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Shutdown Countdown: Seahawks have huge challenge to repeat

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(Yahoo Sports)

(Yahoo Sports)

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 2014 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed Aug. 2, the day before the preseason begins with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

The Seattle Seahawks were a great team last season, but the same can be said for many of the Super Bowl champions since 2004.

The common thread of all those title teams is none won a playoff game the following year. The last defending Super Bowl champion to win a playoff game was the 2005 New England Patriots, who won a wild-card game before losing in the next round at Denver.

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Russell Wilson (USA Today Sports Images)

Russell Wilson (USA Today Sports Images)

That doesn't seem to be a statistical fluke, like such-and-such baseball team has a good record on Mondays in July. There's logic behind the struggles of Super Bowl champions. They're coming off a very long and demanding season. Figure that Green Bay, Seattle's first opponent, will have four more weeks to rest this offseason than Seattle did. And the Packers were a playoff team, so make it five extra weeks for the non-playoff teams. There's also human nature. Last year was the first Super Bowl, and first Super Bowl championship, for each Seattle player. Professionally, that will likely be the pinnacle for each of them. If each player didn't feel at least a bit satisfied after such a great accomplishment, it would be strange.

The Seahawks come back with a talented and deep roster, with a precocious quarterback in Russell Wilson, a top running back in Marshawn Lynch and a defense with an all-time great secondary that is coming off perhaps the best single-game performance in NFL history, almost shutting out the Broncos in the 43-8 Super Bowl win. They'll also have receiver Percy Harvin, whose only full game all last season was the Super Bowl, back for the beginning of this season. There's a lot of reasons to really like Seattle's chances of repeating.

But in many ways, getting the second title is going to be harder than earning the first.

2013 review in less than 25 words: Seattle was dominant from opening day on, and capped the season with a 43-8 win in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: The Seahawks didn't have one huge loss in free agency (although one could argue receiver Golden Tate was one), but did see some key contributors go. Tate, defensive linemen Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald, cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, safety Chris Maragos, tight end Kellen Davis and offensive linemen Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini all signed elsewhere. Maybe none of those guys individually will make the Seahawks lose sleep, but that list contains a lot of solid players and considering there wasn't one major free-agent addition, the roster has to be considered worse.

Best offseason acquisition: Considering there was no exciting free-agent addition and no first-round pick (Seattle traded back, and ended up with receiver Paul Richardson, who should be a good one), we'll cheat a bit. Harvin is basically like a new addition, although the Broncos could swear they saw a lot of him in the Super Bowl. Harvin played just 40 snaps all last season before the Super Bowl because of various injuries. He has a long injury history so the Seahawks shouldn't count on him for 16 games this season, but when he plays he's a dynamic player who changes what Seattle can do on offense. The Seahawks' offense had times when it slumped a bit, especially late last regular season, but Harvin should help avoid those dry spells.

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Percy Harvin (AP)

Percy Harvin (AP)

Achilles heel: There aren't many, but receiver is a bit thin after Tate left and Sidney Rice retired. Harvin has played just 10 games the last two regular seasons, and there's always a concern of him missing more time. The Seahawks did very well to get Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse as undrafted free agents, and they should be fine. But there's no great pass-catching tight end, no prototype No. 1 receiver and if Harvin goes down, the receiving group seems pretty thin.

Position in flux: The Seahawks were so deep on the defensive line last season that Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett weren't even technically starters most of the season. The depth won't be quite the same this year after some free-agent losses. The Seahawks are hoping to coax another solid year out of longtime Vikings standout tackle Kevin Williams, who they signed this offseason. He could help if he has anything left. The Seahawks' line will still be tremendous, but the rotation will need to be figured out. 

Ready to break out: The offseason hype train can get a bit out of control. The media needs something to write about during the dog days. And it seems nobody's legend grew from practices in helmets and shorts more than running back Christine Michael. He went from a rookie who played in just four regular-season games with 18 carries to the second coming of Adrian Peterson, all before camp even started. Still, last year's second-round pick has legitimate talent. Lynch has 901 carries over the last three regular seasons, and at 28 this year, the Seahawks have to start thinking about keeping him fresh for the postseason by laying off a bit. That should open the door for the explosive Michael to get more carries, and show if the offseason hype was worth it. Seattle will also want to get a good look at him because there's a chance Lynch becomes a salary-cap casualty in 2015. 

Stat fact: According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, among quarterbacks with at least 390 attempts in a season, only 43 in NFL history have ever posted a quarterback rating of 100 or higher. Seattle's Wilson has done that twice in two seasons. That's a remarkable achievement, and a reason that one would think the Seahawks will eventually start leaning more on Wilson and the passing game. 

Schedule degree of difficulty: When you play in one of the toughest divisions in recent memory, the schedule will be a challenge. Then add in games against the AFC West, the only division in 2013 to send three teams to the playoffs. It starts with a tough one too, with a season opener against the Packers. There are also games at Carolina and Philadelphia. The schedule is no joke.

Burning question

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2014 season: Considering that the core of the team stayed intact, obviously Seattle should be thinking Super Bowl again. Over the entirety of the 2013 season the Seahawks were the best team in football, not a kind of fluky champ that just happened to get hot at the right time. This team is good enough to be the NFL's first repeat champ in 10 years.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: The NFC will be so tough this year that if you can't win your division, the fight for the wild-card spots will be brutal. Obviously the Seahawks aren't guaranteed a division championship, because San Francisco is an elite team too. If the 49ers beat them for the division, Seattle's very tough schedule might have them in a battle for a wild-card spot. And even if the Seahawks get a wild-card spot in that scenario and we've seen champions come out of a wild-card spot before, it's a really tough road. 

The crystal ball says: The Seahawks might do exactly what they did last year: Win the division, get the No. 1 seed and ride home-field advantage to the Super Bowl and win the whole thing. But since the 49ers have yet to show up on the countdown, I'm not picking that outcome. I think the Seahawks experience just enough of the Super Bowl hangover that the 49ers will win the West and turn Seattle into one of the toughest wild-card teams ever. And without home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Seahawks will trip up before they make it back to a second straight Super Bowl.

Previous previews:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
31. Oakland Raiders
30. Washington Redskins
29. Cleveland Browns
28. Minnesota Vikings
27. Buffalo Bills
26. Tennessee Titans
25. Houston Texans
24. Dallas Cowboys
23. New York Jets
22. Atlanta Falcons
21. New York Giants
20. Miami Dolphins
19. Kansas City Chiefs
18. Baltimore Ravens
17. Detroit Lions
16. San Diego Chargers
15. Arizona Cardinals
14. St. Louis Rams
13. Carolina Panthers
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
10. Cincinnati Bengals
9. Green Bay Packers
8. Indianapolis Colts
7. Chicago Bears
6. Philadelphia Eagles
5. New Orleans Saints
4. New England Patriots
3. Denver Broncos

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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