As usual, the Super Bowl champions suffered a drain of talent in the offseason. But that won’t stop the Seattle Seahawks from winning a second straight NFL title.
Repeating as champion is difficult, so much in fact that the last team to do it was the New England Patriots after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Seahawks also lost two offensive starters in free agency, and they cut two on defense to alleviate salary cap concerns.
But Seattle is still loaded, especially on defense, which should carry it to the Super Bowl where the Seahawks will defeat either the Denver Broncos or the Patriots from the AFC.
The Seahawks have allowed the fewest points in the league the past two seasons. They do it by shutting down the run with big strong safety Kam Chancellor coming into the box, and then unleashing sticky cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell to shadow receivers all over the field when teams have to pass.
The team’s weakest offensive unit will be the line, but that also was the case last season. Seattle offsets that with a dynamic running back in Marshawn Lynch and a quarterback in Russell Wilson who isn’t great but can make big plays and keeps getting better.
This year, though, Seattle will have a healthy and speedy Percy Harvin, a receiver who can play outside, in the slot or line up in the backfield.
Over in the AFC, Denver loaded up on defense after losing by 35 points to Seattle in the Super Bowl. The Broncos signed players like cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, but the problem is that they have the same old offense.
Quarterback Peyton Manning is efficient on the short to intermediate passes, but not on the long ball. That’s why New England could represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots have a healthy Vince Wilfork starting at defensive tackle again, and they added cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the offseason.
Combined with the presence of quarterback Tom Brady and the intelligence of coach Bill Belichick, that might be enough to get the Patriots to the Super Bowl, where they will lose to Seattle.
Many arrests on Harbaugh brothers’ teams
The NFL Network should start a new segment in its programming called “Harbaughs Gone Wild.”
During this past offseason, the Ravens and coach John Harbaugh had five players arrested, more than any other team in the NFL. Since 2012, the San Francisco 49ers and coach Jim Harbaugh have had 10 arrests, more than any team in the league.
The latest 49ers player to get in trouble was defensive end Ray McDonald, who was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence charges early Sunday morning in San Jose, Calif.
It will be interesting to see how the NFL handles this situation. McDonald’s arrest came days after league commissioner Roger Goodell announced tougher penalties for all players involved in domestic violence incidents.
Goodell drew heavy criticism after Ravens running back Ray Rice only was given a two game suspension after video showed him dragging his then-fiancee from an elevator in Atlantic City, N.J., after an argument.
Big risk with Urschel as top backup guard
The Ravens are taking a gamble by leaving rookie John Urschel as the top guard behind starters Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda.
It’s great that the team values draft picks, and Urschel could develop into a good player in the future, but he needs another year in the weight room to gain some weight and strength.
If both Osemele and Yanda weren’t coming off injuries last season, the gamble would make sense, but not at this time.
Not many quality backup QBs in the NFL
The Ravens would be in a lot of trouble if quarterback Joe Flacco went down with an injury and had to be replaced by backup Tyrod Taylor.
But so would a lot of teams.
The list of teams with decent backups is short, including the Buffalo Bills (Kyle Orton), the Indianapolis Colts (Matt Hasselbeck), the New York Jets (Michael Vick), the Jacksonville Jaguars (Blake Bortles), the Philadelphia Eagles (Mark Sanchez) and the Washington Redskins (Kirk Cousins).
And then there are the Cleveland Browns, a team without one good quarterback at all.
Can wide receivers play defensive line?
The Ravens kept seven wide receivers on the roster, which is unusual, but understandable.
Since defensive linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore and Brent Urban suffered season-ending injuries in training camp, the Ravens appeared to have just kept the best players instead of being too concerned by the position they played.
I just hope one of those reserve receivers like Kamar Aiken, Deonte Thompson or Michael Campanaro can play defensive line.
Veteran defenders’ health key in second half
One aspect of the season to watch is how well veteran defensive players like linebackers Terrell Suggs, Daryl Smith and linemen Chris Canty and Haloti Ngata hold up in the second half of the year.
Last season, Suggs and Canty weren’t factors in the last eight games, while Smith played well and Ngata was solid.
It would help if the Ravens got something from second-year linebacker Arthur Brown, who can play inside or outside. And people keep raving about rookie C.J. Mosley, but the gem of the rookie class might be defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, the second-round pick out of Florida State.
Rice will start after his two-game suspension
Regardless of how well backup running back Bernard Pierce is playing, Rice will be the starter after his two-game suspension is over.
The Ravens can’t risk playing any head games with Rice this early in the season, and they also know Pierce can’t stay healthy.
The team is going to need both players throughout the year, so they might as well stay with the planned routine.