Every great story needs a great antagonist. We like to feel like our heroes overcome truly difficult obstacles. Batman survives the Joker long enough to eventually win. John McClane goes through hell, but eventually he shows Hans Gruber the quick way down a skyscraper. Hell, Rocky lost to Apollo in the first movie, and we still love that movie because of what it meant for him to even hang with Creed. Point is, if you want your own heroic legacy, you’d better get yourself a villain that people not only want to see go down, but one that represents a significant achievement in being defeated. It is for this reason that the NFC West always looks so glittery and shiny at the start of the season (2007 was the Niners year for the Super Bowl, people are getting worked up about the Rams this year, and the Cardinals are entering year 4 or 5 of “their year”). It’s also the reason why the NFC West is always thought of as such a train wreck of a division (regardless of how competitive it seems). The fact of the matter is that there’s been one team that runs the block in the NFC West They’ve been running the block. The odds are good that they will continue to run the block this year. They can survive a war of attrition. They can win shootouts. Hell, whatever you throw at them, this team has an answer. And that’s the reason we’ll continue to keep eyeing the slim pickings of the NFC West as potential stars, because as much as I don’t understand their fans or their appeal or even how they pull it off, the Seahawks have established themselves as the perfect antagonist of the NFC West.
What makes it more baffling is that it really doesn’t make sense on paper either. Defensively, in terms of yardage, this team hovers around the middle of the pack (12th against the run, 19th against the pass), yet somehow they wind up sixth in points allowed at a stifling 18.2. Certainly some credit for that has to be given to a front seven that are built to work well in the phone booth that is the red zone (LB Julian Peterson has somehow been camouflaged by the hive mentality, Patrick Kerney is the posterboy for angry white DEs, and LB Lofa Tatupu is a smart ball hawk who really needs his ride pimped). Still, this team is two years removed from starting a bail bondsman in their defensive backfield (probably not a bad idea given the current state of the league, but still…). Explanations? Anyone? Hell, I do this every day, and even I don’t get this defense.
Even more baffling is the offense, although at least there we have some nodal point from which we can begin out exploration of the team’s character. If the Seahawks are the antagonist of the NFC, then their whole aura begins and ends with QB Matt Hasselbeck. I recently picked him up in a fantasy league, and realized the same thing that everyone who ever has to do that realizes: Dude puts up consistent numbers in the most stealthy way possible. That bald bastard has passed for over 3000 yards in five of the last six seasons, with the exception being an injury affected 2006. He’s put up over 20TD in four of the last five. Five quarterbacks threw more passes than Hasselbeck last year, and Baldy was better than all but two of them (no wonder Favre backups have such a chip on their shoulder…). Yet every time you see him, nothing looks special. He’s just out there, clicking away, making every throw look simple. Hell, the most controversial thing about him is that he can sometimes come off as a bit of a douche, and YOU try toiling in Favre’s shadow, then putting up elite numbers with sub-elite recognition while rocking a hairline that is completely inappropriate for your age, and see if you don’t get a little snarky at times.
Yet the weirdest thing about Hasselbeck is that he performs without any real obvious “go-to” pieces. Save one unbelievable Shaun Alexander campaign that at this point was pretty obviously a miracle, who has he really had on his offense other than himself? Bobby Engram? DJ Hackett? The ghost of Deion Branch? Rapey McRaperson? The more I think about it, the more I think that this guy is one ring away from being talked about with that Brady “He’s a born winner” mystique. This year’s supporting case does nothing to deviate from the norm, but mark my words: They will still be a top ten offense, and the credit for that has to be given to Holmgren being innovative enough to fit his system to his tools and Hasselbeck being talented enough to elevate his players to, and in many cases above their potential (Nate Burleson has to wake up every day smiling). He relentlessly performs, regardless of his supporting cast, and it’s that consistent rising to the occasion that ties both player and team. Do I still think that the NFC West going turn into a dogfight? Absolutely, but I’m smart enough to recognize that there’s one team that has shown that they’ll be around until the very end, forcing whatever other teams would like to step up and take their division to best them. Considering the unfortunate out of division draw for the NFC West, it’s likely that any team wanting to win the division will have to do it by going directly through the Seahawks rather than skirting around them on the schedule. Which is fine. Honestly, the victory wouldn’t mean as much if it came any other way.