Kragthorpe: Seahawks the pick over 49ers in NFC
The San Francisco 49ers reached the 5-yard line in their quest to win the Super Bowl and become the first team ever to fulfill my preseason choice as the world champion.
They failed to score, losing to Baltimore. My response? Making their NFC West rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, my pick to win it all this season.
I'm motivated by more than bitterness. The Seahawks were surging at the end of last season, and they improved themselves as much as any NFL team. Their offseason additions enhanced a defense that already could make a case as the NFL's best, and they have the hunger that stems from coming close the previous year.
They're almost exactly where the 49ers were as of last September, except they already have their dynamic, young quarterback in place. Thanks largely to Russell Wilson's development, the Seahawks won their last five games of the 2012 regular season including a 42-13 rout of San Francisco to finish 11-5, then beat Washington in a wild-card playoff game before losing 30-28 at Atlanta in the divisional round.
Seattle added defensive linemen Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to solidify a group that will miss Bruce Irvin during a four-game suspension. The Seahawks' other free-agency prize, receiver Percy Harvin, is out until about Thanksgiving following hip surgery, but a big chunk of the season will remain.
Harvin's absence will not affect the Seahawks as much as receiver Michael Crabtree's injury will hurt the 49ers, because Harvin is a bonus piece, not already vital to the offense.
Wilson will keep improving, and a defense anchored by second-year middle linebacker Bobby Wagner of Utah State will remain ferocious. The Seahawks have every opportunity to win the NFC West and gain home-field advantage for some portion of the playoffs, and CenturyLink Field is an intimidating venue for visitors.