The sign near the entrance of the Seahawks’ locker room puts this much-anticipated season into unmistakable focus:
To win the NFC West we will sacrifice the easier wrong for the more difficult right. Both on and off the field, leave no doubt.
After eight months of unprecedented hype for a Seattle sports team, it feels like the perfect message to keep the Seahawks humble and well-intentioned on this foreign journey. They’ve never been where they want to go – to the top – and they can’t possibly fathom the hardships and scrutiny that await them. But in the Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks’ way has been to attack every challenge and to do so with charisma and camaraderie. There’s no way they will sit back, allow opponents to use their newfound fame as motivation and succumb to poor results because of ego and a competitive malaise.
They’re still motivated by the glimpse of greatness they experienced in the second half of last season. And because of the narrow playoff loss to Atlanta last January, they’re also aware of how bitter defeat can be when you believe you’re so close.
“We haven’t done anything great yet,” second-year quarterback Russell Wilson says.
That’s his response to national hype that the Seahawks are the NFL’s best team. It’s scary to be the anointed team in a parity-driven NFL, where the margin for error is small even for great teams. You don’t dominate this league; you survive it. Even though the Seahawks finished 11-5 in the 2012 regular season, they can remember that 10 of their games were decided by a touchdown or less and truly could’ve gone either way.
The Seahawks didn’t start to separate from opponents until the second half of last season. They didn’t really start to leave no doubt until December, when they beat Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco by a combined score of 150-30.
But this road won’t be full of 58-0, 50-17 and 42-13 scores. It will be difficult because of the target that the Seahawks now are, and early in the season, it will be difficult because they have perhaps the most rugged part of their schedule at a time when key players are healing.
Sunday’s road opener against Carolina serves as only an appetizer of the stiff competition. The Panthers had a losing record last year (7-9), but they won five of their final six games and are considered a rising young team with quarterback Cam Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly flashing superstar talent. This is a deceptively dangerous game, and it’s one that the Seahawks would be wise to win considering what’s coming.
In their next four games, the Seahawks will play three playoff teams. In Week 2, rival and defending NFC champion San Francisco visits CenturyLink Field in what promises to be one of the marquee games of the entire NFL season. Then, after a schedule reprieve against lowly Jacksonville, the Seahawks return to the road for consecutive games against Houston and Indianapolis, two AFC playoff teams from a year ago.
The Seahawks’ first four opponents not named Jacksonville finished with a 41-22-1 combined record last season. The 49ers, Texans and Colts were a combined 34-13-1. And while the Seahawks are a solid team right now, they also start the season without some significant contributors: defensive end Chris Clemons (ACL surgery), defensive end/linebacker Bruce Irvin (four-game suspension), promising rookie defensive tackle Jordan Hill and wide receiver Percy Harvin (hip surgery), the team’s prized offseason acquisition.
So, the Seahawks will be both finding themselves and plugging holes until some impact players are healthy. That makes them vulnerable. How much? Well, it’s unclear, and to the Seahawks’ credit, injuries haven’t had much affect on their level of play over the past year or so.
But if the rest of the NFL wants a piece of the Seahawks, they had better take it early this season.
The better the Seahawks look while on the mend, the scarier this team will appear. They have the potential to improve dramatically from Week 6 on, which bodes well for peaking at the right time. They might drop a few of their first five games, which undoubtedly would create some panic, as well as breathless declarations from pundits that they’re overrated. But you should shrug it off and understand that help is coming.
Returning to the Seahawks’ locker-room message, “the easier wrong” might be expecting a ridiculously hot start in which you clearly see the Seahawks’ Super Bowl potential. And “the more difficult right” might be staying composed through the grind and turning the lows into opportunities to get better.
As loaded as the Seahawks appear, not even they can win a championship in September. They wouldn’t want it that way, either.
Let the long, taxing, perilous road to greatness begin.