In anticipation of the upcoming NFL season, Head & Heart Sports will feature one division each week until the season begins and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the NFC West, continuing with the Seattle Seahawks today.
Recap of 2015: The Seahawks entered the 2015 season with very high hopes. They were essentially one play away from being Super Bowl Champions in 2014 and looked poised to make their third consecutive trip in 2015. Seattle got off to a very slow start. They started the season 0-2 and were in the midsts of a holdout with their star strong safety Kam Chancellor. After seeing the team start so poorly and seeing his fellow LOB (Legion of Boom) members look lost without him, Chancellor decided to end his holdout and return to the Seahawks. Their play would improve slightly, but not by much. The team would end up 4-4 heading into their bye week. After the bye week this team really hit their stride, going 6-2 and earning a wild card spot in the playoffs. During that stretch, however, they would go on to lose two of their top offensive players, Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham. Thomas Rawls stepped in for Lynch and the offense never skipped a beat. They would go on to win the Wild Card Game over the Vikings on the behalf of Blair Walsh. Walsh missed a 27 yard field goal with 22 seconds and cost his team the game. Seattle would head to Carolina to take on the Panthers. Carolina jumped out to a 31-0 lead by halftime and hung on for a 31-24 win and put an end to the Seahawks season and their hope for a third straight Super Bowl appearance.
Significant Additions: OT J’Marcus Webb, DE Chris Clemons, CB Brandon Browner, OG Jahri Evans
Significant Subtractions: LB Bruce Irvin, DT Brandon Mebane, OG J.R. Sweezy, OT Russell Okung, RB Marshawn Lynch (Retired)
Potential Impact Rookies: OG/OT Germain Ifedi, DT Jarran Reed, RB C.J. Prosise, TE Nick Vannett
Team Strengths: This team relies on its defense. Led by the LOB, the Seahawks ranked second in total defense and first overall against the run. Seattle’s run defense allowed only 81.5 yards a game and only allowed opponents 3.6 yards a carry. Seattle was also #1 in DVOA this past season marking the fourth season in a row they have held the top spot. The LOB had a down year by their standards, but Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Chancellor all made their presence known on the field with their hard-hitting and ball-hawking talents. Russell Wilson also took a big leap this year at the quarterback position. With Marshawn Lynch injured for much of the season along with the offensive line, the Seahawks had to rely on the passing game more than ever this season. Russell Wilson stepped up to that challenge and excelled. He set career highs in passing yards (4,024), touchdown passes (34), QB rating (110.1), and QBR (74.9). His QB rating was the best in the NFL last year.
Team Weaknesses: The offensive line struggled last year. Russell Wilson was able to somewhat hide how bad his offensive line with elusiveness at getting away from the pass rush. However, according to numberFire, Wilson still had a sack rate of 8.5% which was good for 29th in the league. Only the Titans, Vikings, and 49ers were worse. The Seahawks have had issues along the offensive line for the last three years and you would have hoped the front office would have addressed to issue earlier. This line was already struggling and this offseason they have lost J.R. Sweezy and Russell Okung to free agency. This year, the Seahawks will have three new starters. Justin Britt and Gary Gilliam return this season and will be joined by second year player Mark Glowinski, rookie Germain Ifedi, and either veteran J’Marcus Webb or Jahri Evans. This group will need to come together quickly and find a way to protect Russell Wilson from the pass rush more effectively.
Fantasy Players to Watch: The obvious player to watch is Russell Wilson. He was third overall in fantasy points last year. With the emergence of his passing game over the last year, he has moved himself into the QB1 range. He can now beat you with his legs and his arm. I see Russell Wilson putting up the same types of numbers this year as he did last year. I would also be sure to keep an eye on Doug Baldwin. He had a slow start to the season, but was a touchdown machine in the second half of the season. From Week 12 to Week 16, Baldwin scored 11 touchdowns and averaged 22.4 points per game in standard scoring leagues. I would not make Baldwin your WR1, but he is a very viable WR2 option in most leagues. Another guy that is assumed to be an obvious high draft pick is Jimmy Graham. His numbers last year don’t quite match those of a high end TE1. In his first season with Russell Wilson, he saw his fewest targets since 2010 and caught only two touchdowns. He also tore his patellar tendon in Week 12 and missed the last five games of the season. Graham was still on track to have his worst season since 2010. Graham is still one of the better TEs in the game, but I would advise not to over spend or reach for him in your draft this year. RB Thomas Rawls is also in the same category as Graham this year. He looks to be a sure fire RB1 based on what he was able to do last season in Marshawn Lynch’s absence. He eclipsed the 100 yard mark in four of his six starts. He was even on pace for 100+ yards in one of those starts, but was forced out of the with an ankle injury. He should be back healthy for the start of the season and will look to match the same kind of output he had last season. I would advise to be careful with how you draft Rawls. I would be even more careful with his back-up Christine Michael. He has shown he can spurts of good play, but has not been consistent in his few opportunities with the Cowboys and Seahawks.
2016 Outlook: 2016 hopes to be better for Seattle. They will look to regain the division over Arizona and will look to get back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. Russell Wilson will look to pick-up where he left off last year and continue his success as a passer. Thomas Rawls will look to take over the full load at RB after the retirement of Marshawn Lynch and to show the league his performances from last year were no fluke. Jimmy Graham looks to get back on track and return to his 2014 form. The defense lost one of their leaders in Bruce Irvin and also lost one of their defensive lineman in Brandon Mebane, but this unit will still play at a high level. They will be reinitiating Brandon Browner, one of the original members, to the LOB. The success (or failure) on this season could hinge on the play of their offensive line. The Seahawks, fortunately, do not have a difficult schedule this year as they match up with the AFC East and the NFC South. Their toughest game outside of the division this season appears to be Carolina and they get them at home in front of the 12th man. They did get some bad luck of the draw with the Patriots in Foxborough and the Packers in Lambeau whereas their division foe gets the Vikings and a Tom Brady-less Patriots at home in Glendale.
Record Prediction: Seattle has everything lined in their favor to get back to the playoffs. I do not think they will be able to regain this division from the Cardinals and will lose by a slim margin. I just don’t think the offensive line can be trusted right now. Russell Wilson and this defense are still too good to let this team fall out of playoff contention though. I like Seattle to finish this season at 11-5 and make it back into the playoffs as a wild card team.
Photo Credit: Paul Connors/AP Photo