The San Francisco 49ers have low expectations this season, likely looking at a top ten draft pick as part of their rebuilding process. They head into Seattle this weekend facing a Seahawks team that favored to win the NFC West, and will look to make some noise in January.
The Seahawks are double digit favorites in this game, and are expected to roll against a 49ers team that has not won in Seattle since 2011. The Seahawks lost their season opener in Green Bay in large part because their offensive line was a mess. The 49ers might be able to take advantage of that matchup, but San Francisco has enough issues on their own offensive line that it’s hard to see that being enough to swing an upset.
If the Seahawks line struggles again and the 49ers keep this close, there will be plenty of chatter. If the Seahawks win easily, there won’t be much chatter this week, but it won’t be enough to answer questions for this year. I decided to ask Field Gulls editor Kenneth Arthur a two-part question regarding expectations. This first part relates to his expectations for this season. Once a team makes the playoffs, anything is possible given the small sample size of three or four games. However, the Seahawks offensive line is enough of a problem in my mind that I was curious what Kenneth thought. He recognizes the problems in the line, but seems cautiously optimistic. As always, check out my answers to his questions over at Field Gulls.
A reasonable expectation? Hmmm... I don't know if as a fan, I can set an expectation that can be quite as reasonable as a person who is not a fan, so I hope I can even do that question justice. We all have our biases because we can see the good in players that fans of other teams often just do not see -- that also means we are sometimes overlooking the bad. That's just an honest answer, even though I strive to be objective, reasonable, and realistic with all evaluations and expectations. Before the season I wrote that there were six teams that I thought could win the Super Bowl:
Seattle, New England, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Green Bay, and the New York Giants. Those teams are now 3-3, and one of the wins was the Packers beating the Seahawks, while the Falcons and Steelers' wins were not convincing and against teams that went 4-28 last season. So, "expectations" are a funny thing too.
My expectations without worrying about trying to be perfect and realizing that I could be a little off or a lot off:
I think the Seahawks will win the division at 11-5.
I think they will make the divisional round for the sixth straight year.
I think the defense will finish in the top three for DVOA and potentially be better than the 2013 Super Bowl-winning defense.
I think Russell Wilson will have another good year in spite of his protection.
I think Pete Carroll will find a way to run the ball again.
I think if they want to get to the Super Bowl, they need to get a first round bye and host in the divisional round, if not the NFC Championship -- They may need to best my 11-5 projection by two wins and go 13-2 the rest of the way, which would far exceed my expectations.
I think they need to find the same offensive wrinkle that helped them in 2012-2014, which was the zone read option.
I think the only thing (besides oline) that would hold them back from making the playoffs and doing well there would be injuries on defense again, specifically to Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, and Cliff Avril.
This is a very good team. Potentially a great one if the line gels over the next three months and becomes average.
I followed that question up by looking a bit bigger picture. The Seahawks have won one Super Bowl and made an appearance in another dating back to 2012. We have started to see turnover on the roster, and this past draft saw them making some moves to begin the eventual turnover in their vaunted secondary. I asked him what he expects from this year’s rookie class, as well as the 2016 class, and also asked what the Seattle window of opportunity looked like moving forward. Here’s what he had to say.
I wouldn't think that Seattle's window is closing before 2018, at least. I hate to make any predictions beyond 2-3 years, and I think 49ers fans can relate as to why. The Niners looked young, talented, and built for long-term success in 2012-2013 and it only took maybe a few moves to take that empire down. That being said, the following players are under 30 and signed through 2019, at least: Wilson, Wagner, Doug Baldwin, Kam Chancellor, and Britt. Sherman, Thomas, and K.J. Wright are signed through 2018. The only big name free agent next year is Jimmy Graham.
Within the division, I think Arizona has clearly been headed on the way down since the end of their 2015 season. I think the 49ers will take 2-3 more years to really get going. I think the Rams still have an ownership problem and it all really depends on how Jared Goff develops; I never really saw him as a great QB prospect and I think LA overpaid for him to a fantastic degree, but perhaps Week 1 was no fluke. I will also be interested to see how they accommodate Aaron Donald's contract demands long-term or if they lose him -- and I don't think they can necessarily afford to lose him, or to keep him. I don't believe in paying non-QBs $15m+/year deals, you should try and win with them while they're on their rookie deals and see if you can cut down their demands with the promise of more championships, but we'll see if LA falls victim to that or not. Or if giving Donald $17-$19 million a year actually is a good idea.
I have no expectations for Malik McDowell because nobody really knows how hurt he is. Shaquill Griffin had a nice debut. I like Carson a lot, as stated. Nazair Jones is another interesting rookie to watch. But the 2017 class overall is still far too new to know. Jarran Reed and Prosise may turn out to be the only franchise pieces from 2016. Tyler Lockett, Frank Clark, and Rawls may be the only good players from the 2015 rookie class, but they could all be very, very good. Overall these young pieces, in the big picture of what Seattle has done in rookie acquisitions since 2015, is good, not great. But it's early yet on 2016/17.
That all being said because I think the Seahawks have a good shot to win the division in 2017 and 2018 and to still compete in 2019. I think because of Wilson and because of the system and culture that Carroll put into place within the organization, Seattle will remain competitive for a good while.