After what can only be generously termed as an average start to last year’s NFL season, the Seattle Seahawks went on to win seven of their last eight games to enter the postseason with a winning record for the first time since 2007. They won their first road playoff game since 1983, defeating the Washington Redskins, and they were about 30 seconds away from advancing to the NFC Championship game for the first time since the year they advanced to the Super Bowl against the Team That Shall Not Be Named.
So, you might say that expectations are high for the isolated upstarts from the Pacific Northwest. What have they been doing during the offseason? Let’s take a look.
Vikings 2.0: The two teams’ front offices will likely deny it, but fans of both the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks believe that there’s been a very charged dynamic between the two teams ever since Steve Hutchinson was “stolen away” in 2006 with a poison pill contract. Since then, it seems like both teams have been very actively trading players back and forth. This season has been no exception, with the additions of Antoine Winfield and Percy Harvin.
Winfield, known in some circles as NFL History’s Tiniest Linebacker, adds age, experience, and smarts to an extremely youthful secondary, as well as filling a need at the nickel cornerback position. Though some might consider him a headache to deal with (pun most certainly intended), Harvin adds an exceptionally dynamic element to an increasingly dynamic offense. You have to think that Russell Wilson, the journeymen quarterback for Seattle, will be as excited as he allows himself to be with the addition of Harvin to an already pretty good receiving corps. Let’s see how all of the pieces the Hawks have pillaged from the Vikings fall into place.
Don’t Tell Us Who to Draft: So, after essentially drafting Percy Harvin in the first round (see, that joke is funny because… never mind, you either know why it’s funny or don’t think it’s funny), anyone who thought they knew anything about the NFL Draft and the Seahawks’ perceived needs really believed that Pete Carroll and John Schneider would draft a defensive lineman with their first pick. Imagine the surprise when, instead, they picked Christine Michael, a RUNNING BACK, in the second round. Michael joins Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Michael Robinson, and several others in what’s becoming a very crowded back field. Does this spell the end of Marshawn’s career? Is there a new Beast in town? Who’s going to carry the load?
It’s going to be Marshawn. I repeat, it’s going to be Marshawn. There’s absolutely no question who the starting running back is. However, Michael, in my opinion, is the perfect spell back for Lynch, with Robinson leading the way as fullback and Turbin coming in as a change-of-pace running back or possible second fullback. Still, the former Texas A&M stand-out will have to work hard to get carries. Let’s see how it works out when they all put on pads.
Sea-Adderall Seahawks: Bruce Irvin, the second year defensive end, has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season because he violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy. In the short term, this leaves the team without the rookie sack leader and the injured Chris Clemons for the first part of the season. Generating a pass rush without these two players will be difficult; Carroll and Co. have to be hoping the free-agents Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett can get the job done until these two can come back.
Now for a longer view.
For those of you keeping score at home, that now makes five players who have been suspended for this reason since 2010, with a sixth player, one Richard Sherman, being accused of a violation but beating his suspension on what many might call a technicality.
I just don’t know what to say about this. The NFL has programs in place to educate young players about the dangers of controlled substances, what they are, and to avoid them. Carroll and Schneider claim that they work with individuals at least as much, if not more so, than the league mandates. Yet the fact remains that five Seahawks have been suspended for taking controlled substances. What gives?
Also, after failing a drug test, most players (and their agents) typically shout “ADDERALL,” since it’s technically a controlled substance (made with methamphetamine) but can be obtained and taken legally with a doctor’s prescription. Whether or not we went to believe that all of the violations are because of Adderall use is on us. However, because of the labor agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association, we never actually know what it is they took to fail their test. So we have to take them at their word? I guess we have to.
The point is this: Seattle is now seen as a team with a substance abuse problem. Expectations are high, following a surprisingly strong 2012 regular season and two games in the postseason. If this team falters in any way, detractors will have an easy excuse to point to. To many, the Seahawks now have to stay completely clean, or risk having these suspensions come back to haunt them in commentary.
Speaking of which…
Tweaking the tweakers: Jim Harbaugh is a very good football coach who just so happens to coach the Seahawks’ direct opposition. Why in the world would I talk about him in a Seahawks roundup? Because, when asked about Seattle’s perceived Adderall problem, he responded with, “If you have to cheat to win, then you’ve already lost.” And fans from both teams went crazy.
Brandon Browner, the usually non-communicative cornerback on the other side of Richard Sherman and one of those suspended for violating the NFL controlled substance policy, responded to Harbaugh’s comments by saying that, if the coach were lined up across from him as a wide receiver in a game, the 6’4″ Browner would put his hands around Harbaugh’s neck. Boy, do we love ourselves a little drama.
The fact remains, of course, that the San Francisco 49ers under Harbaugh have been exceptionally successful. In his first year as head coach, he took the team to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1997, and then took them to the Super Bowl the following season. They are the team to beat in the NFC West, most likely the NFC, and arguably the entire NFL. That said, the difference between San Francisco and Seattle is very, very slight. The rivalry, which has been decidedly one-sided over the past 11 years, is heating up now that both teams are considered to be the class of the NFC. Adding fuel to the fire of this rivalry is probably not the best decision Harbaugh’s made, but, on the other hand, heated division rivalries are good for business. It makes the games more exciting and puts more at stake, at least for the fans.
Plus, it reminds the rest of the league that the NFC West, which was once considered a cake division, is not to be trifled with. Why not add a little theater in the offseason to keep things interesting?
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