Will Hawks or any team challenge Patriots for decade’s best?

Dynasties -- All four updatedThere’s a lot of talk this week about the dynasty Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have built in New England — whether they beat Atlanta in Super Bowl LI or not.

There’s simply no denying the Patriots have been the best franchise in the NFL for the past 16 years — and one of the great franchises in NFL history.

They certainly were the Team of the 2000s — with Super Bowl wins in 2001, 2003 and 2004 — and their win over the Seahawks in 2014 put them behind only Pittsburgh (six), San Francisco (five) and Dallas (five) in Super Bowl wins.

This is their NFL-record ninth Super Bowl appearance (Pittsburgh, Dallas and Denver each have eight). It’s the seventh under Belichick and Brady — no coach-quarterback combo has ever reached that many.

A win over the Falcons would make them a near lock for Team of the 2010s — an unofficial title that, added to their dominance of the 2000s, would cement them as the most dominant dynasty in league history.

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Are Hawks prepping to court Campbell?

campbell-wilsonThere’s a lot of chatter from fans wanting the Seahawks to pursue Calais Campbell in free agency to improve their interior pass rush.

On first blush, it seems like a lot of wishful thinking — John Schneider usually goes younger and cheaper on veteran defensive linemen — but there are increasing signs the Hawks could indeed make a play for the 30-year-old Arizona tackle.

Seattle’s hiring of his former college position coach, Clint Hurtt, adds to the intrigue created by Russell Wilson, who appeared to be recruiting Campbell after their December game.

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Offseason priorities

Draft -- Schneider and CarrollIt has been three years since the Seahawks reached the NFL’s summit and stood at the peak of franchise history. The next year, they were a mere yard from the top, looking like they were going to conquer the mountain for a second straight year and set up a climb toward a dynasty.

But a series of wrong steps has sent them tumbling from the top, the dynasty chance sliding down the other side. In 2016, Pete Carroll lost control of his team and failed to fix its most glaring problem, and now this stands as the most important offseason since he and John Schneider clumsily went quarterback hunting in 2012.

Seattle is in the same spot it has been for the last two offseasons — key players (Earl Thomas, Tyler Lockett, DeShawn Shead) dealing with major injury rehabs and an offensive line that is far from settled.

To avoid continuing the gradual slide back down the mountain, Carroll will have to get some of his difficult stars (Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett) back in line, some of his other stars healthy and the line functional. And Schneider is going to have to put together one of his best offseasons to help the Seahawks get going in the right direction again.

Here’s a look at the 2017 priorities:

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Expect Graham to get a contract extension

Jimmy Graham catches a pass on Day 4 (Seahawks via Twitter)What about Jimmy Graham?

That is the question many are asking as the Seahawks embark on the most important offseason of John Schneider’s tenure (or at least since they went quarterback hunting in 2012).

It’s preposterous to think the Seahawks would cut Graham, who just rallied from a severe knee injury to set team records for receptions and yards by a tight end. And it doesn’t sound like the Seahawks will be interested in trading him either.

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Don’t expect any big additions on O-line

A year ago, the Seahawks’ obvious priority was to build an almost entirely new offensive line. They ended up with three first-time starters, a fourth in a new position and a fifth who was only in his second year at his spot.

Everyone hoped against hope that bunch of neophytes would not be this Super Bowl contender’s undoing. But, along with a few key injuries, it was.

Despite the apparent lack of progress, Pete Carroll thinks they have set a foundation and the continuity will help the group improve even if the club does nothing to add to the unit. He also made it clear they do not plan to spend much money on the line.

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Are the Seahawks still ‘in the middle of it’?

logo-playoffsAre the Seahawks “in the middle of it” or coming to the end of it? That is the big question after three straight disappointing playoff seasons.

Pete Carroll, of course, says the Super Bowl window is still open. Just as he said after the XLIX debacle in 2015 and after the near blowout in Carolina last year, he reiterated Saturday night that the Hawks “are right in the middle of it.” But are they?

All of this team’s best players are signed for another year, but Carroll’s club has been on a steady slide ever since the ridiculous decision to throw the ball from the 1 vs. the Patriots. In 2015, Kam Chancellor’s holdout fractured the defense and the offensive line had trouble against good fronts — a big reason they were nearly blown out by Carolina in the divisional playoffs. In 2016, injuries and attitude problems messed up the defense and the offensive line was even worse than it had been in 2015– the main reason they were blown out by Atlanta.

This team is not the aging crew Mike Holmgren had left after his Seahawks’ five-year playoff run in the mid-2000s; but, as constituted, Carroll’s club is not a strong contender anymore.

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chawk-lines-hawks-at-falcons

The Richard Sherman-Julio Jones matchup is the one everyone will be keeping an eye on. (We hope Kris Richard learned a lesson from last time.)

Gene Steratore, who tries not to get in the way, will ref the game. He was the ref for the excellent Seahawks-Patriots game earlier this season.

Jones will be curious to find out how Steratore’s crew plans to call the game.

C.J. Prosise is unlikely to return or this game.

Will the Seahawks use Jimmy Graham in the red zone more in this game?

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Seahawks need to keep running it in Atlanta

logo-playoffsEveryone’s going gaga over the resurgent rushing performance of Thomas Rawls and the offensive line in Seattle’s 26-6 win over Detroit. But the proof will be in Atlanta.

As expected, the Seahawks are headed there for a rematch with Dan Quinn’s Falcons and a chance to redeem their 2012 playoff loss. To do it, they will have to run the ball as well as they did against the Lions — when the linemen seemingly channeled former All-Pro Steve Hutchinson after he raised the 12 flag.

Yeah, the Hawks beat Atlanta 26-24 in Week 6 without a running game (Christine Michael led an attack that garnered just 76 yards). But they wouldn’t have won without Earl Thomas, who had a stellar game despite the defense’s breakdowns in the third quarter.

Thomas won’t be around to help combat Matt Ryan’s prolific offense this time, which is where the running game comes in: Seattle needs to play keepaway.

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Lions face the Legion they helped build

logo-playoffsA year ago at this time, the Seahawks were getting ready for a wild-card playoff game against an NFC North team they had helped build. They ended up escaping frigid Minnesota with a lucky win over the Vikings and Teddy Bridgewater, the quarterback Seattle enabled Minnesota to draft in 2014.

Now, here the Hawks are in the wild-card round again, about to face another NFC North team, and personnel ties loom large yet again.

As the Hawks prepare to host the Detroit Lions in the first playoff game between the teams, two of the big storylines involve Golden Tate and Cliff Avril going against their former teams. But the personnel links are deeper than that.

Since coming to Seattle in 2010, John Schneider has done more business with Detroit than with any other team. Of his 42 trades, seven have been with the Lions. And two of them helped create the Legion of Boom.

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Injured Thomas on Seahawks: ‘We don’t have all our parts’

logo-playoffsEarl Thomas might not be with the Seahawks on the field, but there is no doubt he is with them in spirit.

He has been actively cheerleading via Twitter since he got hurt, sometimes with hilarious comments.

He also held a chat via The Seattle Times on Thursday, during which he said he is feeling pretty good after surgery on his broken leg, misses the game and feels like the team is not as good without him.

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