At 5-0, Hawks will only get better; race is on against Packers

A third of the way through one of the most bizarre seasons ever (and we’re not just talking about the pandemic), the Seahawks are 5-0 and among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. And that’s despite having the league’s worst defense (by the standard measure: yards).

The Packers (4-0) have been more impressive so far, but the Seahawks might be more dangerous because they are a big-play team on both sides and should get better on defense as the season goes.

By DVOA, the Hawks are considered the No. 3 team in the league, behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay (buoyed by the No. 2 defense). Los Angeles is fourth, Kansas City fifth and Green Bay sixth. Those teams look to be Seattle’s biggest competition for a Super Bowl title.

Historically, based on a 5-0 start, the Hawks have a 90% chance of making the playoffs and 40% chance of reaching the Super Bowl. Based on current conditions, Five Thirty Eight gives them a 95% chance of the playoffs, 35% chance at the only NFC bye (Packers at 36%), and 11% chance to win the Super Bowl (third favorite behind the Chiefs and Packers).

It looks like their main competition in the NFC will be their longtime nemeses, Green Bay and Los Angeles. NFC South contenders Tampa Bay and New Orleans figure to be in the mix, too. Arizona (3-2), with young Kyler Murray, will be a tough matchup (times two). And San Francisco (2-3), which looks weak now, could rally from its injury-filled start to be a problem by the end.  

The Seahawks’ remaining foes have a .445 win percentage (23rd in the NFL). Upcoming is the toughest stretch of the season: At Arizona, San Francisco, at Buffalo, at Los Angeles, Arizona. Then a bunch of “easy” games: At Philadelphia (1-3-1), both currently winless New York teams in Seattle, at Washington (1-4). Then the Hawks finish with the Rams in Seattle and then at San Francisco. The Hawks should win seven or eight of those for a 12-4 or 13-3 record – assuming COVID-19 doesn’t mess with their team or schedule.

Green Bay’s slate is similarly easy. The toughest remaining opponents are Tampa Bay (this weekend), AFC South leaders Tennessee and Indy, and NFC North rivals Chicago (4-1) and Minnesota (which is better than Chicago despite their inverted records; the Vikings are 11th in DVOA, the Bears 23rd). The Packers could easily win nine more games to finish 13-3. They’re the team to beat in the NFC this year.

The Hawks will have a chance because they are going to get better on defense.

While the defense is on pace to give up the most yards ever, it has made up for it with takeaways and key stops. Their 10 forced turnovers are second to Cleveland (tied with Baltimore), and they have made a bunch of big stands when needed: Atlanta was stopped on all four fourth-down tries; Cam Newton and New England were stuffed on the final play from the 1; Dak Prescott’s end-zone Hail Mary was intercepted by Ryan Neal; Miami was held to five field goals and was picked off to seal it by Shaquill Griffin; Minnesota was robbed twice by K.J. Wright and stopped on a gutsy late fourth-down call.

Those big plays have complemented MVP leader Russell Wilson and the NFL’s No. 2 scoring offense (33.8 ppg, behind Green Bay’s 38) and the fourth-best special teams (by DVOA).

Michael Dickson has been a superstar over the first five games, ranking fourth in average (net and overall) while leading the NFL with 14 punts inside the 20. The No. 4 ranking would be Seattle’s best ranking since it finished third in 2015. The Hawks were 20th in 2019, 24th in 2018, 20th in 2017 and 15th in 2016 – rankings that had some fans calling for Brian Schneider’s head. Well, Schneider is on leave this season and these teams are being run by former NFL special-teams star Larry Izzo.

Like a lot of teams, the Hawks have had a bunch of early-season injuries. Having already taken big hits in the secondary and the pass rush, they have found some young in-house gems in Ugo Amadi, Neal and Alton Robinson. And they have recently added veterans Damarious Randall, Damon Harrison and Jonathan Bullard. After the bye, they will get back starters Jamal Adams, Jordyn Brooks and Rasheem Green.  

That’s a lot of reinforcements for a 5-0 team. If the defense can come together over the second half, Seattle should challenge Green Bay for the NFC’s top seed – and Kansas City or Baltimore for the Super Bowl title.

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