Can Russell Wilson, Seattle keep ahead of the NFC West?

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While Aaron Rodgers is spending the offseason playing a game of Passive Aggressive Chicken with the Green Bay Packers, the other marquee quarterback involved in roster drama post-Super Bowl is doing his best Nothing-To-See-Here handwaving.

Russell Wilson, who spent much of the time right after the season ended grousing and grumbling about Seattle, is now putting some heavy topspin on the 2021 offseason. Optimism is wonderful, and you never want to accuse a reigning division winner of underperforming, but the truth is this: the 2021 season is shaping up to be one of the most challenging Seattle has ever faced in Wilson’s tenure.

After a tumultuous few months in which Wilson, through his agent, indicated he was willing to waive his no-trade clause to play for the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders or Bears, Wilson — as is his style — scrambled the field to his liking.

“I did not request a trade,” Wilson said Thursday, and that’s technically true, he didn’t request one. "Obviously, I love Seattle. ... I've always wanted to play here for my whole career."

Wilson also indicated that his relationship with head coach Pete Carroll is just fine, thank you very much: “We’re here to do what we’re meant to do, and that’s to win it all. Now I’m excited. I’m excited about who we have, the guys we have, excited where we are. Coach Carroll and I’s relationship couldn’t be stronger on it. My focus is to win and winning is everything to me.”

What a happy family! Forget that the Seahawks were also apparently taking calls to move Wilson! And that whole leaving-Russell-out-of-the-annual-letter bit? Purely an oversight! Can’t we move on? Good times are ahead, surely!

On the surface, there’s reason for optimism: Wilson is just a year removed from a season in which he was a legitimate MVP candidate. In his nine seasons in the league, Seattle has never finished worse than second in the division, reaching the playoffs eight years and the Super Bowl twice. Wilson himself has been literally the most durable quarterback in the league over that stretch, starting 16 games every single season.

But dig a little deeper. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Wilson ranked second only to Ryan Fitzpatrick as the league’s top quarterbacks under pressure. Note that the operative words in that honor aren’t “top quarterbacks,” but “under pressure.” Only two quarterbacks in the league, Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson, took more sacks than Wilson’s 47.

Wilson was the definition of elite when under pressure, excelling at downfield passing and posting a pure 8:0 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. But he had an average time to sack of 4.51 seconds — just count that out to yourself to see how little time that is. So the anecdote that Wilson was seething in a skybox in the Super Bowl as he watched Tom Brady lounging around in the pocket with enough time to make a sandwich suddenly doesn’t seem all that unlikely.

It’s clear Wilson remains one of the game’s finest, but the house is starting to crumble around him. Seattle’s offense totaled 369.5 yards a game, worst of any division rival, though to be fair, the team’s 28.7 points per game were the most of any NFC West team. On the other side of the ball, the defense ranked 22nd in the league in yards allowed per game (380.6), worst in the NFC West, and 15th in points allowed per game (23.2), ahead of only San Francisco in the division.

At the same time, the wolves are at the door. Seattle’s division rivals have stepped up their games across the board. Arizona is no longer a guaranteed W on everyone’s schedule as Kyler Murray leads a newly confident team into the year. The Rams now have Matthew Stafford in uniform and look more formidable than even the Super Bowl team from a couple years back — plus they have the upper hand over Seattle, having won last year’s wild card playoff matchup. The 49ers also appear on the upswing even given the uncertainty at the quarterback position and some rookie-camp mayhem.

It’s still the offseason, though, and every team’s still undefeated, so optimism — boundless, glorious, higher-than-the-sky optimism — reigns supreme.

“At the end of the day, winning is everything to me,” Wilson said Thursday. “Winning is the thing that I think about every morning and every night. Hopefully we’ll win a lot more. Hopefully we can win several moving forward.”

It’s certainly possible. But now that the entire NFC West has reawakened and found its footing, winning gets no easier from here for Seattle.

How much longer can Seattle outrun the rest of the NFC West? (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
How much longer can Seattle outrun the rest of the NFC West? (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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