SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-9)
EXPECTATIONS: Coming off an unexpected playoff berth last season, the Seahawks believe they can close the gap on San Francisco in what’s expected to be a two-team race for the NFC West title. Geno Smith proved to be a more than capable starting QB and had an entire offseason knowing he is the starter. He’ll be helped by second-year running back Ken Walker III and one of the better wide receiver trios in the NFL in DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Jaxson Smith-Njigba. Defensively, the Seahawks made key free agent signings that brought in defensive linemen Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed, safety Julian Love and brought linebacker Bobby Wagner back to Seattle. The playoffs are the baseline expectation for this group, and if a second straight draft class filled with promise can contribute right away, that gap with the 49ers may be gone by the end of the season.
NEW FACES: DL Dre’Mont Jones, DL Jarran Reed, LB Bobby Wagner, S Julian Love, C Evan Brown, CB Devon Witherspoon, WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, DE Mario Edwards, DE Derick Hall, LB Devin Bush.
KEY LOSSES: RB Rashaad Penny, LB Cody Barton, RB Travis Homer, S Ryan Neal, WR Marquise Goodwin.
STRENGTHS: Secondary. This feels like a new generation of the “Legion of Boom” that was at the core of Seattle’s back-to-back NFC championship teams a decade ago. An already deep group with CB Riq Woolen, CB Michael Jackson and S Quandre Diggs was bolstered this offseason with No. 5 overall pick CB Devin Witherspoon and the signing of talented S Julian Love. Throw in the expected return of S Jamal Adams, second-year DB Coby Bryant and CB Tre Brown finally back to full health and the Seahawks secondary is deep, versatile and talented.
WEAKNESSES: Interior offensive line. Seattle's future seems secure at both tackle positions with left tackle Charles Cross and right tackle Abraham Lucas entering their second seasons. But the interior offensive line may be the grouping with the most uncertainty. Damien Lewis is solid at left guard, but right guard Phil Haynes has never had the chance to be a regular starter and Evan Brown is an unheralded center who won the job after rookie Olu Oluwatimi was slowed by injury in camp. Close behind in the potential weaknesses for Seattle is interior defensive line, where depth is a big concern.
CAMP DEVELOPMENT: DL Jarran Reed was brought back to Seattle in the offseason to fill one of the defensive end spots along with Dre’Mont Jones. But Seattle has shifted Reed to playing more nose tackle. Reed is undersized for the position but his speed could help create more disruption from the interior of the line. LB Jordyn Brooks may be ready for the start of the season after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL in his knee in January.
FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: If he's healthy, WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba could be in for a big year. Seattle has two of the best pass catchers in the league with WRs DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but the Seahawks have struggled in the red zone in part because of the lack of a consistent No. 3 option. Enter Smith-Njigba, taken No. 20 overall in the draft, who may be slowed at the start following surgery for a fracture in his wrist. If Lockett and Metcalf continue to command the bulk of the attention from defenses, Smith-Njigba – and fantasy players – could be the beneficiaries.
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 35-1. Over/under wins: 8 1/2.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl