With the 2013 NFL season rapidly approaching, we’re taking a spin around the league for a closer look at all 32 teams. Track all of our Snapshots here.
The Seattle Seahawks were, perhaps above all things, entertaining last season. From their controversial replacement ref-aided win over Green Bay in Week 3 to a 58-0 romp over Arizona to a pair of enthralling playoff games, the Seahawks delivered a fun, borderline cocky performance.
The party came to a crashing halt in a matter of 21 seconds.
Trailing the Falcons by 20 entering the fourth quarter of their divisional-round playoff game, the Seahawks ripped off three unanswered touchdowns to take a stunning 28-27 lead with just 34 seconds left. They then allowed Matt Ryan to connect on a pair of passes, one to Harry Douglas for 22 yards and another to Tony Gonzalez for 19, to set up a 49-yard Matt Bryant field goal. He hit it, and Seattle headed home to an offseason of what-ifs, as Atlanta journeyed to the NFC title game.
The goal for Seattle this season, clearly, is to take that next step -- to advance to the NFC title game and beyond, with the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the tunnel.
This team seems capable of just such an accomplishment. But as the Seahawks found out last year, nothing in the NFL comes easy.
• Biggest storyline: What's going on at wide receiver?
Well, we sort of know what's happening with Percy Harvin. The Seahawks' pricey offseason acquisition needed hip surgery, so he is out for at least the first half of the season.
The status of one Sidney Rice stands as a bit more mysterious.
At last check, Rice, the Seahawks' leading receiver last season and no doubt a player set to be critical piece in the Harvin-less offense, was in Switzerland receiving medical attention on his knee. That trip overseas certainly hints at some sort of stem-cell treatment, but does very little to tell us when Rice might be ready to go in 2013.
Should Rice also miss time during the regular season, the Seahawks would be down to Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin atop the depth chart, with rookie Chris Harper in the mix. That's still a serviceable group, but it is far from the explosive unit Seattle envisioned after adding Harvin.
If there's one element that quickly can turn a Super Bowl contender into a middle-of-the-pack team, it is injuries. The Seahawks are not off to a great start in that regard.
• Most intriguing positional battle: Outside linebacker.
In adding Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett this offseason, the Seahawks created an enviable glut of talent at their DE and Leo (a hybrid end, linebacker spot) positions on defense. The odd man out, for now, is Bruce Irvin.
Irvin delivered eight sacks during his rookie season, more than vindicating the Seahawks' surprising decision to select him with the No. 15-overall pick in last year's draft. But those numbers came from the defensive end spot. Now, Seattle is hoping Irvin can translate his abilities over to an outside linebacker spot.
As the preseason gets rolling, Irvin is engaged in a battle with 2011 seventh-rounder Malcolm Smith for the team's starting strongside 'backer position. K.J. Wright, a 15-game starter last season, appears to have Seattle's other starting OLB spot locked down.
Smith opened camp as the No. 1 on the opposite side, with Irvin nipping at his heels. Odds are that Seattle will find some way to get Irvin on the field, given how he played in 2012.
• New face, new place: Antoine Winfield, cornerback.
Brandon Flowers recently said that the Chiefs could have the best secondary in the league. Seattle probably could steal a few votes.
The Seahawks finished last season sixth in passing yards allowed and eighth in interceptions, then added ex-Viking Antoine Winfield, who was 2012's best slot corner. Winfield was Pro Football Focus's highest-rated cornerback, period, for 2012 ... one spot ahead of new teammate Richard Sherman. Add in Brandon Browner, and the Seahawks could wreak havoc on opponents' passing games this year.
Winfield is 36 years old, and he did miss 11 games during the 2011 season. So, keeping the 14-year vet healthy and on the field for a full season will be a challenge for the Seahawks, though Winfield did make it through all of 2010 and '12 unscathed.
All members of the Seahawks' secondary (including safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) should have ample opportunities to make plays provided the team's pass rush can improve on last season's numbers -- the Seahawks had 36 sacks, 0.5 below the league average.
• Impact rookie: Christine Michael, running back.
Seattle's run game is, for now and the foreseeable future, Marshawn Lynch's domain. The Seahawks ran the ball more than any team in the league last season, however, so there is room for a second back to make a dent.
Robert Turbin was that back in 2012. He picked up 80 carries (14 attempts less than QB Russell Wilson) and caught 19 passes as a complement to Lynch. Michael, Seattle's second-round pick in April, could drop Turbin down the depth chart this season.
Michael got some run with the Seahawks' first team during voluntary team workouts, with Lynch opting out, and showed plenty of potential in doing so. The Texas A&M product had a disappointing senior season, but he still finished his college career with nearly 2,800 yards rushing and more than 3,000 total yards.
• Looking at the schedule: We'll know a lot about the 2013 version of the Seahawks by the end of Week 5. They open with a tester in Carolina, before coming home for a critical matchup against San Francisco. Another home game, vs. Jacksonville, then road trips to Houston and Indianapolis round out the opening portion of the schedule.
Without Harvin and possibly without Rice or DE Chris Clemons (who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered last postseason), can Seattle manage a start of 3-2 or better?
If not, the Seahawks will need to mimic their 2012 close, when they ran off seven wins in eight games to push San Francisco in the NFC West. The slate after that tough start looks friendlier, though games at Atlanta, San Francisco and the Giants loom over the season's final seven weeks.
The Seahawks have the feel of a team capable of winning the Super Bowl. Heck, they might have done so last year, had it not been for that defensive collapse late in Atlanta. Still, in a brutal division and loaded conference, Seattle cannot let any injury woes drag down the roster.