Handicapping The Season

Seahawks.NET's Mark Olsen joins forces with Special Guest Nick Shelly (of NSport.net) to take a careful look at the odds for several factors that will affect the 2004 Seahawks, and the Seahawks' 2004 season itself.

In looking at the coming season, there are several key questions for the Seahawks. I’m going to be looking at several intriguing questions going into the 2005 NFL season and trying my hand at rating each of these variables based on a Las Vegas style handicapping system. Professional sports handicapper Nick Shelly has graciously agreed to add his own insight to my own as we try to peer into the crystal ball and foresee what awaits the Seahawks this year.

Players and Personnel ~
*WR Jerheme Urban leaps up the depth chart

Over the course of mini-camps, training camp, and the preseason, several of our rookie or second-year WRs have had stellar performances, but the name that keeps coming up consistently has been 2nd year receiver Jerheme Urban. After spending last year on the practice squad, he came to camp this year in great shape and impressed many of the coaches, scouts, and fans with his precise routes and great hands. At 6’3” and 212lbs, he has great size for a receiver, and this can give him a big advantage over some of the smaller DB’s in the league. Based on his improvement as a receiver, his great camp, and his overall upside, he may very well place himself as the #4 WR on the depth chart behind Darrell Jackson, Koren Robinson, and Bobby Engram, surpassing incumbent special teams pro bowler Alex Bannister, who has always had a hard time running precise routes.

Odds of Urban starting the regular season as the #4 WR – 4.5 to 1

NSport.net Analysis – Jerheme Urban will indeed see time at #5, #4, and possibly #3 at times. We saw a good catch for a first down against the Packers, and being a first-down specialist could be his bag. I liken Urban as a cross between Ricky Proehl, Dane Looker, and Joe Jurevicius. As far as being a better choice than Bannister, remember it was Bannister who the ball was intended for after Hasselbeck’s famous claim in OT to close out their playoff run in 2003. Because of this, Alex will either have another pro bowl year on the Special Teams unit, or regress and lose his spot by the 8th week of the season to Urban as the 4th wideout.

Odds of Urban starting the regular season as the #4 WR – 10 to 1
Odds of splitting time with Bannister in the 4 wide Set – 1 to 1

*FB Chris Davis shines, Heath Evans doesn’t make the final roster
As originally stated in my article What to Watch For In 2k4, I’m a big Chris Davis guy, and since day one of mini-camp, I’ve been touting the 2nd year fullback as the best man for the backup job behind the ever-amazing Mack Strong. After 2 preseason games and a bunch of training camp practices, my opinion is even more assured that Davis will be the guy behind Mack at the start of the regular season, not only because of his solid play, but because of current 2nd stringer Heath Evans’ terrible start to ’04. Evans has shown some improvements in his blocking, but his running and receiving skills have seemed to regress over the course of his 4 years with the team. Several dropped passes in camp and in key moments of the preseason games have done little to help his status as an underachiever. I can see him being placed on the expanded practice squad roster and possibly being picked up by another team.

Odds of Chris Davis becoming #2 on the FB depth chart – Pick ‘em ( 1 to 1 )
Odds of Heath Evans making final roster: 15 to 1

NSport.net Analysis – Bold… very bold. Heath Evans was once considered to have a pro bowl future with the Seattle Seahawks. Now? Special Teams should be his goal for 2004. In the NFL it’s all about economics… Mack Strong again looks good, so there are no surprises here. A financial gain for the ‘Hawks is Heath’s loss.

Odds of Chris Davis becoming #2: 1 to 5
Odds of Heath Evans making the final roster: 5 to 1

"*As the Middle Linebacker Revolving Door Turns"
I would just as soon place a large wager on a wiener dog race than pick odds on which of the three Middle linebackers currently battling for the starting position will start on opening day. Orlando Huff, Solomon Bates, and Niko Koutouvides (pronounced koot-o-veed-es) have been sharing the starting role through training camp and preseason in an effort to see which will shine through as the starter on opening day, but so far nobody has shown enough consistency to be considered the heavy favorite. I do see Niko as the least likely to get the job simply because he is a rookie, and placing a rookie in such a crucial role of a Ray Rhodes defense would have to signify a large leap of faith in an untested player. I give the nod to Bates by a hair simply because I think he is a bit more athletic then Huff and he tends to pursue to the ball more effectively while Huff tends to be late to react.

Odds of Bates starting at MLB: 4 to 1
Odds of Huff starting at MLB: 6 to 1
Odds of Niko starting at MLB: 12 to 1

NSport.net Analysis – I agree with Mark on this one. Actually, the Hawks should just pencil in the wiener dog as the starting MLB. Why oh why can the Seahawks not land a quality MLB? It’s a turnstile all year at this position. On paper, Huff should be the favorite, but it’ll all depend on who makes the ordinary play look ordinary. In other words, this position could be the Seahawk’s “lunch pail” position and Ray Rhodes and the defensive staff are hoping that they are not embarrassed as in years past. Huff will start, but share lots of time with Bates. No odds given.

*The effect of Chad Brown’s injury on the bottom line
Will losing Chad Brown to a broken fibula have a direct impact on the team’s win loss record? I truly believe it will. Some experts will tend to say that injuries are part of the game and that every team must have quality players that can step into that role without a large drop off in production. I agree with this to a point, but I also believe that Chad is one of only a few elite players that actually change the way a game is played when he’s in at OLB. If D.D. Lewis can get over his problems with his surgically repaired shoulder, it could help take the sting away, but the combination of Brown’s incredible play and his intangibles leads me to believe that his loss could result in at least one loss for our team, especially considering our middle linebacker situation as well as the youth on the defensive line and the secondary.

Odds of losing 1 or more games because of the absence of Chad Brown: 3 to 1

NSport.net Analysis - Nope. Not even close… there is no “I” in team and without Chad Brown, the team will go on. Yes, Chad Brown has been a mainstay of the Seahawks defense for years, but I actually think this could have a positive impact, if in fact, D.D. Lewis can maintain his health. The biggest problem over the years is that Chad Brown is one of those players that the linebacker corps DEPENDED ON TOO HEAVILY. When you have a great player, others seem to watch with awe and wonder. Now that he’s gone, the entire defensive unit should step up to the challenge.

Odds of losing 1 or more games because of the absence of Chad Brown: 1 to 1
Odds of WINNING 1 or more games: 1 to 1 … it’s a wash, folks.

Season and specific game predictions ~
*Week 1 – Seattle Seahawks vs. New Orleans Saints

It’s very early to predict a game still 3 weeks away, but I’m willing to make some assumptions and go off of what I believe will take place on September 12th in the Superdome. The Seahawks are riding a wave of confidence from a very good season a year ago and some nice additions in the off season. The Seahawk offense looks frightening on paper, and if they play up to their potential, like they did last year in Baltimore, this could be a squad that no defense can contain. The Saints offense is very schizophrenic but also very dangerous. Aaron Brooks has several weapons at his disposal including Pro Bowler Joe Horn, and Deuce McAllister is still one of the best backs in the league. The key to this game will be the Seahawk defense. At this point, I just don’t know how the Hawk defense will look come opening day. There are so many unanswered questions and unproven players in key positions that I think Ray Rhodes may have a long season ahead of him. McAllister will rack up over 100 yards Aaron Brooks will have a good day, so the Hawks will rely on their offense to shoot it out with the Saints.

I give the Hawks the win in a shootout, but I’ll only put the line at 1.5
Over/Under will be 44. Take the over.

NSport.net Analysis – I actually prefer to look at this from another perspective. The Seahawks have been notoriously poor on the road for several years, sometimes barely competing in games. For this reason, we should get exceptional line value from Vegas. The line hasn’t been published yet, but I anticipate the Seahawks will be dogs in this game. So what about the bad road woes? While they only won twice last year on the road, they were literally 4 plays away from being 6-2 as opposed to their extraordinarily poor 2-6. If you look at this game from a match-ups perspective, no team poses more problems for defenses than the Seattle Seahawks. This team is nearly as prolific as the Rams teams of recent years with their receiving trio of Koren Robinson, Darrell Jackson, and Bobby Engram and their Pro-Bowler in the backfield, Shaun Alexander. Add to the fact that Jerramy Stevens could crack the starting squad and you give linebackers and safeties a whole new problem to worry about. I will say that one of the biggest problems could be on O-line as Walter Jones is holding out yet again.

On defense, the Seahawks should be better, but they still don’t scare anyone. The biggest thing for them this year will be if they are able to be “steadier” on defense. Their stats were a bit skewed because teams were able to pass in large numbers since they had no D-line and 3 youngsters in the defensive backfield. Factor in underachieving Shawn Springs and all this meant that teams just decided not to run against them. If this defense can provide balance on the line and in the secondary, we should see an overall improvement from the unit. Unfortunately, that balance could be lost in the depleted linebacker corps, where only Anthony Simmons remains as the lone standout. The Saints, offensively, are a terrible match-up for the new-look Seahawk defense. An early test for Grant Wistrom and Marcus Tubbs will be the scrambling and playmaking ability of Michael Vick’s cousin, Aaron Brooks. Factor in the Deuce and Joe Horn, and the ‘Hawks will be severely tested. The Saints have high hopes for 2004, as Tampa Bay is down a few notches, so they have a chance to sneak by Carolina for division supremacy. Kicking off their home opener against Super Bowl contender Seattle with a win could be the first chapter of this quest.

Predicted Vegas Line: Saints (-2.5, 46 o/u)
NSport.net Prediction: Seahawks +2.5, Under 46

We should see a shaky start from both offenses, but a moderately strong showing for both defenses. New Orleans will be rough around the edges in their home opener and Seattle will eek out a win by holding on in the fourth quarter.

Final score: Seattle 23, New Orleans 20

*Week 1-9 record
A shaky start at New Orleans will get the team a close win, but it only gets harder from there. Playing both Super Bowl teams from 2004 (New England & Carolina) as well as St. Louis and Tampa Bay could easily place the Hawks at .500 after the first half of the season. I can see the Hawks losing at least 3 of these games, but there are usually 2 games in every season that a team should win but end up losing, so 4 and 4 could be a possibility. I think that it’s more probable, based solely on talent alone, that we come away with 5 wins during this stretch, but as I said before, it all comes down to the question marks on defense.

Odds that the Hawks will be over .500 in November: 1 to 2
My predicted record: 5 wins 3 loses

NSport.net Analysis - Seattle comes into this season with the schedule makers being unkind because they were a playoff team last year, so they are in the unfamiliar role of “the hunted” for the first time in years. Thus, they will not sneak up on anyone this year, so every game should be a battle.

Game 1 – @New Orleans – W
Game 2 – @Tampa Bay – W
Game 3 – San Francisco – W
Game 4 – St. Louis – W
Game 5 – @New England – L
Game 6 – @Arizona – L
Game 7 – Carolina – L
Game 8 – @San Francisco – W

Realistically, winning the first two on the road for a team that won only two all of last year is fairly unrealistic, but if the Seahawks can hang on in New Orleans, they have a shot of traversing three time zones again and potentially pulling of another against the Bucs. Another possible road win could be the Cardinals, and really depends on the health of Anquan Boldin and Emmitt Smith, as well as the development of Larry Fitzgerald. At home, no team was better than the ’03 Seahawks. Through 3 at home, I predict losing at least one game, most likely to the Carolina Panthers.

NSport.net odds of the Seahawks being over .500 in November: 1 to 4.
Record prediction: 5-3.

*Super Bowl Bound?

This team has the potential to make it to the dance, but too many questions on Defense and an offense that struggles with consistency may make for a short playoff appearance.

Odds that the Seahawks will be in the Super Bowl: 15 to 1

NSport.net Analysis - The offensive inconsistency should be over. Returning all of your players on offense is a HUGE deal. Very few teams have the offensive line advantages that the Seahawks hold. Factor in the return of every skill position, and you’ve got the makings of a juggernaut that will be hard to stop.

I agree with Mark in the fact that there are questions on defense; however the issue for 2004 will be consistency and balance in defensive match-ups. They certainly filled that need by bringing in Bobby Taylor and Grant Wistrom as well as drafting Marcus Tubbs in the first round to solidify the DT position. The biggest problem again could be the dependency on the defensive line to rush the passer to give the secondary a chance to make plays. I still see the impact of the Chad Brown injury as minimal because I believe that D.D. Lewis can anchor the position as long as he is healthy, but I’m particularly worried about the MLB spot. The Hawks need to find the answer to that problem very soon.

I anticipate the Seahawks best chance at making the playoffs will be to win the NFC West. Overall, an 11 win season is possible, and is actually very likely. Playoff foes should be Carolina, New Orleans (or Atlanta), St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Minnesota. Out of this mix, the Seahawks will need some home field advantage to make it deep into the playoffs.

Odds that the Seahawks will be in the Super Bowl: 8 to 1, odds of winning it all: 10 to 1.

- Mark Olsen writes for Seahawks.NET. He’s also an Administrator (as "rockhawkx") for our Fan Forums. Feel free to send Mark feedback at seahawk94@comcast.net.

- Nick Shelly has been a professional sports analyst and handicapper for over 10 years. He owns NSport.net and has been involved with several other Sports Handicapping and betting sites. You can contact Nick at nick@nsport.net or visit his website at www.nsport.net

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