This season is shaping up quite well for the Hawks. We have a doable schedule, but by no means an easy one. Since we are the hottest team in Vegas, many people’s #1 Power Ranking, and a Super Bowl co-favorite, we got rewarded with four prime-time games. We are getting more recognition, which breeds more pressure for our still incredibly young roster of budding superstars. How will they handle it? Well, if our composed rookie QB Russell Wilson (you heard of him?) is any indication, then focus should not be a problem. Sophomore slumps happen, though. Either way, coming into a season looking at making the playoffs and coming in with a virtual “Super Bowl or bust” mentality is an incredibly different feeling.
Last year, we had a giant coming out party for the majority of our team. Essentially every key player is coming back, including our handful of Pro Bowlers and couple All Pros. Last year, we were never going o win it all. We needed that experience and heartbreak to really refocus and come into this year out for blood. We ended with a top 10 scoring offense, probably slightly skewed by our 50-17, 58-0, and 42-13 victories down the stretch. Averaging 33 points per game in the last 8 games was surprising, considering our ugly offense the first half of the year with the training wheels on Wilson. Add in the NFL’s top scoring defense, and our team is as complete as any team in recent memory. The time to win is now, no matter how young we still may be.
This off-season has been a crazy ride. I have never seen a Seattle team make the moves to add to an already close-to-finished product. Trading for Percy Harvin is amazing and exactly what the offense needed. We needed that big play guy, and now whatever formations we end up in, it will be a nightmare for the opposition. We ended up with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to boost our struggling pass rush (the reason we lost in the playoffs and our handful of one-possession losses in the regular season). We got Antoine Winfield to be our nickel corner to cover the slot. We traded Matt Flynn and picked up Brady Quinn, a consummate backup. You see what we are doing? We are fine-tuning our team. The time to win is now, and we know it. We made the moves to fill holes, which is why not having a first round pick is not a big deal. We are no longer building the house, we are painting and furnishing it. We have that luxury, since our stars are all on their rookie contracts, most of which are 3rd or 5th rounders making next to nothing. The next two years we have the freedom to sign these guys without killing our cap.
Coming into the draft, it is a much different feel as well. No first round pick is no problem, but we do have 10 picks overall. There is room to move up and get a few good value picks for depth, or we can just take all of them and see which ones become the next fifth round gems that John Schneider can find out of nowhere. Here is my draft breakdown:
Team needs (in order)
OLB (potential starter, though not a necessity)
RB (3rd string)
2nd Round Watchlist
Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-PB
Jonathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Jonathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Kyle Long, OG, Oregon
Sio Moore, OLB, UConn
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Dream Scenario: Trade a slew of picks this and next year to get into the top 5 to take Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida. It will never happen, but if we did: Game Over. Super Bowl champs. Done deal.
Realistic Scenario: Draft Sio Moore, OLB, UConn. He is a tackling machine. Add that to Bobby Wagner, and we would have two. He is athletic, a work horse, a future Pro Bowler. I want him. I hope he falls to us.
Predicted Scenario: Trade up a few spots and take Kyle Long, OG, Oregon. It would be an unexciting pick, but that is what we do. It is either unexciting or called a complete reach. We will never draft flash with this regime.
Now, we get into the schedule, released yesterday, April 18th. The bye week is nicely placed, as is the mini-bye from the Thursday game. Check out how it will all work out…
9/8/13 – at Carolina – This is one of those classic times when expectations are high, as is the disappointment of losing the game. We should have lost in Carolina last year. Cam Newton comes out hot. 10:00AM kick. LOSS 28-24
9/15/13 (SNF) – San Francisco – Prime-time game at home? Coming off a stunning loss on the road? Home opener? The Niners are walking into a buzz saw. WIN 31-21
9/22/13 – Jacksonville – Lowly Jags coming to town with our old DC Gus Bradley as their head coach. He gets a nice reception, but that is the end of their good news. WIN 38-14
9/29/13 – at Houston – I always thought this would end up a prime-time game, but I guess not. 10AM kickoff is a bit scary, but I do not think their offense can keep up. Okung, if healthy, should be able to handle Watt. WIN 27-20
10/6/13 – at Indianapolis – This is going to be a huge matchup between Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. They are so tough at home. Second consecutive 10AM kickoff hurts the offensive rhythm. Loss 24-17
10/13/13 – Tennessee – Jake Locker’s return home should be a cool sight. Clem, Bruce, and company should have fun abusing that offensive line. WIN 31-7
10/17/13 (Thu) – at Arizona – The short week could be a problem, but they are not sneaking up on us this year. This is the start of our midseason push, and Palmer will start getting erratic. Defenses dominate this game. WIN 17-7
10/28/13 (Mon) – at St. Louis – The mini-bye week is in a nice spot, before another primetime matchup. We always seem to struggle in St. Louis getting it going. Last year we lost to a fake FG TD and a couple moon-shot FGs by “Greg the Leg”. Similar things may ensue. LOSS 23-21
11/3/13 – Tampa Bay – Even though Schiano has his boys playing well by this point, I just cannot see any home losses this year, although this would be the type of game we drop somehow. WIN 34-24
11/10/13 – at Atlanta – This is a rematch of one of the most up-and-down emotional games I have ever watched. It is destined to be another classic matchup of perennial playoff teams. I say we take our revenge and have someone stick the ageless TE this time. WIN 24-21
11/17/13 – Minnesota – Well, half of our roster gets to play their old team. Cool. WIN 40-20
12/2/13 (Mon) – New Orleans – Another Monday Night Football game at home, the first meeting since the “Beast-quake”. We don’t lose these games. This one is no different. High scoring affair, but the athletic little QB gets the better of one of his own inspirations. WIN 38-34
12/8/13 – at San Francisco – At this point, both teams with be jostling for playoff seeding. This will be upgraded to Sunday Night (like I correctly predicted last year), and we will see another ugly game in the rain. Turnovers, trash talk, beautiful football. LOSS 16-10
12/15/13 – at New York Giants – The Giants will likely be making their playoff push by this time, but the Hawks will need to get that bad taste out of their mouth after losing to their archrival. I will put this game on the Beast to win it for us. WIN 20-13
12/22/13 – Arizona – Coming back home to face the Cardinals? Love it. WIN 31-3
12/29/13 – St. Louis – Finishing the year off against the Rams again. Our games with them are always so close. Hopefully our line is healthy so we can actually attempt to block Chris Long this time. I say we squeak out a season-ending victory. WIN 21-20
So, that means we are going 12-4, including a second consecutive unbeaten home record. This will certainly put us in the playoffs, probably just beating out the Niners for the division and two-seed. This will give us a home playoff game, which should be a victory over whoever comes in. If the NFC Championship is in Atlanta or New Orleans or Green Bay, then that will be an epic battle. I say we get beat in any of those places and we win the Super Bowl next year. If we play in any other building, then we are headed to the Super Bowl. I am not going to say we take it, but I would love our chances on a neutral field. We probably lose a heartbreaker if we get there, giving us that much more motivation to be the first team in some 40 years to win a Super Bowl the year after losing it. Either way, next year is the year. This year is all about gaining the experience of being in Championship games and developing that frontrunner mentality. I wish we could have taken care of that last year, but we have to wait our turn. Final playoff prediction: Loss on the road in the NFC Championship to eventual Super Bowl champion Atlanta Falcons.
It will be an interesting year in the NFC West. The Rams are going to be right there battling for a playoff spot. The Cardinal shouldn’t be a complete pushover with Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians. The Niners have copied every move we make with a slightly less prestigious transaction, but they lost their Pro Bowl safety, UW alum Dashon Goldson. That could hurt the continuity of that stellar defensive unit. In the rest of the NFC, the Falcons are going to be in position to make another Super Bowl run. The Packers are always going to be around. I think the Saints and Niners take the wild cards. The Chip Kelly-led Eagles take the East with a 9-7 record. The NFC is so loaded. It is our turn to win the Super Bowl again.
All of this is of course contingent on Russell Wilson’s health. If they gun for him and he misses a few games, I am scared what kind of ugly makeshift offense we will draw up for Brady Quinn or whoever ends up being the backup. If he is smart and takes care of himself, then we are potentially looking at the NFL MVP this season, if he leads us to 12-4. He was the best QB in the league the last 8 weeks last year and had arguably the most impressive rookie QB season in the last 30 years. It is all on his shoulders. He seems to have the mentality to be immune to a sophomore slump. He spends as much time studying film as he does with his hot wife. He is a freak. That’s my quarterback. The separation is in the preparation. Win forever. I’m in. Go Hawks.
Thoughts? Comments? Your win/loss prediction? How is your favorite team’s schedule? Let me know!