After an off-season full of excitement and unexpected additions, it’s fair, although a little bold, to call the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl favourites right now. They are by no means clear favorites. With Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos setting the standard for the AFC, there will be no easy Super Bowl matchup for the Seahawks if they come out on top in the NFC, the presumed better conference that has watched it’s top teams look to one-up each other at every point of this off-season in some supercharged arms-race.
On paper, the Seahawks are as good as anyone when healthy. But of course, football is played on a field, not on paper.
Only in Madden does the best team always win. Too many other factors exist in real life. From health, consistency and leadership to simply creating a locker-room with the right mixture of personalities to guide 53+ men through the turmoils and tasks of a 19 or 20 game season. Health and consistency are the easiest aspects of football to write about from the outside-looking-in, because those are the two aspects that are easily identified and on show every season. By now people expect Tony Romo to fail when the lights are brightest, while Eli Manning has shown that he steps up when his team needs him in the biggest moments.
Identifying leadership and chemistry is less enticing because it is analyzed through a cloudier window.
Understanding that Titus Young, the former Detroit Lions’ wide receiver who was released from his rookie contract for disobeying direct orders on the field and was then subsequently arrested twice in 24 hours, is less likely to be a good leader than a Tom Brady is obvious, but projecting how a person can develop into a leader is next to impossible because we don’t really know their characters. Right now it looks like Young’s career is over, but there are many times when Adam ‘formerly Pacman’ Jones looked to be in the same position, before he became an important role player for the Cincinnati Bengals. Whereas Tom Brady is seen as a great leader because of his passion and guidance, yet when Jay Cutler shows off his passion to his teammates he is guaranteed to be ridiculed.
Much of our presumptions about character are defined by success and interpretation of body language from afar.
If you are Peyton Manning, you can spent countless hours shooting countless commercials during the off-season or hosting Saturday Night Live if you want. If you are Tony Romo, you can’t play one round of golf without people calling for more focus on football. Yet because Romo doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring and has repeatedly faltered in the biggest moments for the Cowboys, he doesn’t get the same pass as Manning because Manning is a sure-fire hall-of-fame player with a Super Bowl ring around one of his fingers.
What does all this have to do with the Seattle Seahawks?
Well, the most important questions about the Seahawks right now are questions that nobody can answer. How will this roster develop chemistry in time for the season? Do they have enough leadership to handle new expectations amidst so much change? It’s easy to brush these questions aside and point to reports about individual player’s work habits in the off-season or talk about their ability to handle pressure at times during last year, but this year holds a completely new venture for the whole franchise.
This group of players, the coaching staff and the front office have never entered a season with such high expectations. Realistically, what will be considered a successful season for the Seahawks next year if they don’t win the Super Bowl? Is losing in the NFC Championship going to be considered progress? Even though they made it to the divisional round of the playoffs last year, they didn’t enter the season expecting to be in that position.
At this stage last year Russell Wilson had a lesser reputation than Matt Barkley does now. The Seahawks weren’t expecting to be one of the better offenses in the league and if they were, it was most likely going to be Matt Flynn who led them to be. Sidney Rice had yet to prove that he could stay healthy, while Terrell Owens got a shot in training camp, which said a lot about the team’s trust in Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate’s development. Marshawn Lynch was a bright-spot everyone knew about, but how far could he carry them in a passing league and would he be suspended for an off-season arrest?
Throw in a bunch of offensive line question-marks and nobody was writing the Seahawks in for a playoff spot in 2012. Some knew it was a possibility because of the quality of the defense, but even that was unclear with rookies Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner expected to play big roles and the secondary needing to prove that 2011 hadn’t been a fluke.
Very cautious optimism surrounded the Seahawks, but nobody was going to be surprised if they finished at the bottom of the NFC West.
Hype and expectations of grandeur have replaced that cautious optimism this year. If the Seahawks finish last in the NFC West, it will be the shock of the season(unless of course Tim Tebow gets a job), while many already have them penciled in for a first-round-bye, not just a playoff appearance. Wilson is the franchise quarterback who many expect will be a superstar player again in his second year, maybe even better. Marshawn Lynch’s legal troubles haven’t reared their heads just yet, and even if they do the offense is now versatile enough to continue without him as Sidney Rice proved his health last year and Percy Harvin arrived to add a completely new dimension to the offense as a whole.
Any offensive line question-marks are expected to be overlooked by the quality at quarterback, receiver, tight end and running-back, while the defense is boasting even more weapons this year after an off-season full of free-agent additions. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel and Antoine Winfield bolstered a unit that has lost Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant and Alan Branch. Even considering Chris Clemons’ torn ACL, the Seahawks appear to have the best secondary in the league with a plethora of dynamic pass-rushers who can get to the quarterback. Throw in the fact that they’re not susceptible to teams running the ball and this offense is expected to be elite above all others.
Even though the Seahawks have had no leadership or chemistry problems since Carroll took over, they also haven’t had any real expectations or overwhelming egos. Success, hype and expectation can dramatically alter the makeup of a man. While Richard Sherman and company have been brash in their proclamations throughout their careers, now those proclamations will receive even more attention from outsiders and get even more backing from those closer to him. A guy like Sherman has proved that he has all the talent that is needed to be a shutdown cornerback in this league, but that kind of success can make anyone complacent, while his success could prove to be a disruptive force within a locker-room.
As with anything to do with character or chemistry, there is no basis to say that this is going to happen, but there is also no basis to say that it definitely won’t.
Bringing in characters such as Avril, Bennett, McDaniel, Harvin and Winfield will alter the formula of the Seahawks’ locker-room whether they want it to or not.
Of the group, Harvin and Bennett have previously had some question-marks over their characters, but Winfield will be expected to provide the most positive impact as he has been considered a leader for the Minnesota Vikings throughout his career. Just like there is no guarantee with the negative characters, perceived positive characters can’t be relied upon either.
As Asante Samuel recently spoke to on the SVP and Russilo ESPN Radio show, being able to lead a locker-room positively can be very difficult when you are a new face in a new place. Winfield had nine years in Minnesota to develop into his leadership role, if he is expected to impact the Seahawks’ roster, then he will have less than nine months to make that impression. Instead, remaining players who experienced the positives and negatives of last season will likely be looked to step into more prominent roles on and off-the-field. If all of those players are team-first guys, the Seahawks will be lucky, because if they are not, then the money that was invested in outside additions could become a divisive theme to cut through the locker-room.
Even though the Seahawks maximized their short-term talent without sacrificing their long-term future, this blueprint for success is far from fool-proof. The Seahawks may very well win the Super Bowl this year, but if they do they will need to manage the chemistry and formula of their locker-room while integrating new players on and off-the-field.
Coaches and managers are not only employed for their abilities to draw up plays on the whiteboard and teach players technique, they must be able to manage a roster of 53 and more egos. That will be the toughest test for the Seattle Seahawks in 2013.
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