The NFL kicks off Thursday, September 5. Daily previews of all eight division are in order.
Seattle is known for its diversity. Whether it’s music, coffee snobbery, or ethnicity, the region is a multicultural mecca bringing an eclectic mix of personalities and tastes to form a unique cultural vibe. Unlike the rest of the country, its distinctive demographics, historical novelties, and geographic variety make it a world-class city. And with a populace that is generally well educated, fitness-fanatical, and borderline senile due to 300+ days of rain per year, the city’s fan base is smart, passionate, and in the year 2013 has more juice flowing than a 1990’s Oakland A’s locker room.
A main contributor to this maniacal sports culture is, contradictorily, the city’s lack of any sort of success in the past several decades. Fortunately for me personally, I’ve only had to suffer through 25 painful years of sports. Whether it’s this, or this, having your city’s sports history be known for this, and worst of all this, Seattle sports fans are conditioned to expect the worst.
Every damn year, it is much of the same–watch the Mariners lose 100 games, witness the next can’t-miss-draft-pick become the next Seattle bust (see Aaron Curry, Brian Bosworth, Ryan Anderson, etc.), and then if that’s not enough, turn in to ABC every May to watch the now annual contender, Zombie-Sonics, contend for an NBA title in Oklahoma City.
For generations this city has been longing for a winner; clamoring for any level of success to (at least temporarily) elevate the city’s reputation from its current ignominious state. With such perpetual sports indigence, you would expect the city’s populace would turn to religion to put things in perspective; to seek solace elsewhere in times of such consistent hardship. Yet, the region–and Seattle in particular–has long been known to be a largely secular society; the antithesis to the majority of the country and its largely religious population.
But in a recent development, Seattle’s largely agnostic demographic has begun a transformation. Since His arrival, a religious-like fervor has swept through the region, leading to a vast spiritual awakening to levels not seen since the The Double. Seattle’s sport messiah has arrived. Simultaneously spawning a new era of sports fandom, and igniting a fan base, Russell Wilson’s Divine Intervention has turned the Seattle Seahawks from NFL laughing stock, to Super Bowl Favorites.
And like any good deity, nobody saw it coming. Entering last season with a stout run-D, dynamic secondary, and a proficient run game that features Skittle-eating, Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks were just a curator away from a playoff run. Yet the Seahawks were on the verge of cutting loose the underwhelming Tavaris Jackson, and had signed former-Packer Matt “noodle arm” Flynn to a very Seattle-esque three-year 19.5 milliondeal. Having previously sat behind Aaron Rodgers, Flynn had shown adequately in his backup role, and conventional wisdom was that he was going to take over the starting gig going forward, and be nothing but average.
Fortunately, nobody told this to Wilson. After setting a single season FBS record for passing efficiency at the University of Wisconsin, Wilson was largely an afterthought as the 2012 draft approached. Despite his accolades, college film reel, and unquestioned intangibles, the draft pundits couldn’t get over his height–5’ 10 5/8”. Leading up to the draft, Mel Kiper, Jr. and others saw another “short quarterback,” destined for a career as a backup. In the end, the Seahawks took what some experts opined as a questionable selection, nabbing Wilson in the third round of the draft. Wilson was the sixth quarterback taken; 75th overall and five selections behind Jacksonville, who ended up taking this guy. It is these types of fateful decisions that the Seahawks have been on the wrong side of more times than not, but for once, Seattle was on the right side of destiny.
After catching the first glimpse of Wilson, experts and fans alike were struggling to categorize his enigmatic Fran Tarkenton-esque playing style. Whether it was his last second toss to beat Tom Brady and New England, the controversial Fail Mary, his road playoff victory in D.C., Wilson exudes an indescribable feeling of confidence. A confidence that gives Hawks fans an expectation to win. A feeling, once unknown, that has fervently spread throughout the fan base turning the Seahawk faithful from its regional passive aggressive nature to an overconfident, arrogant, bully-like persona that typically embraces only the prolific franchises with an illustrious history in its arsenal.
With the first chapter written in the book of Wilsonism, expectations are sky high in the Emerald City. The 12th man is in full force, additional pieces have been added in the offseason to help Wilson (edit: Damn you Harvin), and the Seahawks find themselves preseason favorites to take the cake. It’s Wilson’s encore, and there is a feeling parsing throughout the city about the Hawks and Russell Wilson in particular. A feeling similar to the one described by Golden Tate as, “just a feeling, you know? You get a feeling that someone’s just very, very special. You don’t know what it is, but you get that feeling.” It is this feeling that has single-handedly put the Hawks on top of the 2013 power-rankings, made them preseason favorites in the NFC West, and has reinvigorated a city and fan base desperate to believe. Amen.
A Homer’s Preseason Prediction: 12-4, NCF Champs, Super Bowl Appearance. — Will Pitzler
San Francisco 49ers
Coming off a disappointing defeat in the Super Bowl, the big question is, “Where does one go from here?” Where’s the ceiling? In two years as front man, Jim Harbaugh has done some amazing things for the 49ers organization. He’s been an absolute hit and has rejuvenated the bandwagon. It parallels Bill Walsh’s arrival from Palo Alto. He’s lost the NFC Championship game and then the Super Bowl. So as a fan for almost two decades, I’ve been racking my brain this offseason to see where this team can go. It isn’t just easy enough to say that they can improve on the last two seasons and finally claim it all, but that would be the clearest future on paper. The defense will be ushering in rookie, Eric Reid, into the fold but I expect to see the same band of misfits patrolling the defensive side of the ball led by the Smith brothers. Losing Michael Crabtree for a minimum of 10 games is going to slow down this team and the hopes are that a young receiving corps led by Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis will stabilize things as we find out if Colin Kaepernick is the understood leader of the future for this team. But it’s a step back, offensively. And history is unkind to Super Bowl losers. I see the San Francisco 49ers making it to the NFC Championship game. What comes after that . . . I have no clue. — Marcus Brent
St. Louis Rams
I’m drinking the breakout juice for Sam Bradford. Rotoviz had this great piece about the parallels between Aaron Rodgers and Bradford at 25. Statistically, Bradford should run the division in terms of passing yards and passing touchdowns. The no huddle pace and aerial attack can lean on slot receiving deity Tavon Austin and the league’s most underrated deep threat, Chris Givens. I was sold during the third preseason game–historically the most realized dress rehearsal–when, at a Denver D that fielded the now-suspended-for-six-games Von Miller, Bradford coughed his way down the field like a driver in a snow plow. The gorgeous first quarter drive ended with a fade to new tight end Jared Cook. The former-Tennessee Titan is a sight to behold in a Rams uniform. This is a team that can gun it and is led by one of the most accomplished defensive coaches of the last 15 years. The downside, of course, is that it’s a loaded division and flights to the Pacific Northwest are on the docket. I’ll give them nine wins. — Ramon Ramirez
Bruce Arians wants to throw downfield, go vertical. I think he’ll have no problem. Carson Palmer is a stopgap QB1 that can chuck for 4,000 yards in silver and black. His quartet of receiving options–Larry Fitzgerald, new noise kid Michael Floyd, third-read Andre Roberts, and imposing tight end Rob Housler–will give Fitz his best post-Warner season to date. This much is a given, but so what? The Kolb-Doucet-Wells triplets may be gone, but who the hell put Rashard Mendenhall in charge? Palmer has not been an elite quarterback since 2005 and he’s comfortably the fourth-best signal caller in the division. Hence, the column placement for this team in our preview. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is building a Houston Texans-esque defense that will play an aggressive 3-4 wherein the front three is less burdened by reading and just gets to bullrush the backfield, fuck shit up. I like all of this, and it makes Arizona competent across the board. It’s a log-jammed division, but someone has to finish in last place and I’ll always bet on the team that bet on Carson Palmer. — RR
Gambling Pete’s Divisional Special
I am the driver for the St. Louis Ram’s playoff bandwagon, but there is a bet I like even more in the division. The San Francisco 49ers are very good. No two ways about it, but they pull the NFC South, AFC South, Green Bay, and Washington for their out of conference schedule. They play seven games against playoff teams from last year. Add on two against the Rams (who they did not beat last year in either game), and one against the Saints, Tampa, and Carolina each and this schedule is a minefield. The over under is set at 11. I like the under in this one at -140. I’m a little worried they’ll win 11, but I’m not worried they’ll go 12-4. Coaches have had an entire offseason to game plan for Kaepernick. Their post-Crab receivers are a liability. If I’ve got a million dollars to spend, I’m putting 200k on it. — Pete Fitzsimmons