I'll just jump right to my point here and say that Seattle is my projected 2016 NFC champion as things stand right now. Not exactly going out on a limb, I know. But I loved how Russell Wilson looked in his final seven regular-season games last year when he led Seattle to a 6-1 record by throwing 24 touchdowns to one pick. Wilson did struggle in the wild-card game in Minnesota, but it was brutally cold that day and the Hawks lucked out with a last-second win.
And I think Seattle might have completed a huge comeback against Carolina in the divisional round if the game was only five minutes longer or so, but that 31-0 halftime hole was just a bit too deep. That said, I expect the Panthers to take a step back. Ditto defending NFC West champion Arizona. The Seahawks should thus be in position to get the NFC's top seed, and I wouldn't bet against them at home in the postseason.
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The defense will be excellent again. I don't think the team will miss retired star running back Marshawn Lynch too much with second-year Thomas Rawls (although he's coming off a fractured left ankle that included ligament damage) and a dark-horse Offensive Rookie of the Year choice in Notre Dame's C.J. Prosise, a third-round pick. I am a bit concerned about the offensive line, but if it can protect Wilson then he's also my MVP pick this year. But if Wilson misses any time, these team is up the creek with raw rookie Trevone Boykin as the current No. 2. I expect the Seahawks to sign or trade for a veteran QB (Josh McCown?).
Seattle was 5-3 at home last season, 4-4 against the spread and 3-5 "over/under." The Seahawks host two 2015 playoff teams this year. I project a 7-1 record. They have a wins total of 10.5, with the over a -140 favorite and I would go over as I think this team wins 12 games. Seattle has an overall strength of schedule that ranks as tied for the fifth-toughest in the NFL with an opponents' 2015 winning percentage of .543. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 11 vs. Dolphins (-9, 44): Seattle is the biggest Week 1 favorite by a wide margin. There's no longer road trip in the NFL -- non-London version -- than Miami to Seattle. Tough debut for offensive-minded new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. Ryan Tannehill won't fare well here. Key trend: Seahawks 3-1 ATS all time as a September home favorite of at least 9 points.
Sept. 25 vs. 49ers (-14): Seattle is off the Rams' home opener in their return to Los Angeles -- Pete Carroll's return to the city as well -- in Week 2. San Francisco is off a trip to Carolina. The Seahawks beat the visiting 49ers 29-13 in Week 11 last year. Rawls rushed for 209 yards and a TD while catching another score. Wilson was nearly perfect, going 24-for-29 for 260 yards and three TDs. Key trend: Seahawks 7-3 ATS in past 10 meetings as home favorite -- this is the largest line I've seen for any game thus far in 2016.
Oct. 16 vs. Falcons (-10): Seattle comes off its bye week and I think should be 4-0. If Atlanta doesn't win Week 1 at home vs. Tampa, I think it will be 0-5 entering this one as it's off a Week 5 trip to Denver. It's the first time that former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now the Atlanta head coach, takes on his former club. Key trend: Seahawks 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Nov. 7 vs. Bills (-10): Monday night game, Seattle's lone one of the season. Seahawks off a Week 8 trip to New Orleans. Buffalo is home to New England the previous Sunday. These clubs are a lot alike in relying on a power running game and good defense. It's just Seattle does it better. Key trend: Seahawks 4-6 ATS in past 10 at home vs. AFC East foes.
Nov. 20 vs. Eagles (-9): Seattle is off a potential Super Bowl preview in New England the previous Sunday night. Philadelphia is home to Atlanta in Week 10. The Hawks won the last meeting 24-14 in Philly in Week 14 of 2014. Wilson threw for two scores and rushed for one. The Eagles were held to 139 yards. Key trend: Seahawks 4-5-1 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC East teams.
Dec. 4 vs. Panthers (-3): Sunday night game. Seahawks off a Week 12 trip to Tampa. Carolina is in Oakland the previous Sunday. The Panthers visited the Pacific Northwest in Week 6 last year and pulled a 27-23 stunner. How often do you hear of Seattle blowing a 9-point home lead with four minutes to go? Between that result and the playoff loss in Charlotte, the Seahawks are going to be frothing at the mouth to win this one. Key trend: Seahawks 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 as home favorite vs. anyone of 3 points or fewer.
Dec. 15 vs. Rams (-12.5): Thursday night game. Seattle off another big one, visiting Green Bay in Week 14. Los Angeles is home to Atlanta the previous Sunday. The Seahawks were shocked 23-17 in Week 16 at home by the Rams last year. Seattle hadn't lost at home in the series since 2004. The Hawks held the Rams to 205 yards but also turned it over three times. Key trend: Seahawks 7-3 ATS in past 10 as home favorite in series.
Dec. 24 vs. Cardinals (-3.5): At least Seattle gets a bit of extra time to prepare for what could be the de facto NFC West title game. Arizona is off a Week 15 Sunday game vs. New Orleans. The Seahawks lost 39-32 at home to Arizona in Week 10 last year. Seattle allowed 451 yards of offense and held the ball just 21:08 minutes itself with 14 penalties added in for good measure. Wilson was 14-for-32 for 240 yards, a TD and a pick. Key trend: Seahawks 6-4 ATS in past 10 as home favorite in series.
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