The birds of prey are now the hunted.
The Seattle Seahawks will face a live opponent for the first time as Super Bowl champions on Thursday.
Because that opponent is the Denver Broncos, Super Bowl flashbacks are allowed for the one or two series starters will play.
Then the page will turn from the most historic chapter in Seahawks history to possibly the most compelling one.
History has not been kind to Super Bowl champions. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since the 2004-05 New England Patriots. The drama rests in whether Seattle can buck that trend.
On the eve of the 2014-15 NFL preseason, here are five reasons Seattle will and will not repeat as Super Bowl champs.
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First, the reasons why …
1. The Legion of Boom
“Change the game, don’t let the game change you” is a lyric from rapper and Seahawks superfan Macklemore.
It’s fitting for Seattle’s defensive backfield. The “Legion of Boom” has set a trend for how teams play defense in a pass-happy NFL. Everyone now wants large, physical corners and safeties in the mold of Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
Beyond their bruising play, the unit has an infectious swagger and bravado that fuels the entire defense.
The Super Bowl showed Seattle’s defense, and especially the Legion of Boom, can befuddle even a historically good quarterback.
2. A healthy Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin only saw action in three games last season, mostly due to a hip injury. But his 87-yard kickoff return and 30-yard jet sweep in the Super Bowl showed how his big-play potential can alter a game.
If Harvin can stay healthy, Seattle will have the game-breaker they envisioned him to be. He will also more than make up for the departure of Golden Tate.
3. John Schneider-Pete Carroll tandem
Among NFL general managers, few have the shrewdness of Schneider.
He has found key players low in the draft — see Russell Wilson and Sherman. He snagged pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett on the free agent market for discount prices.
After Schneider finds diamonds in the rough, Carroll cuts them into valuable assets. Players buy in to the coach’s positive attitude, enthusiasm and team-oriented philosophy.
4. The 12th Man
No team enjoys a bigger home-field advantage than the Seahawks.
A rabid fan base set the Guinness World Record for stadium noise at CenturyLink Field, then turned the Super Bowl in New Jersey into practically a road game for Denver.
Under Carroll, Seattle has won nearly 80 percent of its home games, including 17 of its last 18 including the playoffs.
Seattle will probably be favored in all eight of its home games and five on the road. A 13-3 record last season was good enough for home-field advantage in the playoffs. That gave Seattle the edge it needed to squeak by San Francisco in what turned out to be the de facto NFL title game.
5. A wiser Russell Wilson
For all the accolades Wilson has received, it’s easy to forget the quarterback is entering only his third NFL season.
The intangibles that make Wilson great (maturity, work ethic, intelligence) mean he should continue to improve as a quarterback and leader this season.
Wilson’s pedigree is eye-popping. No QB has won more games in his first two seasons. Only Dan Marino threw more touchdowns through two seasons than Wilson’s 52. Only Marino had a higher passer rating through two years than Wilson’s 100.6.
Yet Wilson struggled for a stretch at the end of last season. From Week 14 on, his 30.4 Total Quarterback Rating was 29th out of 32.
Wilson still has a lot of room to grow, which is scary considering how much he has already accomplished.
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Now, the reasons why not …
1. The NFC West
The NFC West is the toughest division in football.
Three of the four teams are in the top 10 of nearly every NFL power ranking you’ll find.
The NFC West is also filled with nasty physical defenses.
Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona all ranked in the top six of fewest yards allowed last year. All four NFC West teams are in the top 12 of fewest points allowed per game. Three of the four teams rank in the top eight in sacks.
The grind of the NFC West means the division winner will probably have a few blemishes on their record and a lower playoff seed. And nobody needs to tell Seattle how important home-field advantage is in the playoffs.
2. The salary cap
Parity is the rule in the NFL, where the salary cap makes building dynasties difficult.
This offseason, Seattle gave big extensions to Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, who are two of the NFL’s best at their positions. They also re-signed defensive end Michael Bennett, kicker Steven Hauschka and wide receiver Doug Baldwin.
That left no money to re-sign free agents Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini, all key members of last year’s team.
3. Being the hunted
Nobody is underestimating the Seahawks anymore.
Last year’s team of low draft picks played with more chips on their shoulder than a Frito Lay plant. They showed a passion that comes with being passed over.
The scrappy collection of low draft picks now has some of the highest-paid players at their positions. Seattle’s underdogs are the top dogs.
Players and coaches are saying everything to make us believe they won’t rest on their laurels. For me, complacency is less a concern as whether Seattle can further elevate its game to match getting everybody’s best shot every week.
“The most important thing that will happen is if we can recapture the work ethic that made us what we are,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this winter. “Nothing else really matters.”
4. The offensive line
The offensive line was Seattle’s weak link last year.
Part of that was due to injuries as starters missed a combined 19 games.
Seattle was in the NFL’s bottom third in sacks allowed and hits on the quarterback, numbers that would be worse if Wilson wasn’t so mobile.
Left tackle Russell Okung’s health continues to be a concern after offseason foot surgery. Second-year player Michael Bowie and rookie Justin Britt are vying to replace Giacomini at right tackle.
UPDATE: The Seahawks waved Bowie on Saturday after he hurt his shoulder on the first day of practice. Seattle signed 9-year NFL veteran Eric Winston to compete for the starting right-tackle job.
The backups to guards James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy are unproven should either get hurt.
5. The schedule
Eight of Seattle’s 16 games are against playoff teams. The season opens with Green Bay, San Diego and Denver, meaning the Legion of Boom will be tested early by three of the game’s best quarterbacks.
From weeks 11 through 16, Seattle will play six straight games against teams that had 10 or more wins in 2013.
The road, which includes three East Coast trips, will be tough for Seattle. Road opponents on Seattle’s schedule were a combined 40-24 at home last season.
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So there you have it … both sides of the argument whether the Seahawks will repeat as Super Bowl champs.
Which is right? Ask me in February.