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2020 NFL Preview: Seahawks are close; Can Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll get them back over the hump?

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Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2020 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 5.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)

Every decent NFL team has a story about a play here or a play there. It goes the other way and they’d have been in the playoffs or even Super Bowl champions.

The Seattle Seahawks felt like they were close. They probably have for a few years.

Last season, the Seahawks were a yard, maybe less, from an NFC West title. San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw made an incredible tackle in the regular-season finale to thwart that. Then in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Seahawks rallied from a 21-3 halftime deficit at Green Bay and had the ball back trailing 28-23 in the fourth quarter. A bad drop by Malik Turner at midfield stalled a drive, and Seattle never got the ball back. But at that moment?

“Five minutes left, we get the ball back? I thought the game was going to be over,” quarterback Russell Wilson said after the game. “Thought we were going to win it. I think everybody in the stadium, everybody watching, felt that, too.”

Last year’s Seahawks team, which battled through injuries to go 11-5, was thinking bigger than just that Packers game.

“If someone told me last week we weren’t going all the way, I’d tell them they were lying,” said defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was in Seattle on a one-year deal, according to the Seattle Times. “When we started rolling, I was like, ‘I know this is the year.’ I just had that feeling.”

Seattle has turned into a team that is always close and hasn’t recaptured previous glory. Since Wilson threw that infamous interception to Malcolm Butler at the end of Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks have won double-digit games in four of five seasons and the fifth season was 9-7. Given Carroll’s record, with eight straight winning seasons and seven of them being 10 or more wins, Seattle is one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises. But it hasn’t been past the divisional round of the playoffs since that Super Bowl loss.

Wilson felt that maybe Seattle was a superstar or two away.

“I think we need a couple more [superstars],” Wilson said during an interview at the Pro Bowl, via Seahawks Wire. “I think we need a couple more. Jadeveon is a big-time guy that we would love to get back on our football team. He was so good in the locker room. He brought so many just havoc plays to the field. Hopefully, we can get a few other players there on the defense. Then also on offense, we have a great offense, but I think we can always add more pieces.”

Seattle operates on its own page. Sometimes that is maddening but it isn’t changing.

It didn’t add any superstars. The biggest deal the Seahawks signed was a one-year, $7 million contract with 35-year-old Greg Olsen, who hasn’t played a full season since 2016 due to injuries. Clowney spent most of the offseason as a free agent, and indications were Seattle wasn’t going to get him back. Their top draft pick, linebacker Jordyn Brooks, was a reach and one of the more questionable picks of the first round considering there are questions about his ability to cover and play all three downs.

If the Seahawks were a couple of superstars away from getting over that hump, they’ll have to emerge from guys already on the roster.

And maybe it’s enough. Carroll’s approach is unconventional but his record speaks for itself. Wilson is on the verge of becoming under-appreciated: He is one of the best quarterbacks of this era, a sure Hall of Famer, and has somehow never even received one MVP vote. There are quality players elsewhere on the roster. According to Yahoo Sports’ Terez Paylor, the Seahawks tied for third in the NFL with six players on the NFL Network’s top 100 players list to be revealed starting in late July. There is talent, and a great quarterback.

The past few years have indicated that the Seahawks are good, just not good enough. Maybe this is the year they take a step past that.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, left, and quarterback Russell Wilson have been a great duo. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson have been a great duo. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

As this preview was written, Jadeveon Clowney was still a free agent. If he returns to the Seahawks, that changes their offseason grade. Otherwise, it’s hard to get excited about what Seattle did. Cornerback Quinton Dunbar was a good addition in a low-cost trade with Washington, until he ended up in an armed robbery case (he pleaded not guilty). Tight end Greg Olsen could help but can he stay healthy? Carlos Hyde was added as veteran depth at running back, which is fine. The Seahawks’ draft was panned, getting the 30th best consensus grade of draft experts (though Yahoo’s Eric Edholm liked their class more than most). The Seahawks do things that go against conventional wisdom, and they usually work out. It’s still hard to be fired up about their offseason.

GRADE: D

Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are 1-2 in all-time career passer rating among qualified quarterbacks. Rodgers is at 102.4, Wilson is at 101.2. Nobody else in NFL history is above 98.4. Also, Wilson has rushed for 3,993 yards in his career, which is fifth all-time among quarterbacks. Wilson has thrown for at least 31 touchdowns in four of the past five seasons, often with a subpar offensive line, a lack of receiver depth and a coaching staff that prefers to run the ball. He also has a Super Bowl ring, for those who overemphasize that when it comes to judging quarterbacks. Put simply: Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever seen.

DK Metcalf appears to be a steal as a 2019 second-round draft pick. His impressive physical gifts translated right away to the NFL. He posted a 58-900-7 line in the regular season and his 160-yard game in a playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles set a franchise postseason record for receiving yards in a game and was the most an NFL rookie has posted in a playoff game. And he did that all with the Seahawks limiting his routes and keeping him mostly at the “X” position as a rookie, something that will change this season as Metcalf gets more time in the system.

“There’s so many more routes that he can run,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said, according to KOMO. “He’s proven that he could get behind people.

“I just think the flexibility of moving him around, introducing some different route concepts that we could kind of get him up to speed on that will protect or complement the things that he’s put on film will just be an incredible, incredible advantage for us as we head into the next season.”

Every year I get sucked into looking at the Seahawks’ offseason moves, disagreeing with many of their organizational philosophies, and being down on them. Not this year. The Seahawks’ over/under win total at BetMGM is 9.5. They have been under 9.5 just once since 2011, when Russell Wilson was playing at the University of Wisconsin. I’ll take the over and figure on Wilson and Pete Carroll exceeding expectations again.

From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “Seattle will never challenge for the league lead in pass attempts, but part of that is misleading. Russell Wilson is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league, and that puts a cap on the team's passing volume. Embrace the octane of this passing game, and get some shares if you can.

“Part of that endorsement points to Wilson, of course, but I also want to steer into both Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. They'll both benefit from Wilson's uber-efficiency, in addition to Seattle's narrow usage tree. There isn't much competition for the ball here.

“Lockett currently slots as the WR20 in Yahoo drafts [after year-end finishes of WR11 and WR15] and Metcalf rests at WR22. Barring injury, both players look like excellent bets to return their draft day value, and either could flirt with Top 12 receiver value with a modest amount of touchdown luck. And heck, if the uncertain Seattle defense takes a step back, perhaps this passing game will be blessed with both lofty efficiency and juicy volume. Be proactive here.”

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According to Pro Football Reference, the Seahawks’ 10 wins by eight or fewer points tied the NFL record dating back to 1940. They joined the 1978 Houston Oilers with 10 close wins. That stat usually isn’t sticky; teams aren’t overly fortunate in close games from one season to the next. Seattle had the second-lowest point differential of any 11-win team in NFL history. The Seahawks were plus-7, and the 2004 Atlanta Falcons were plus-3. Only three other teams in NFL history have reached 10 wins with a point differential of plus-7 or worse. No matter what you think of the Seahawks being clutch, they were lucky in 2019. They’ll need to play better to reach the playoffs again because good fortune like that rarely happens two straight seasons.

Is the Seahawks’ defense good enough?

Seattle’s defense carried it to a couple Super Bowls in the 2010s, but very few players from that group are left aside from linebackers K.J. Wright and All-Pro Bobby Wagner. Left in its place is a defense that was fairly average across the board in 2019, and that was with Jadeveon Clowney. Seattle had 28 sacks, tied for second-worst in the NFL. And it didn’t do much to fix that problem in the offseason. The secondary is fine, especially with some good safety play (stealing safety Quandre Diggs from Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia was a smart move), and if Quinton Dunbar’s legal issues don’t keep him from playing, he should upgrade the cornerback position. Still, unless the Seahawks’ pass rush improves from last season, it’s hard to project better than another average defensive season at best.

Russell Wilson is going to play like an MVP candidate. That’s the easy part, and the most important one. With DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks have legitimate targets for Wilson. They’ll probably run the ball OK because they usually do. If the defense comes forward a bit, this is a team that was close to beating the 49ers for the NFC West and also advancing to the NFL’s championship round. If Wilson gets hot at the right time and the coaching staff opens up a little more to let him shine — which might make sense with running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny coming off season-ending injuries, with Penny unlikely to be ready for the start of the season — Seattle has Super Bowl potential.

Those 10 wins in one-possession games won’t repeat. Even turning three of those games around turns the 2019 Seahawks into an 8-8 team. Because Seattle generally settles in the 10- or 11-win range we think they’re close to a big season. Maybe they’re closer to a huge collapse than we like to think. The NFC West is tough and there’s no guarantee the Seahawks return to the playoffs, even if they usually do.

The past couple years I’ve repeated a mistake on the Seahawks preview. I look too closely at what I think as an outdated philosophy in a pass-first NFL, personnel moves that go against the grain and think they’re due for a step back. I underrate that a great coach-quarterback combination can cover up just about everything else. Russell Wilson is a magician and Pete Carroll is 100-59-1 with the Seahawks. Maybe it’s as simple as trusting Carroll and Wilson to get the Seahawks to 10 wins again, somehow.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars
31.
Washington Football Team
30.
Cincinnati Bengals
29.
Carolina Panthers
28.
New York Giants
27.
Detroit Lions
26.
New York Jets
25.
Atlanta Falcons
24.
Miami Dolphins
23.
Las Vegas Raiders
22.
Los Angeles Chargers
21.
Houston Texans
20.
Arizona Cardinals
19.
Minnesota Vikings
18.
Chicago Bears
17.
Los Angeles Rams
16.
Cleveland Browns
15.
Pittsburgh Steelers
14.
Denver Broncos
13.
Indianapolis Colts
12.
Philadelphia Eagles
11.
Seattle Seahawks
10.
Green Bay Packers
9.
New England Patriots
8.
Tennessee Titans
7.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6.
Dallas Cowboys
5.
Buffalo Bills
4.
San Francisco 49ers
3.
New Orleans Saints
2.
Kansas City Chiefs
1.
Baltimore Ravens