THE LAST TIME an NFL team won consecutive Super Bowls, the Seahawks had never been to one. Their current coach, Pete Carroll, was in the midst of a successful but ultimately checkered tenure at USC. Seattle's quarterback, Russell Wilson, was 15 years old and as much of a baseball prospect as a football one.
In a league defined by constant change, one thing in recent years never has: No Super Bowl champion has repeated since 2004, or even reached that game. In fact, half of the last eight title teams failed to make the playoffs. The last team to capture the Lombardi Trophy in back-to-back years, the Patriots in 2003 and '04, is also the last champion to even win a playoff game the next season, and that came in '05.
The Seahawks are not the first Super Bowl winner to show up at training camp the following season and appear primed for another run. But they are the team best positioned to repeat since those New England teams. The Pats of 2003 and '04 were led by a rising star quarterback in Tom Brady and a stout defense. With the 25-year-old Wilson, a two-time Pro Bowler who is the third-youngest QB to win a Super Bowl, and a defense that led the league in fewest yards and fewest points allowed per game, Seattle is looking downright Patriotic.
The core remains largely intact. While the Seahawks lost five starters during the off-season, they also locked up defensive stars Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman with long-term contracts. One of those departed starters was wide receiver Golden Tate, whose absence is a blow to a unit that ranked 26th in the league in receiving yards per game. But Seattle responded by taking Paul Richardson of Colorado with its first draft pick. It will also get back top target Percy Harvin, who missed 15 regular-season games while recovering from hip surgery and two more in the playoffs because of a concussion.
"I definitely believe we're better than a year ago," Wilson said.
What's next? That's what the Seahawks chanted inside their jubilant locker room after their Super Bowl triumph last February. A similar celebration next February will be more likely if Wilson plays like the QB he is at home (where he has a 112.8 passer rating, the best in NFL history among QBs with at least 350 attempts) even when he's on the road (90.6 rating).
Under Wilson the Seahawks are 17--1 at CenturyLink Field (playoffs included). If the road to the Super Bowl again runs through the Pacific Northwest, expect to see the Seahawks in Glendale, Ariz., next Feb. 1.
The biggest issues facing Seattle are the holdout of running back Marshawn Lynch and a schedule that features early contests with the Packers and the Broncos, and then six games against the NFC West, the NFL's best division. Lynch, who is due $5 million in guaranteed base salary this season, can be expected to report, but that schedule will be a seasonlong challenge.
Green Bay and Denver are just two of the other teams in the league with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. No team, however, boasts a defense as strong as Seattle's. The league is designed for champions to stumble. But if their defense is as good in 2014 as it was last year, the Seahawks are unlikely to be tripped up.
Yards per game allowed by the Seahawks in 2013, the best in the NFL.
Russell Wilson's home record as a starting quarterback.
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