And just like that, BadNFL's weekly predictions are back! The week one pick: San Francisco wins handily @ Seattle. Here's why:
1. San Francisco's swarming front 7 will decimate Seattle's depleted offensive line.
Seattle's offensive line is atrocious -- so bad, in fact, that it's approaching Bills territory. The line was already a question mark heading into the season, as their sheer lack of talent made the situation precarious to begin with. Indeed, the offensive line was undoubtedly one of the reasons why the Seahawks struggled so mightily on offense last year (their offensive DVOA was near the bottom of the league). And it has undoubtedly worsened over the past week or so. First, the Seahawks have ruled out Russell Okung, their high 1st round draft choice and presumptive starting LT, for the game. The loss of their left tackle, which as I've pointed out before is arguably the game's 2nd most important position, makes a bad situation even worse, particularly given the very shaky depth behind Okung.
Second, Alex Gibbs, the legendary godfather of the fabled Denver zone blocking scheme, abruptly resigned as offensive line coach last week. While Gibbs is not well known among the general public, his loss is potentially devastating, particularly coming so close to the start of the season. Besides robbing the Seahawks of his expertise, Gibbs' resignation further adds to the general chaos and instability of the situation -- two characteristics that contributed significantly to the lackluster line play last year.
Put simply, I don't expect the Seahawks to keep Matt Hasselbeck upright in the game, and because of that, I expect the Seahawks' offensive futility of the past few years to continue. The 49ers certainly have the athletic, young, and aggressive front-7 that should be able to exploit Seattle's ineptitude. Everyone knows that the 49ers defense began to break out last year under Mike Singletary, and I expect it to continue to improve this year. I think that the superb Patrick Willis will emerge as not only a shutdown MLB but also the stalwart leader that Singletary once was to the Bears; he looks to spearhead an emerging and potentially dominant defense. And particularly because Seattle is starting Justin Forsett in the backfield -- who qualifies as "quality depth" at best -- Seattle should become relatively one-dimensional and easy for the 49ers defense to tee off on.
Last year, when the 49ers defense roared out of the gate and surprised some people, they were able to easily blow out 2 bad divisional opponents early in the year (beating the Seahawks by 13 and the Rams by 35). I expect their defense to carve up Seattle's offensive line and generate a sizeable lead against another terrible NFC West opponent this week.
2. Seattle is a team in transition.
To be frank, I'm not a huge Pete Carroll fan. He obviously was not successful his last time around in the NFL, and I think the hoopla surrounding his move to Seattle will become a distracting headache. But more importantly, I'm not impressed with his approach to the season thus far. The front office has basically admitted -- amid squabbles with Carroll over personnel authority -- that this season is essentially an elongated audition for young players for the future. Because of all the offseason change and recent upheaval, Seattle's gameplan will likely be unusually simple, since the staff hasn't had time to install sophisticated packages or acclimate the players to the playbook. Even the quotes coming from Carroll seem to suggest bad mojo and a team that's already rebuilding -- something that will be particularly evident with their very young and very bad defense.
But here's the thing: they're rebuilding with a washed up and oft-injured QB. Most analysts agree that the Seahawks will be terrible this year, but that they're counting on Hasselbeck to try and get them close to .500. Of course, Hasselbeck has been atrocious in recent years, and at his age, he's unlikely to go anywhere but further down.
In short, the 9ers should win this division, and the Seahawks should finish near the bottom. If that's the case, I just don't see how this game will be as close as this line suggests.
THE COUNTER: QWEST FIELD?
Qwest Field is generally thought to generate a significant home field advantage. It certainly is very loud, and it might rattle some of the 49ers' younger players on offense. And admittedly, they beat the 49ers there last season. But that game was somewhat fluky -- Seattle won on a last second field goal, and the game was plagued by a lot of weird 49ers mistakes, epitomized by a botched reverse attempt on a punt return.
That said, the 49ers are a young team that has likely improved and learned from that game. Their young talent is really emerging, and they've upgraded their offensive line in the offseason. In general, the 49ers took care of business against their division last year, and I expect that general trend to continue -- while Alex Smith continues to improve -- against a bad Seattle team. Thus, Scouts' Inc.'s 24-17 prediction sounds more accurate (although I might have gone with a higher win differential) than the 3 point line. Seattle makes clear this week that they are a bottom feeder, and the Niners cover.