Here's a look at the Super Bowl prospects of the Seattle Seahawks, who finished the season 9-7. The tiers consist of: Realistic Super Bowl expectations; Should contend, but there are question marks; Middle of the pack; Lots of work to do; and Nowhere close.
Westgate odds to win Super Bowl LIII: 20-1
Middle of the pack: "I couldn't feel more optimistic about our chances to be really good again," coach Pete Carroll said after Seattle's disappointing season ended earlier than anyone expected. "I think there is a championship team sitting in this meeting room right here."
Carroll's outlook, while expected, is hard to reconcile with all the challenges the Seahawks face as they try to reverse a downward trend that culminated in their first season without a playoff berth since 2011.
Start with the uncertainty surrounding the Legion of Boom, the strength of Seattle's defense during the team's five consecutive playoff appearances. Kam Chancellor may never play again because of a neck injury. Richard Sherman will be 30 years old and coming off a ruptured Achilles as he enters the final season of his contract. Earl Thomas also has a year left on his deal and has broached the possibility of a holdout in the absence of an extension. Trading him doesn't seem out of the question after Seattle openly shopped Sherman last offseason.
The Seahawks need to fix a running game that has been broken for the past two seasons, largely because of an offensive line that underachieved under Tom Cable's direction. New line coach Mike Solari has to get more from his group than Cable could. It would also help if one tailback could take hold of the starting job and give Seattle's backfield the stability it hasn't had in the post-Marshawn Lynch era.
The Los Angeles Rams present an obstacle as a young team that appears to be on the ascent after winning the NFC West with an 11-5 record. The Seahawks finished two games behind them and conceivably could have won 12 games with a more competent kicker. They eked out a victory over the Rams in October, but the gap between them felt much wider when Los Angeles beat the Seahawks by 35 points in the December rematch.
To dismiss out of hand the Seahawks' chances of contending for a Super Bowl would be to forget about all the pieces they do have. Russell Wilson is a top-level quarterback, maybe the most important ingredient to any championship team. Bobby Wagner is one of the best linebackers in football. Duane Brown, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and K.J. Wright are other Pro Bowl players still under contract. Carroll is coming back, as is general manager John Schneider, who built the teams that won Super Bowl XLVIII then nearly repeated the following season.
But those two won't have an easy time restocking Seattle's roster. Limited salary-cap space will make it difficult to re-sign key free agents such as Sheldon Richardson and Jimmy Graham let alone make any significant additions. The Seahwaks are without picks in the second and third rounds, meaning less draft capital to find the type of blue-chip talent Seattle could use after some lean drafts.
Plenty can change between February and September, but as it stands now, the Seahawks seem closer to another 9-7 season than another Super Bowl title.