As the Seahawks prepare to start a season without Russell Wilson for the first time in 11 years, they are not expected to win more than four or five games.
In the Wilson years, the Hawks would have been favored to beat Denver, Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas, Carolina and the Giants and Jets while splitting their division games. That would equal 10 wins, with New Orleans, Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City the wild cards.
With no dependable quarterback, though, the Hawks currently are favored against only the Falcons, Panthers and the New York teams. Vegas has the over/under at 5.5 wins. The combined career winning percentage of Geno Smith and Drew Lock is .382, which would translate to six wins.
Is that really the best this team will be able to manage without Wilson?
It all depends on the running game, special teams, takeaways — and more takeaways. And probably putting Lock at QB.
Lock simply has more upside than Smith. He also has more downside, which is why Smith has the job right now. But, if Smith continues to be unable to lead touchdown drives, Lock likely will replace him. And, when Lock throws too many interceptions for Pete Carroll’s taste, Smith probably will be back in the lineup. Expect that kind of season.
The big question: How long is Smith’s leash? Would Carroll consider the switch if the Seahawks started 1-3? Or would he let Smith lead them to 1-5 before making the move?
If they start 1-3 (meaning they can’t beat both Atlanta and Detroit) and lack of touchdowns is the reason, we might see Lock as early as Week 5 vs. the Saints. Or maybe Carroll gives Smith a longer leash. If it’s a 1-5 or 2-4 start, maybe Carroll switches to Lock in time for him to face a familiar foe, the Chargers. Or maybe he waits for the ostensibly easier Week 8 home game vs. the Giants.
Here’s the best case, as we see it: The Hawks sack Wilson a bunch in the opener and knock off Denver, then beat Atlanta and Detroit after losing to the 49ers – a 3-1 start. Maybe they go 2-4 in the next six, landing at 5-5 at the bye. They are favored for two wins (CAR, NYJ) in the final seven, so they would need to pull some upsets against the Raiders, Rams, Niners and/or Chiefs to be in the playoff picture.
Here’s the worst case: Smith leads Seattle to a 1-6 start, then Lock takes over and delivers some thrills, chills and spills on the way to the expected 4-13 or 5-12 finish.
To win more than four or five games, the Hawks will need takeaways from their defense and special teams that set up easy scoring chances. They will need to get two-score leads so they can run the ball at will. That’s the Geno recipe. If that does not happen, Lock will be in and they will hope he makes more positive big plays than negative (many fans will root for negative and the top-five draft pick that would come with 4-13 or 5-12).
Let’s take a look at the opponents and make some predictions:
Week 1: Broncos
With Wilson returning to Seattle for the Monday night opener, the Broncos are favored by 6.5. But Carroll and his coaches know all of Wilson’s flaws intimately. If Seattle’s revamped defense can hassle Wilson into sacks and fumbles, the Hawks could show him who’s boss and ruin his Denver debut. We think they will. Hawks, 20-17
Week 2: At 49ers
The 49ers still have a top-10 defense and a top-10 offensive line – both keys in protecting new starter Trey Lance. They also oddly still have Jimmy G, who is ready to come off the bench and bail out Lance if he can’t handle the heat. A win here is a tough ask for Seattle at this point. 49ers, 23-13
Week 3: Falcons
The Falcons tried to improve the 30th-ranked (by DVOA) defense by adding CB Casey Hayward and some new linebackers, but their offensive line also is pretty bad and they are relying on Marcus Mariota as their starting QB after they traded longtime franchise leader Matt Ryan. The Seahawks look a lot better than these guys. Hawks, 24-13
Week 4: At Lions
The Lions had a terrible defense in 2021, too. The Hawks scored 51 points against it. Detroit drafted DE Aidan Hutchinson, but the secondary did not improve. If they can get Jared Goff to cough up the ball, the Hawks should have a good chance in Detroit. Hawks, 23-20
Week 5: At Saints
The Saints’ third-rated (DVOA) defense turned over its safeties, with Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye replacing Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams. Led by Cameron Jordan, this unit should remain strong. The Hawks’ only hope is to get Jameis Winston to toss a couple of interceptions, but even that might not be enough against this playoff contender. Saints, 27-13
Week 6: Cardinals
This will be the last week of DeAndre Hopkins’ suspension, so that is one thing in Seattle’s favor. The other positive for Seattle: No more Chandler Jones. But Arizona often wins in Seattle, and Kyler Murray probably will be in great sync with old college teammate Marquise Brown by this time. Cardinals, 24-16
Week 7: At Chargers
The Chargers are a developing powerhouse behind QB Justin Herbert. They have the offense and tried to improve their No. 26 (DVOA) defense by adding OLB Khalil Mack and D-tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson. This could be ugly for Seattle. Chargers, 34-14
Week 8: Giants
The Hawks are preseason faves against the Giants, whose defense was horrible against the run in 2021 and won’t be helped that much by first-rounder Kayvon Thibodeaux. Hawks, 27-17
Week 9: At Cardinals
The Hawks usually win at Arizona (7-1-1 in the past nine), but that was with Wilson. (Barring injuries) Murray will have both Brown and Hopkins for this one. Cardinals, 26-20
Week 10: Bucs in Munich
The Hawks meet Tom Brady & Co. in Germany ahead of their bye. It’s a long way to go for a loss, but that’s what the Hawks are looking at – unless Seattle’s offense can put up some points to match a stacked Tampa offense. Bucs, 30-17
Week 12: Raiders
If the Hawks’ pass rush has developed, it could have the edge on Derek Carr and his subpar line and thus have a shot in this game. Of course, the Hawks’ offense will run into Chandler Jones, who came from Arizona. Hawks, 27-24
Week 13: At Rams
This is now the Bobby Wagner Grudge Game — the first of two in the final six weeks. Wagner joined a defense that ranked fifth in DVOA last season, and the Rams’ offense should keep humming if Matthew Stafford holds up (Allen Robinson is now Cooper Kupp’s running mate). Rams, 34-20
Week 14: Panthers
The Hawks were linked to Baker Mayfield until the Panthers traded for him, and this will be the week they face him. Will Seattle’s defense have turned into ball Hawks by this time and take advantage of Mayfield’s occasional inaccuracy? We’ll say yes. Hawks, 24-20
Week 15: 49ers
Will the Niners be in the playoff hunt? Will Lance still be starting? A ton will happen before we get to this game. We have the Hawks 0-4 in the division at this point, so we’ll say their defense rises up to help win this home game (where the Hawks are 11-2 vs. the 49ers in the Carroll era). Hawks, 23-21
Week 16: At Chiefs
Kansas City no longer has Tyreek Hill, so the offense will look a little different. The Hawks’ offense will face former Seahawks Carlos Dunlap and Frank Clark; the Chiefs also remade the secondary, with Justin Reid replacing Tyrann Mathieu and former Husky Trent McDuffie coming via the first round. This game probably won’t be like the awesome 2019 shootout between Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. Chiefs, 30-17
Week 17: Jets
After having the worst pass defense (by DVOA) in the NFL in 2021, the Jets overhauled the secondary with CB Sauce Gardner, ex-Seattle CB D.J. Reed and SS Jordan Whitehead. They also drafted pass rusher Jermaine Johnson. The Jets also used the draft to help the offense, with WR Garrett Wilson and RB Breece Hall picked in the first two rounds. The Jets have two former Hawks at the tackles: LT Duane Brown and RT George Fant. Will QB Zach Wilson live up to his draft position this year? Will Geno Smith have regained the starting QB job to face his old team? Hawks, 30-23
Week 18: Rams
Wagner returns to Seattle for the season finale, before he and the Rams surely move on to the playoffs and the Hawks, heading for 8-9 in this projection, start the search for their new QB. Rams, 31-20