The Seattle Seahawks open the 2013 season with more anticipation than any season opener in recent memory. Even in their NFC championship season of 2005, when they were coming off their third division title in team history, there was a bad aftertaste the way they closed the 2004 season with a playoff loss to the St. Louis Rams, giving them an 0-3 season mark in that rivalry. Since their Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh at the end of 2005, Seattle has made the playoffs only four times and not returned to the NFC title game let alone the Super Bowl.
In this year's opener, Seattle faces the Carolina Panthers, not exactly a great first test for a team with Super Bowl hopes. The Panthers, who will be at home, are coming off a 7-9 season, showing steady improvement since their 2-14 season in 2010. A 1995 expansion team, the Panthers reached the Super Bowl before Seattle despite the Seahawks 19-year head start. Oddly, despite three NFC title-game appearances, Carolina has never put back-to-back winning seasons together. They won five out of their final six games last year and anything short of a winning record in 2013 will be a disappointment.
The matchup is not exactly Baltimore vs. Denver, or Green Bay vs. San Francisco. And historically speaking, it's about as bad as you can get. Carolina ranks 32nd among the 32 active NFL franchises on opening day (winning only a third of the time) while Seattle, who never won a season opening game until year nine in 1984, ranks 30th with a .351 winning percentage. But perhaps franchise histories are a bit much to lift upon one's shoulder pads in Week 1. This game, for Seattle, ought to be about setting the tone for a tough divisional race with the 49ers.
The Seahawks are coming off a perfect 4-0 preseason. Normally one isn't impressed by a fact like that. It's often a sign of an inexperienced team with too much to prove. But the Seahawks went 4-0 in exhibitions last year and things didn't go too badly during the regular season. The Panthers were 3-1 this preseason, so between each of these teams strong second halves in 2012 and their good showing in 2013 preliminaries they're ready to go.
You can't gloss over Seattle's preseason without talking about the performance of rookie Chistine Michael who averaged 5.0 yards on his 40 carries and will give the Seahawks a much-needed breakaway threat. Last years' selection of Robert Turbin was certainly a find, but a little derivative of leading rusher Marshawn Lynch as another pounder. Both Turbin and Michael symbolize everything that's right about the Seahawks. What they have done in the draft after the first round is what makes them a Super Bowl contender. Whereas the first round in the last five drafts has been largely forgettable with the exceptions Earl Thomas and Russell Okung, the subsequent rounds have brought Russell Wilson, Max Unger, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Turbin and Michael, among others.
I'm starting to see the wisdom of the San Diego Chargers of the 1990s who traded away No. 1 draft picks in four straight seasons, sometimes for more picks in early rounds. But that ended in 1998 when they traded up to take Ryan Leaf, the exception who proved the rule.
Nine rookies made the Seahawks roster this year, not a small number for a team bantered about as a Super Bowl contender. The franchise does not a have player left from the 2005 NFC Championship, and the elder statesman is Brandon Mebane, the lone holdover from the 2007 draft. Most of the roster has been cultivated since Pete Carroll came to the team in 2010. Suffice it to say the Seahawks seem to be set up for a long run of contention. And a good chance to improve upon their 13-24 all-time record in season-opening games.