Okay, so last time I gave
personal picks to expected excellence, as well as the decidedly dour. But
I left a couple divisions out of that equation... so let’s have a look
at them, shall we?
The most interesting division
in the NFL this year are our old mates – the AFC WEST. In gauging what
to expect there… I don’t know what to expect.
have decided to stick with the identical defense they hemorrhaged with last
year – only now helmed by good ol’ boy Gunther Cunningham. Virtually
the only thing different about this team is the loss of quality ORT John Tait.
Therefore, are we to expect them to post the very same X-factor numbers as last
year – and better success because Gunther’s calling the shots? I
expect a slight drop here.
The BRONCOS? Verrrrry
interesting. This team has quality players at every position – yet not
one position is free of concern. In reverse, there’s not a single section
of their team they can bank on – yet, no position is truly weak. Oyyygabaaaaaald.
How do you handicap a team like that? You don’t. Avoid Bronco bucks at
the Bookman. (And I apologize for that confusing Frisco Kid reference).
Surprisingly, I gave them a higher rating than both KC and Denver. That was
not what I expected to do. The offensive line is, on paper, remarkably strong;
a nice committee of RB’s; if WR Porter can fully ascend he should open
up Rice (unless he’s finally ready for a wheelchair, and if he misses
Tim Brown); does Gannon suddenly suck? If he does, is Kerry Collins a nice fit?
(I think, yes.) And here’s where it gets interesting… Defense.
DT’s Sapp and mammoth
Ted Washington join the ever-underrated John Parrella on the D-Line (along with
former 1st rounder DT Tyler Brayton who showed skills). That’s scary!
I dare you to run on THAT squad! Only, they’re talking about a 3-4, and
the LB core is relatively weak (Romo retired; young stud Eric Barton ditched
for elsewhere). What does this mean for pass defense? It means we’re wondering
how much Rod Woodson has left in his tank at Safety (correction: he got cut.
His tank is empty), and whether Phillip Buchanon can step up and be the player
he was drafted to be. If that’s a problem, can Ray Buchanon prove he still
has it, and what about Rookie Stuart Schweigert? Anyone who, right now, claims
to have the answers to all of that? Flush ‘em. We’ll just have to
wait and see…
And then we have my hometown
BOLTmen. Are they going to compete? Ummm… I seriously
doubt it. But they’re going to be interesting to watch. I will stake my
entire reputation on Phillip Rivers ascending to be one of the NFL’s most
dangerous QB’s…if he ever signs. Perhaps little boy Manning couldn’t
handle the situation here – Phillip Rivers will…if he ever signs.
And he will be a winner here within 2-3 years….if he ever…well,
you know. Sometimes you get a leader who makes everyone around them push a little
harder. By example. That will be Phillip Rivers. See, we all know that’s
the difference between a winner – and a loser. (Except, that didn’t
happen in Archie Manning’s case, so he has a different perspective.) And
don’t forget about the guy I didn’t rate very high coming out of
college – RB Tomlinson. He’s, uh, pretty good!! The Chargers will
be interesting this year simply from a perspective of tomorrow.
But what about the NFC WEST, where the Hawks roost? Some interesting
things happening there as well, eh.
First up, last year’s
champs the RAMS… look to fall from grace. I remember
this home video game from the days of old called Turmoil. They had this really
funky commercial for it that was all about being lost without direction, and
this kid’s face shaking all over the place. Like ‘glllllbbbnnnnmsjqjergnmng
– I can’t think straight’. Scatterbrained. Why am I talking
about a video game from the 80’s that probably sold less than enough to
fill a shopping cart? Cuz that’s the Rams this year. They can’t
think straight. They’re in “turmoil”. They won’t sell
I think ditching 2-time
NFL MVP Kurt Warner for a guy that looked anything but confident in a playoff
loss to Carolina, Marc Bulger – was a mistake. He’s average at best.
I think tabbing draft pick Steven Jackson to pair with a guy they didn’t
give the ball to enough, Marshall Faulk – is also going to be a problem.
Last yr, wk 10-16 (minus wk13), Faulk got the ball 20+ times and they won every
game. That may be a chicken/egg thing, but it clearly indicates he doesn’t
need to be spelled due to wearing down as the season goes on. He’s not
going to like that ignorance. And now – Kyle Turley’s having back
problems. I think we’ll see a significant drop in offensive production
On Defense I could talk
about the loss of Lovie Smith (who Editor Doug noted is just fun to say). I
could talk about drinking and driving (cuz I have some experience there). I
could talk about a guy who’s on OUR team now. Or I could talk about a
vulnerable secondary (particularly after last years bookend pash rushers aren’t
around to start). But I won’t. Cuz ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
All that matters is this name Mike Martz and the word “turmoil”.
Then we’ve got the
49ers. Unless your name is Greg Burchell (buddy of mine who’s
a fan of theirs), you understand their situation is hopeless. Do I even need
to go into it? Complete mess. Nexxxxt…
Hey, down in the desert
they’ve got some interesting things happening. The CARDINALS
have some potential. Are we talking playoffs here? That would truly shock me
– but they might be interesting to watch. Certainly improved over last
year. You have to be concerned about Dennis Green and his suddenly potent WR
trio. Larry Fitzgerald is a fantastic player, he and Boldin are going to give
people, uh…fitz…when Boldin returns from injury. And don’t
forget that Bryant Johnson was a 1st Rd pick last year. It usually takes a WR
2 years to acclimate to the NFL (Fitz will be an exception), so he may be a
threat as well. I’m also willing to give QB Josh McCown a chance to prove
to me he ISN’T worthy of starting, cuz I kinda sorta think he is. Now
if only they had a Running Back…
On Defense… what’s
going on with DT Wendell Bryant? Maybe Phoenix is where players go to die (confusing,
since I thought the name means resurrect?), but I was certain he’d be
a real player. He’s joined by scrappy Rookie Darnell Dockett and 2 average
DE’s. At Linebacker, they quietly have some talent. Raynoch Thompson is
a hidden player, very active. And this years draft pick Karlos Dansby joins
last years Schleprock ‘sleeper’ Gerald Hayes – neither of
whom will beat out leading tackler Ronald McKinnon. A quality group (in my opinion).
Things go bad behind that front 7. Real bad (even CB Duane Starks can’t
stay on the field). Which means we shouldn’t be all that concerned about
Arizona because we have a real nice passing game.
Oh yeah, that brings us toooo… us! The other team in the division. This
year we’re more than another team in the division. For this year’s
Fearless Forecast SuperBowl Champeeeeen is none other than:
The metallic blue-something-or-other
Oh yeah, damn straight.
I can certify this has nothing to do with blind ambition or wishful thinking.
We are scary good this year. I am certain we’re the best team in football.
That’s right - THE best team in football!!
Now, I’ve been a fan
since the 80’s. I’ve been there when we’ve been good, mediocre,
cursed, and just plain crappy. I swear to you that I’ve generally had
an accurate bead on the team through all those years. I’ve never run around
claiming we’re the greatest. There have been years where I went to bat
against dudes that slandered us as hopeless and retarded – and I was right.
We’d end up with a better record than that of the hopeless and retarded.
There have been years where I thought we’d squeak into the playoffs (and
never a year when I didn’t exhaust myself cheering for it) and we’d
miss by a game, maybe 2. And years I knew we really didn’t have anything
to expect much from. Last year I expected us to compete for the division and
win at least 1 playoff game (close but no cigar). But I have never been dead
wrong about our ability.
I’m not wrong this
We all know why we (and
apparently many outside sources) have high expectations of the Hawks this year.
So I won’t go into the mathematical/talent specifics, except to note the
most important factor: We’ve built it. No quick fix. No sudden leap in
record. No sudden influx of talented youth. The team is absolutely built as
a perfect manuscript for success. That means everything that came before, what
we have right now (age mix/talent/experience), and what we actually believe
we can get with it. The only thing that can hurt this team is a rash of injuries
or, dare I say it… fear of success. We may not know how to handle it.
We’ve never seen the other side. When we get to the final doorway, will
we trust it?
Does this team know how
to deal with a SuperBowl berth? A Championship stepping stone? If we’re
10 points up, at home, for the NFC Championship game… will we fold because
we just can’t believe it to be true? Waiting for the other shoe to drop?
Collapse upon ourselves simply because we’ve never had that position before?
The only thing we know how to do is scratch and claw. Swooping down from the
skies above and laying waste to our foes like the Fell Beasts from Return of
the King is not the sort of position we’re used to attacking from.
When we’ve beaten
back the horde… will we grab the sword and be The King? Or will we scatter
into a more comfortable existence and retreat to the trees? Renegade Ranger.
Baltimore… Washington… snakebitten? Or do we invite that kind of
chaos? Over the years we’ve proven much more comfortable coming from behind
- than staying out in front.
Then again, games last year
like N Orl. and Arizona, Detroit… Cleveland. We put those teams away,
and kept them there. That’s progress. I also admire what we saw in SF
and Green Bay at season’s end. You can’t convince me that we did
not feel those games rightfully ours to win. We absolutely felt ourselves the
better team. That attitude was clear. And that’s progress.
Here’s another thing
to free us from the curse of ourselves: 2 Championship signings. DE Grant Wistrom
and DB Bobby Taylor are going to be the guys to look at in the playoffs. They’ll
be the difference. They’ve been there and our guys will feel their security
during those monumental games. In addition, those 2 guys have high character
and are going to want to deliver that leadership out of respect for themselves
and what’s expected of them. I believe they’ll deliver. I believe
you’ll see a couple plays here and there in the playoffs, made by G and
B, that fire up the rest of the team and energize confidence throughout, like
a revolt against doubt. It’s no accident that those positions are at DE,
and the Secondary, the 2 locations we couldn’t make a play on 3rd and
long to save our lives last year. Folks, that’s no longer a problem (assuming
Wistrom is healthy).
We’ve fought forever.
Always a step away. But if any other team had the same relative history over
the last 3 years that the Seahawks do, and the same off-season moves –
I’d be telling you some other team would win it all this year. But it
isn’t some other team this time. Not this time, Hawkfans. Those days are
over… our time is now.
So make a space on your
calendar for Jan 23. That’s the day of the NFC Championship game, which
I expect to be in Seattle this year. Retraction - I don’t “expect
it”. I know it.
And that’s your fearless
forecast for 2004.
G. Scott Jones is a Freelance writer who contributes regularly to Seahawks.Net.
Reaction of any sort is always encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org.