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A couple weeks ago, the Seattle Seahawks were my pick to win the Super Bowl. I'm not so sure anymore.
The Seahawks' offense was going to be really dynamic with Harvin lining up everywhere and presenting impossible matchup problems for the defense. That's why they traded a lot of picks to the Vikings for Harvin this offseason and gave him a $67 million deal. The Seahawks are still good without him – by the end of last season they were one of the strongest teams in the NFL, and they didn't have Harvin then – but nobody loses a player that talented without feeling it a little.
Harvin could return late in the season, and that would be a big boost. That's if Harvin is at full speed and on the same page with the rest of the Seahawks' offense, which is hard to project. And keep in mind, the other team in the top two is competing with Seattle for a division title.
Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: As explained here before, Seattle hit the NFL's version of the lottery with Russell Wilson, and not just because he's an obvious franchise quarterback. Wilson makes $526,217 this season, and 18 starting NFL quarterbacks make more than 10 times that annually. The Seahawks took advantage of that cash windfall and went all in to build a Super Bowl team. Seattle's roster is a lot better than last year, and remember that they were already one of the best teams in the NFL.
Best offseason acquisition: It was Harvin, and he still might be the answer to this if he comes back in December and plays like everyone know he can. With him out for a while, we'll go to the Seahawks' other big addition, defensive end Cliff Avril. Avril has 29 sacks the last three seasons, and should provide an immediate boost to a defense that finished fourth in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric last season.
Biggest hole on the roster: This wasn't the case to start camp, but it's probably receiver. It's not just that Harvin is out for a few months, Sidney Rice is dealing with a knee problem that caused him to fly to Switzerland for a procedure this week. The team still has Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, but depth is quickly wearing thin, especially if Rice isn't right.
Position in flux: The Seahawks believe in quality depth at running back. Marshawn Lynch is the clear starter and one of the best in the NFL, but the competition behind him is
Player you might not have heard of yet, but will soon: Golden Tate hasn't played like a second-round pick in his first three NFL seasons, with just 1,297 yards. But he had a big spike in yards per catch last year, from 10.9 in 2011 to 15.3 last year. He also scored seven touchdowns last year, after just three his first two seasons. So he is improving, and now has a great chance to shine as he replaces Harvin for at least the first half of the season. Doug Farrar wrote about why Tate could be a breakout player this year, and it's spot on.
Stat fact: Football Outsiders has tracked DVOA, its per-play efficiency metric, since 1991. The Seahawks' total of 38.3 percent ranked sixth best among all teams in that time. They finished so high because of incredible balance. Seattle was fourth in offensive DVOA, fourth in defensive DVOA and third in special teams DVOA. Not only were they they only team last year to finish in the top five in all three phases, no other team finished in the top 10 in all three.
This team’s best-case scenario for the 2013 season: With or without Harvin (and it should be assumed he'll be back at some point), winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history is a legitimate goal. This is a team without any serious weakness, and Wilson is one of the league's best quarterbacks already. The offense can throw or run effectively, the defense is nasty, and the roster is deep enough to make a run.
And here’s the nightmare scenario: Remember, Seattle might be the second-best team in the NFL ... and second-best in its own division. If Harvin's injury keeps Seattle from winning the NFC West, it will go back on the road for the playoffs again, like it did last year when it lost a heartbreaking playoff game to Atlanta. Seattle's worst-case scenario this season still seems like a wild-card berth, but the fans there are desperate to finally win a title.
The player who could swing this team’s season one way or another: Wilson was probably better than you remember last year, even if you remember him being pretty good as a rookie. The Seahawks really limited him for the first four weeks, which kept his total numbers down. From Week 5 on, Seattle let him do more and he was great. In eight of Seattle's last 12 games he had at least a 100 rating. In another game he was 96.8, and two others he finished in the 80s. He also had a 102.4 rating in two playoff games and was marvelous in a loss to Atlanta. Once Seattle let him loose he had one bad game in his final 14, counting playoffs. That's not just a good rookie season, that's an incredible stretch for any quarterback. He just happened to be a rookie. There's no reason to expect he has a sophomore slump, either. If Wilson picks up where he left off, look out for the Seahawks this sesaon.
The Shutdown Countdown previews you might have missed
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New Orleans Saints
13. Chicago Bears
12. New York Giants
11. Carolina Panthers
10. Washington Redskins
9. Cincinnati Bengals
8. Atlanta Falcons
7. Houston Texans
6. Baltimore Ravens
5. New England Patriots
4. Green Bay Packers
3. Denver Broncos
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