The NFL Is Back, Seattle Hosts Green Bay, and Another Awful Offseason Is In the Books
Today is the biggest day in Seahawks history.
I mean, sure... the Super Bowl win was big, but that was in New York. And the Parade was great, but that was almost too fresh. When a team celebrates its Super Bowl like that – with a float down one of America's one billion Streets named Main, with Marshawn Lynch tossing Skittles over his shoulder, with boy hero Russell Wilson and his Frodo hair holding the trophy after only 24 months in the pros – that's a big day, but it's just big to that city. I don't know what Baltimore looked like when it celebrated its 2013 Super Bowl, and I definitely don't know what Dallas looked like when they used to win them either. I only know what Seattle looked like because I live two hours away, and you can hear that town's cheers within a radius of five.
Still, today is bigger, because today is the day that Seattle opens the season on behalf of America. The Seahawks don't just return today, but the NFL returns today – and it has to stop in Seattle, where the champs are finally and fortunately the once-loser Seahawks.
It's hard to be a sports fan in the Pacific Northwest. We're forgotten all the time, constantly patted on the head when we give it our best shot. That's why we're such jerks when we win – Canucks fans were in the aim of every Canadian's hateful arrow in 2011, and the Seahawks have to be despised by 47 states right now, all the ones besides Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska.
The Seahawks are loud. Their crowd is loud, the defence is loud. Their fans are on every message board, boasting and hollering and hooting, and Richard Sherman is a sonic boom.
But it's only because we want to let you know we exist. Same thing's gonna happen when the Portland Trail Blazers win an NBA title, when the Canucks finally hoist a Stanley Cup, and when the Mariners can win a World Series, too.
That's also why nobody in Seattle gave a damn about the 'Fail Mary'.
Of course we knew it was a silly and stupid way to win, but we've been forced to pretend we love the Green Bay Packers forever. We all have to take a moment of silence of them whenever they lose, especially if it came on a botched call. Because, yeah sure, we really care.
The NFL Network won't stop airing Vince Lombardi documentaries a thousand times a year, and we have to watch that stupid clip of Aaron Rodgers at his draft, calling out the San Francisco 49ers because – boo hoo – he slipped and had to go play behind Brett Favre. But the Seahawks have been screwed before, too. In fact, they were screwed several times that game, losing out on a fustercluck of awful calls laid down by the same awful replacement referees. But when the dust settled, when Golden Tate got credit for that game-winning, final-second touchdown, all you heard was that moaning and complaining coming from Green Bay's locker room. Aaron Rodgers talked about it on his radio show, sounding as petty as I have for the last paragraph. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker even took time off from his crusade against every union in America to weigh in on the matter, apparently not realizing that by telling Roger Goodell to bring back the real refs he was actually giving his support to a striking labour force.
But hey, I have digressed.
Instead, I'll turn my attention again to the field, because the cameras will look there in about an hour. It's Packers-Seahawks from the extremely uncomfortable confines of Seattle's Century Link field. The return of the NFL's regular season means the conclusion of another very uncomfortable offseason, where wife beatings, arrests, questionable bathroom conduct, and a lack of adequate discipline from the league's front offices has once again failed to quell the hype for today.
Here now are some thoughts on Thursday night's headliners...
Rodgers enters 2014 after a lost 2013, when the 2011 NFL MVP missed seven games with a broken collarbone. He's only 30 years old and he's widely viewed as the second-best quarterback in the game, behind His Holiness Peyton Manning. (Manning also plays in Colorado though, so he's at a higher elevation and therefore closer to Heaven. Unfair.)
So, because most of us are the sort of people who want to predict an MVP but aren't boring enough to pick Peyton, it should come as no surprise that Rodgers is the darling choice to be the league's outstanding player right now. With the guy's drive and considering that he plays with a chip on his shoulder even though it doesn't belong there – keep in mind, for a guy who's still reeling over not getting picked first in his Draft, he already has a Super Bowl and an MVP to his name – it wouldn't be shocking to see him lead the league in every passing category in 2014.
But Week 1 might not be his best matchup. Even if the Packers can put in some points, and even if Rodgers can toss a couple TDs, the Seahawks are probably going to intercept him at least once. Because they intercept everyone at least once.
And while Rodgers isn't the sort of guy who's intimidated by a guy like Richard Sherman, he still has to factor him in, especially because the cornerback will line up against either Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson.
Wilson's a funny dude. I think he's the only guy in the NFL who is – at the same time – both the most overrated and most underrated player in the game.
When the Seahawks win and Wilson's atop the world, you can't help but feel like he's getting just a little too much airtime. But then, when they win the Super Bowl and put up 43 points in the process, all we hear is that the Denver Broncos just couldn't handle that Seahawks defence.
Well, guess what? The Broncos couldn't handle Seattle's offence either, and Wilson is the team's most important piece. He's an incredibly stabilizing presence, perhaps the most mature quarterback in the league and he's only 25 years old. Because where other pivots allow the game to dictate how they play – think of superstars like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees or Tom Brady in last year's playoffs, all three of them eventually falling victim to their own panic in their respective season-ending losses – Wilson has this awesome ability to play each new drive like it's the first of the day.
If he throws a pick-six, he goes out there and leads the Hawks downfield like it never happened. And if he throws a touchdown, he takes the field five minutes later like that never happened either.
Through this preseason and in limited action, Wilson was an extraterrestrial. He went 33-of-42 for 437 yards and a passer rating of 133.8. He ran for three touchdowns and threw for three others, with no interceptions on the dashboard.
Even more impressive, on the 13 drives he played in the preseason, the Seahawks scored nine touchdowns. Not even a German car clicks along with that kind of efficiency.
Right now, Rodgers included, he enters the regular season with fewer questions than anyone – and that's really saying something for a 5'11 third-round draft pick.
The powerful, visceral runner was the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 2013, stomping and thumping his way to 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Lacy also gives the Pack something it hasn't had in quite a while – a top ten running back and a ground game carried by an individual as threatening as any in the NFC, like Seattle has with Marshawn Lynch, Minnesota has with Adrian Peterson, and the Chicago Bears have with Matt Forte.
When Seattle went through the NFC last season, all they had to do was contain Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles in New Orleans, and then Frank Gore in San Francisco. It got arguably easier in the Super Bowl, where they had no problem stuffing the Broncos' Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, holding the entire Denver backfield to just 27 combined yards.
But Lacy is a different beast. And he's a beast, for sure.
"He a hammer," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll this week (ESPN). "It's all the stuff we saw him do in college the way he could dominate games running tough and physically. I have a lot of respect for him. He'd be an improvement to any team offence."
Lynch has been so dominant for so long in Seattle, it's easy to forget he basically washed out of Buffalo. He only came to the Emerald City because he was as much a work-in-progress as the Seahawks have been for the past 40 years or so.
Lynch has topped 1,200 yards in each of the past three seasons, hitting 1,590 yards in 2013 and then dropping – relatively – back to 1,257 yards in 2013. Lynch also kept his yards-per-carry respectable last season, averaging 4.2 on 301 attempts.
Lynch is also just 28 years old and has been in the league for eight seasons – with two more left before his contract with Seattle expires.
But it's important to remember that Lynch's eight years have been a hard eight years. He's a bruiser and a battler. He's certainly a warrior, but running backs don't normally play the way Lynch does for more than a decade.
He'll have to shatter the mould to keep up with guys like Lacy, who are entering their prime as Lynch is leaving his.
For the Packers to have the season their fans no doubt hope they can, they'll need Cobb to not just be a fine receiver, but a great receiver. A number one receiver, actually.
Cobb, together with Nelson, makes a pretty potent one-two punch on the flanks, and the conclusion to his 2013 season only wet the lips of a ton of fantasy players – like me – who leapt to grab him in the third round or higher. In Cobb's final two regular season games last year, he had 16 catches for 236 yards and a couple touchdowns.
But Cobb, who only played six games last season, finished with just 433 yards and four touchdowns on the year, meaning the final two weeks amounted to over half his value for all of 2013.
The year before, in 2012, Cobb had 954 yards and eight touchdowns.
So this season will be the one in which he either separates himself from the middle or regresses to it. And I never realized until the past few paragraphs just how big of a risk I took on him...
Then again, he's getting passes from Rodgers. So he should be fine.
Unlike Cobb, Harvin has already proven himself to be one of the NFL's most dynamic weapons. But like Cobb, his 2014 will be vital to whether any team can trust him to carry an offence.
With the Vikings, Harvin was a five-tool wideout, and he showed that in his small window with the Hawks last season, too. He famously returned the Super Bowl's second-half kickoff for touchdown, but that was a championship-sized silver lining on what was otherwise a tremendously trying campaign for the former Florida Gator.
Harvin played in just one game last year, catching one pass for 17 yards last November against the Vikings. Harvin has played in just 10 games since 2012 and has never broken the 1,000-yard receiving mark, despite having the talent to do so and then some.
If you're a Hawks fan, you have to believe he'll return to his once-healthy self, when he played all but three games with the Vikes between 2009 and 2011.
With just Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse for Wilson to lean on when Harvin's not there, Seattle needs Harvin to play at least close to a full slate to contend for another Super Bowl.
Chances are, you've read enough about the guy. So instead of hearing me bluster on through 100 recycled words, I'll just embed this E:60 and let you enjoy Sherman for yourself...