NFL

Seattle Seahawks 2023 NFL Season Preview and Picks

By Scott Kacsmar

Few teams made the prognosticators look sillier in 2022 than the Seattle Seahawks. With an over/under of 5.5 wins, the Seahawks hit that over by Week 9 after a 6-3 start. But few foreseen Geno Smith outplaying Russell Wilson after he was traded to Denver.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl, and it was a legitimate selection instead of a fourth alternate after no one else wanted to go. While the Seahawks were slumping late in the year and needed help to make the playoffs at 9-8, their appearance in the tournament after a shaky season on defense makes Smith’s 2022 season an impressive feat for a quarterback dragging a team to the postseason.

But can he repeat it or improve on last year’s success? The sportsbooks still prefer the 49ers in the NFC West, but the Seahawks are in that wild card mix with an over/under of 8.5 wins (or 9.5 wins depending on which sportsbook you use).

We look back at 2022’s breakout year for Geno, the key offseason changes, the chances that Geno is a one-year-wonder, and the best Seahawks bets for 2023.

2022 Season Recap: The Year Geno Smith Outplayed Russell Wilson  

Seattle’s opening night upset over Denver felt like a team barely getting by in a 17-16 game after the Broncos managed the game horribly in Nathaniel Hackett’s coaching debut. Russell Wilson actually had one of his best games of the season, but the Broncos were atrocious in the red zone, and they botched the final drive in setting up a 64-yard field goal that was missed.

But you can tell it was important to this Seattle team to upstage Wilson, and it was a good debut for Geno Smith as the full-time starter. But when the offense failed to put a single point on the board the following week against the 49ers, reality seemed to set back in. Soon, the Seahawks were a more understandable 2-3 with some high-scoring games along the way.

Smith did continue to play better than expected, and during a 4-game winning streak, the Seahawks discovered rookie Kenneth Walker was a running back with potential. The defense also had by far its best stretch of the season, including a sweep of lowly Arizona and wins over the Giants and Chargers, who both made the playoffs.

But at 6-3, the Seahawks peaked with that winning streak. In a trip to Munich to take on the Buccaneers, the Seahawks had a letdown performance in a 21-16 loss. The running game bombed with 39 yards, and the run defense made Tampa Bay look good for a change.

Even after a bye week, the Seahawks blew a late 34-27 lead at home to the Raiders, losing 40-34 in overtime after giving up an 86-yard touchdown run to Josh Jacobs. For the rest of the season, the Seahawks’ only wins were a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks against the Rams (minus their studs), and a 23-6 win against the Jets.

There was another ugly home loss to Sam Darnold and the Panthers in a 30-24 game. The offense still struggled in a rematch with San Francisco’s top-ranked defense, losing 21-13. The temperature was 12 degrees at kickoff in Kansas City, but the Chiefs outlasted the Seahawks in a 24-10 game – Seattle’s only touchdown came with 2:25 left while trailing 24-3.

From 6-3 to 7-8, the Seahawks were in danger of missing the playoffs. They needed wins and help. They got those wins against the Jets and Rams, including an overtime win on that final day of the regular season. But they still needed the Lions to beat the Packers on Sunday Night Football, or else the Packers would have been the No. 7 seed. Detroit came through, and it was Seattle’s 48-45 win in Detroit that was the ultimate tiebreaker to give the Seahawks the No. 7 seed over Detroit with a 9-8 record.

The reward was a third matchup with the 49ers in the wild card round. This one went better for the offense, and the Seahawks even led 17-16 at halftime. However, everything changed in the third quarter when Smith was strip-sacked in the red zone while trailing 23-17. The 49ers jumped out to 41 points before winning 41-23.

From a 6-3 start to a 3-6 finish, the Seahawks are hardly a sure thing to string together playoff appearances in 2023.

Offseason Review

The Seahawks had two top 20 picks in the 2023 draft. They spent them on what many draft analysts had ranked as the No. 1 cornerback (Devon Witherspoon) and No. 1 wide receiver (Jaxon Smith-Njigba) in this class.

That sounds great on paper, but does it not sound less great when you hear that Witherspoon may only be the nickel corner and Smith-Njigba is a No. 3 wideout in this offense behind Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf? Oh, Smith-Njigba also just had wrist surgery and could miss a few important games in September.

The moves make sense for the long term. If Witherspoon can grow into a player who gets asked to cover Cooper Kupp and Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel, then great. Smith-Njigba will likely be a stud in this offense eventually as it does not feel like Lockett and Metcalf will be there together for much longer.

But as far as 2023 impact goes, these picks will not likely move the Seahawks up a tier in the NFC. You could argue Jalen Carter would have been the best pick at No. 5 to give the team the most dominant interior pass rusher in the draft, but character concerns pushed him down the board to the Eagles at No. 9. But Seattle is a team you should question for passing up Carter.

Seattle’s other moves are marginal improvements. They brought Bobby Wagner and Jarran Reed back to the defense. Defensive end Dre’Mont Jones comes over from Denver to replace the production Quinton Jefferson (Jets) had.

Otherwise, the Seahawks are banking on their 2022 draft class to improve with both starting tackles (Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas) hoping to lead the way for a big year from Kenneth Walker, who needs to stay healthy. But the Seahawks did use a second-round pick on running back Zach Charbonnet for some insurance this year.

This Year’s Area of Interest: Is Geno Smith a One-Year Wonder?

Few could have predicted that Geno Smith would have a legitimate Pro Bowl season after leading the NFL in completion percentage (69.8%) and throwing more touchdown passes (30) than he had in two seasons as the Jets’ starter combined in 2013-14 (25).

All this sudden success asks the big question, will 2022 prove to be a one-year-wonder season for Smith? Is he for real?

Smith’s breakout season came at age 32, his 10th year in the NFL. This rarely happens, but it is not without precedent in NFL history for a quarterback to break out this late. The best news for Smith and Seattle is that most of these players had their teams stay within a game (record wise) the following year, and two (Rich Gannon with the Raiders and Chris Chandler in Atlanta) even got much better.

  • Lynn Dickey, 1983 Packers: Led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns at 34 years old for an 8-8 team that got into many shootouts. The Packers were also 8-8 in 1984 with Dickey’s yardage dropping from 4,458 to 3,195.
  • Steve DeBerg, 1990 Chiefs: The 36-year-old, who was prone to mistakes, only threw 4 interceptions in 1990. That number shot up to 14 in 1991, but the 11-5 Chiefs still made the playoffs again at 10-6 thanks to having one of the best defenses again.
  • Jim Harbaugh, 1995 Colts: Harbaugh never impressed with the Bears, but his second year in Indianapolis at age 32 gave him the nickname Captain Comeback for leading the Colts to the AFC Championship Game. The Colts had the same 9-7 record in 1996 and made the playoffs, but no such luck that time.
  • Doug Flutie, 1998 Bills: He returned to the NFL at 36 years old from a successful CFL stint and led the Bills to the playoffs with his only Pro Bowl season. The 10-6 Bills actually improved to 11-5 in 1999, but infamously benched Flutie for Rob Johnson in the playoff loss that became known for the Music City Miracle against Tennessee.
  • Chris Chandler, 1997 Falcons: The 32-year-old passer made his first Pro Bowl and things got even better in 1998 when he led Atlanta to a Super Bowl loss against Denver.
  • Steve Beuerlein, 1999 Panthers: Made his only Pro Bowl after leading the NFL in passing yards (4,436) at age 34. The Panthers went from 8-8 to 7-9 the following year with Beuerlein’s numbers dropping dramatically in a year he took the most sacks (62).
  • Rich Gannon, 1999 Raiders: His breakout Pro Bowl season with the Raiders at age 34 only got better as a first-team All-Pro quarterback in 2000, taking the Raiders from 8-8 to 12-4.

If you wanted to draw a criticism here, it would be that most of these examples came in 1995-99, the early days of free agency and the start of a transition period as quarterbacks like Jim Kelly, John Elway, Dan Marino, and Steve Young were retiring.

We are in a transition period now with quarterbacks either retiring or migrating to new teams in bulk, which is how Smith got this latest opportunity after the Wilson trade to Denver.

But Smtih’s career path is also very unusual. He started two seasons for the Jets right out of the gate, and that may have been a third year if he didn’t break his jaw after getting punched by a teammate in a money dispute in August 2015. That effectively ended his leadership and tenure with the Jets. He then wound up stuck behind quarterbacks who never got hurt with the Giants (Eli Manning) and Chargers (Philip Rivers). Wilson was another durable quarterback, but he suffered his first major injury in 2021, giving Smith a chance to make three starts.

Therefore, you could argue 2022 was his legitimate third shot at a breakout year as a starter. A third-year breakout quarterback does not sound nearly as crazy as 10th-year breakout quarterback.

Smith completed 68.4% of his 95 attempts in 2021, so it was not that otherworldly for him to complete 69.8% in a full season in 2022. Still, that is a stat where you could expect some regression in 2023. Even last year, Smith went from completing 72.7% in the first 12 games and a more common 63.3% in the last 5 games. But most quarterbacks will stay within 2-to-3 percentage points after leading the league in completion percentage. It is not like Smith will just plummet back to 58% like he did before he joined the Seahawks.

But completion percentage is not the concern. It is seeing if the Seahawks can maintain a top 10 scoring offense to make up for a defense that has not ranked in the top 10 since 2016. The Seahawks finished 9th in points per drive last year despite ranking 15th in yards per drive, 20th in third-down conversion rate (37.8%), and 28th at scoring touchdowns in the red zone (47.3%). The offense struggling on third down was a hallmark of the Wilson era too, but not being good in the red zone is different.

You can also talk about turnovers. Including the playoff loss, Smith threw 12 interceptions and lost 5 fumbles for a total of 17 turnovers in 18 games. But Smith had 12 turnovers in his last 9 games.

Smith’s yards per pass attempt was 8.08 in the first 12 games, then dropped to 6.18 in the last 5 games, which would have ranked next to last for the full season.

You could see a shift in the offense’s success late in the year as Seattle did not score more than 24 points in any of the last six games. An inconsistent running game did not help there. Kenneth Walker rushed for a grand total of 126 yards in Weeks 10-15, missing one game entirely. The Seahawks were 1-4 in that stretch. But Walker also rushed for over 100 yards in his final three regular-season games, yet the Seahawks averaged 17.3 points per game. So, it was not all about the running game late in the year to explain the passing dip.

The opponents may not fully explain it either. Yes, the 49ers and Jets were tough, but the Chiefs were usually easy to score on even if it was frigid that day, and the Rams were just trying to end the season in Week 18. Yet it still took another fourth-quarter comeback for Geno and the Seahawks to get past the Rams, who could have finished 7-10 just like Seattle had they held onto the lead in the fourth quarter of both games.

This may be a good time to point out that both Seattle comebacks against the Rams were in games where Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald did not play. The Rams had John Wolford and Baker Mayfield at quarterback. Smith was 3-13 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities before last season.

Also, the Seahawks were trailing by 17-plus points in 5 games after Week 9, tied with Jacksonville for the most in the league in that time. Smith threw just 3-of-30 touchdown passes with a lead last year (10%), the second-lowest rate among the 122 seasons since 1994 where a quarterback threw at least 30 touchdown passes. Only Blake Bortles (8.6% in 2015) had a lower rate.

If the Seahawks can keep Walker and Smith-Njigba healthy, then it is an interesting offense. Smith should not turn into a pumpkin this year, but improving on a breakout is usually close to impossible to do. Even Patrick Mahomes (2018), Lamar Jackson (2019), and Josh Allen (2020) did not improve on their breakout seasons the next year.

Best Bets for the 2023 Seahawks

Since 2002, teams making the playoffs with no more than 9 wins have made it back to the playoffs the next year in 17-of-37 cases (45.9%). Of the 17 who made it back, 12 won the division title (70.6%).

That means only 5 teams made it as a wild card in back-to-back years (2006-07 Giants, 2008-09 Eagles, 2009-10 Ravens, 2009-10 Jets, 2011-12 Bengals), and all those teams got stronger in the second year. These examples were all over a decade ago too, back in an era where the playoffs were more volatile and unpredictable. Six of the 8 Super Bowl winners in 2005-12 were a No. 3 seed or lower. In the last decade, chalk has ruled the day as 17 of the 20 Super Bowl teams (85%) were No. 1 or No. 2 seeds.  

What does it all mean? Unless the Brock Purdy-Trey Lance saga collapses on the 49ers this season, the Seahawks have an uphill battle in making it back as a wild card even with an extra slot available these days.

It is hard to feel optimistic about this Seattle team making a big leap forward when the defense still looks like an average unit at best, and there are legitimate questions about how well the quarterback will play this year. Remember, the Seahawks started 2-3 and finished 3-6 (playoff loss included) last year. It was a 4-0 run that included a sweep of the Cardinals that propelled this team to a 9-8 record. But even then, it took a Detroit upset in Green Bay to get that No. 7 seed.

Sweeping the Cardinals is something the Seahawks should do again this year given Arizona is projected to be the worst team in the league. Getting a split with the Rams should also be doable, though I would not count on Geno edging out two more close wins against that team if it has Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald available. The 49ers also still look a whole tier above this Seattle team.

Does Seattle lead wire-to-wire in a 48-45 game in Detroit in Week 2 like last year? The score should be lower this time, but the Lions will have a good shot to avenge that one. Just like the Giants could avenge their loss last year when they host the Seahawks on a Monday night in Week 4. The Seahawks have tough road trips to the Bengals, Ravens, and Cowboys. They host the Eagles and Steelers in December.

This is not an easy schedule like the teams in the NFC North and especially the NFC South have. In fact, the schedule could be why those teams get wild cards and the West does not. We know the Eagles and Cowboys are two of the top three favorites in the conference, so that should be one of the wild card spots too.

If Smith plays even better and the Seahawks are a double-digit win team this time, then hats off to Carroll and company. But I would bet against it and pick this team to do no better than 8-9, which should miss the playoffs in this crowded (but underwhelming) NFC.

NFL Pick: Seattle Seahawks under 8.5 wins (+116 at FanDuel)

NFL Pick: Seattle Seahawks to miss playoffs (+100 at FanDuel)

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