SEATTLE (AP) When it became clear Pete Carroll had pieced together a special group and guided them to a first Super Bowl title, the debate topic was how many championships the Seattle Seahawks would win under his watch.
Four years since winning that first title, Carroll and the Seahawks are still looking for that second championship. They are relying on much of that same special group. But that core unit is slowly creeping into the latter stages of its prime and shrinking the remaining opportunities for future championships.
''If you looked at that, I think you might see that not very many teams win for a long time. I think the windows are kind of open and shut, but I'm not thinking that way,'' Carroll said. ''I have no place in my brain for that kind of thinking, we're just trying to keep on going and stay on it.''
The Seahawks head into the 2017 season as clear favorites in their division and again likely contenders for an NFC championship. Finding them in Minneapolis in February playing in their third Super Bowl under Carroll would not be a surprise.
But as the past few seasons have shown, there is a fragility associated with the team. Whether it was internal strife or key injuries, the line between just being good and being a championship contender is thin.
''I think that this year we kind of found our, I don't want to say edge, but we've got some motivation,'' wide receiver Doug Baldwin said.
Seattle appears to be putting extra urgency in this season, highlighted by the acquisition of former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson last week. It wasn't a move needed for Seattle to be competitive, but could be a move that is the difference in being a contender and a Super Bowl participant.
There is little doubt what Seattle's defense will be with the addition of Richardson, the return to health of standout safety Earl Thomas, plus the rest of the stellar holdovers, including Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett. They should be among the best in the NFL.
The questions for Seattle reside on offense. Will the line adequately protect a healthy Russell Wilson? Can a run-game-by-committee function? And will Seattle find more ways to implement Jimmy Graham into the scheme in what could be his last year in Seattle.
Here's what to watch for with the Seahawks:
LINE CHANGE: Seattle was on the verge of stability along the offensive line before left tackle George Fant was lost of the season (torn right ACL). Second-year pro Rees Odhiambo has the pressure that how he plays could determine if there are any in-season changes along the line. If he plays well, Seattle can stay set with its plan of Luke Joeckel at left guard, Mark Glowinski at right guard and Germain Ifedi at right tackle. But if Odhiambo struggles protecting Wilson's blindside, those positions that seem set now could be completely changed, leaving the Seahawks to make adjustments on the fly for the third straight year.
BOOM RETURNS: Thomas flirted with the idea of retirement. He didn't know how to handle not being on the field due to a broken leg while his teammates were trying to make a postseason run. Those feelings of retirement were short-lived and instead became the fuel for Thomas' return, combining again with Chancellor to form arguably the best safety duo in the NFL. Thomas is the most important player to how Seattle functions defensively because of his ability to cover so much ground from free safety. Thomas has appeared fully recovered from the broken leg during the preseason.
''It's a revived Earl Thomas,'' Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. ''It's not as if he's ever taken this game for granted, but you could just see a guy relieved to be back out there, playing football again, doing what he loves to do.''
RUN FIRST? Seattle begins the season with plenty of depth at running back but no true primary ball carrier. The Seahawks would like Thomas Rawls to receive the majority of the carries, with Eddie Lacy and C.J. Prosise as the complementary change-ups. Rawls has yet to show he can be durable enough to handle the main load, having his rookie season end with a broken ankle and his second season interrupted by a few injuries. Lacy has a proven history as a featured running back but also has durability questions.
No matter who ends up with the most carries, Seattle will remain committed to the run game even as Wilson has become a more efficient passer.
HERE'S JIMMY: Wilson looked fantastic in the preseason, but making Graham more of a factor in the pass game will be a priority. Graham had 65 catches and six touchdowns last season coming off a major knee injury; his entire 2016 offseason was spent rehabbing. Now with an offseason to work with Wilson, the duo should be more in sync in the pass game.
Seattle needs to take advantage of the tight end now. His contract expires after this season.
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