player we’ve seen from his Saints days, if Lynch plays just like he did last year, if the defense is good as everyone assumes it should be, it wouldn’t surprise me if this team had one of those special 14-win type seasons and cruised to a Super Bowl victory.
And here’s the nightmare scenario: If Seattle falters I doubt it’s because they’re not good enough. It would be because of chemistry issues from contract situations, perhaps a hangover from how last year’s Super Bowl ended, or maybe if Lynch finally slows down. There has to be some sense that Seattle’s run isn’t going to last for many more years because of salary cap issues, so anything less than a Super Bowl championship would be disappointing.
The crystal ball says: From beginning to end last season, I believe Seattle was the best team in football. They were dominant in pretty much every category you can name. They didn’t win it all, because the Patriots (who were also playing great by the end of the season) won an extremely close Super Bowl. I think Seattle comes right back and wins the title it felt it should have had last season. The Seahawks are my pick to win the Super Bowl.
32. Tennessee Titans
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Washington Redskins
29. Oakland Raiders
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
27. New York Jets
26. Chicago Bears
25. Cleveland Browns
24. Atlanta Falcons
23. San Francisco 49ers
22. New York Giants
21. New Orleans Saints
20. Houston Texans
19. Carolina Panthers
18. St. Louis Rams
17. Minnesota Vikings
16. San Diego Chargers
15. Buffalo Bills
14. Detroit Lions
13. Philadelphia Eagles
12. Kansas City Chiefs
11. Cincinnati Bengals
10. Arizona Cardinals
9. Miami Dolphins
8. Dallas Cowboys
7. Baltimore Ravens
6. Denver Broncos
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Indianapolis Colts
3. New England Patriots
2. Green Bay Packers
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