The Seahawks suffered through an up-and-down season a year ago, but have significantly improved their roster heading into 2012. In year three of the Pete Carroll era, the team will be looking to take a major step forward.
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The quarterback position is somewhat in flux. Newly signed free agent Matt Flynn is an upgrade under center and, assuming he's the starter, will help open things up for bruising running back Marshawn Lynch. Flynn's presence should also accelerate the development of Seattle's wide receiving corps –- particularly Golden Tate –- and hopefully will help Sidney Rice find the form he had with the Vikings in 2009. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, though, dazzled in the team's third preseason game, throwing for 185 yards and two touchdowns, and is mounting a strong challenge to win the job.
Defensively, the Seahawks appear to be somewhat suspect -– especially in the secondary -– but luckily they're in a division without an abundance of offensive firepower. If Flynn (or whoever emerges from the quarterback competition) proves to be a consistent signal-caller and the team's defense manages to hold its own against lackluster competition, the Seahawks could contend for the NFC West crown, or at least a wild-card spot.
The addition of Flynn was a pleasant surprise, as many expected the former Aaron Rodgers understudy to reunite with his ex-offensive coordinator Joe Philbin in Miami. The other notable splash was the signing of former Pro Bowl wide receivers Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards to one-year deals.
Chris Clemons has been a sack machine the past two seasons for the Seahawks.
On defense, the Seahawks are hoping under-the-radar signings such as linebacker Barrett Ruud and DE Jason Jones can make a difference for a defense that was just an average unit for the majority of last season.
For the second consecutive draft, Seattle was criticized for reaching for prospects much earlier than expected. The Seahawks' first-round pick, defensive end Bruce Irvin, will provide the team with a much-needed pass-rusher off the edge, but he's considered a one-dimensional player who can add little value elsewhere. Wilson, out of Wisconsin, was selected in the third round. The rest of the team's draft class is full of unsung names that the team will be counting on to develop into contributors down the line.
The Seahawks can set the tone for the 2012 campaign with a Week 1 win on the road against Arizona. From that point, the schedule doesn't get any easier as games against Dallas and Green Bay arise in the next two weeks.
Seattle's season could come down to a five-game stretch starting in Week 4 in which four of those outings come on the road. A .500 or better record during that stretch that includes road games against San Francisco, Detroit and Carolina and a home game against New England would be considered a success.
The Seahawks go on to close the season with three of their final four contests at home against division opponents. The NFC West should once again be much improved and no worse than a split within the division will be needed for Seattle to clinch a second playoff berth in the past three years.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Marshawn Lynch, running back. Lynch is a bruising runner who has had an up-and-down career but appears to have found a long-term home in Seattle.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Chris Clemons, defensive end. Clemons is often disregarded when talking about the league's best defenders, but he has racked up 22 sacks in the past two seasons.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
Flynn puts the team on his back and erases the memories of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst at the helm. The Seahawks also will need another big year from Lynch and the running game in order to knock San Francisco off its perch atop the NFC West.