The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks kick off the NFL season tonight at home to Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers.  It is the beginning of the Seahawks’ arduous pursuit of a repeat, a feat last achieved by the New England Patriots in 2005.

The core of the Seahawks team has remained largely intact.  The ‘Legion of Boom‘ will continue to be an invaluable asset.  But with the NFL’s new guidelines on illegal contact, affecting defensive players in particular, there is a renewed emphasis on offense and the need to take advantage of the inevitable increase in flag frequency this season.

For Seattle, Percy Harvin could be the answer.  Harvin has been blighted by injuries throughout his career.  In his first four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings Harvin missed 21 games.  He was traded to the Seahawks last offseason, but due to the combination of a hip injury in the regular season and a concussion sustained during the playoffs he barely saw the field at all.  Harvin had only five receptions for 43 yards and three carries for 54 yards; stats accrued during one regular season game and two playoff appearances.

Harvin is listed as being only 5 feet 11 inches and weighing 184 pounds.  But do not let his size fool you, because he has the potential to be one of the most explosive offensive talents in the league.  He proved as much in the Super Bowl with both the 30-yard jet sweep on the second play from scrimmage and the exhilarating 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the second half.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Harvin: “You’re always looking for uniqueness.  He has that in a lot of ways.  He’s going to have a significant role (this season).”

Uniqueness is right.  Percy Harvin is a multi-faceted offensive weapon capable of catching passes, running the ball and returning kicks.  In 2011, when he actually played a full season for the Vikings, Harvin had 967 receiving yards and six touchdowns from 87 catches, rushed for 345 yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries and averaged 32.5 yards per kick return.

The Seahawks will need everything they can get from Harvin.  Last season, Doug Baldwin was their most efficient wide receiver.  The undrafted former Stanford Cardinal was the 13th ranked receiver in the league in terms of Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (“DYAR” – a stat which gives the value of the performance on plays where a wide receiver caught the ball, compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage).  More impressively, Baldwin was 2nd in the league in terms of Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (“DVOA” – a stat representing value, per play, over an average wide receiver in the same game situations).

Baldwin also had a better catch rate (68%) than 11 of the 12 wide receivers ranked ahead of him.  However, despite his obvious efficiency and potency, this only translated to 778 total yards and five touchdowns.  All 12 receivers ranked ahead of him had significantly more yards, with 11 out of 12 going for over 1,000 yards, and 10 out of 12 having eight or more touchdowns to their name.

Moving down the list, the only other Seahawks receiver present in the top 90 is Golden Tate.  Tate had a decent season and was ranked 24th in DYAR and 19th in DVOA.  However, despite his excited proclamations of loyalty in the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, Tate is now a Detroit Lion.

Therefore, the need for Percy Harvin to finally fulfil his potential and make that breakthrough is painfully evident, and Harvin is under no illusions.  Despite his breathtaking cameo in Super Bowl XLVIII, Harvin told KCPQ-TV’s Aaron Levine: “A lot of people were asking me, did (the Super Bowl) kind of make the season for me?  And it did, but not at all.”  He went on to say, “I was brought to this team to make plays throughout the season, and I wasn’t able to do that.”

Harvin is very capable of making amends this year.  There will be a positive correlation between his impact and Russell Wilson’s development as a third-year quarterback as the two are inextricably intertwined.  Wilson has often been labelled, somewhat unfairly and patronisingly, as a ‘game manager’.  But we can expect to see him take a step forward this season, with all the confidence you would anticipate from a player that is validated by a 4-1 record in the postseason and a Super Bowl ring, all by the age of 25.  It may have only been the preseason, but in the 13 series he played this summer Wilson led 11 scoring drives which included nine touchdowns.  He completed 78.6% of his passes for 437 yards and threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions (and a passer rating of 133.8).  For good measure, he also rushed for three touchdowns.

In this salary-cap age where the league strives for competitive balance, repeats are few and far between.  Injuries and poor timing/luck are also hugely significant variables that simply cannot be accounted for.  This means that the Seahawks being instilled as the favourites to win it all in Week 1 is meaningless from Week 2 onwards; there will be constant reassessment and fluctuations throughout the season.  But Seahawks fans have cause for optimism because Percy Harvin has all the potential, as he demonstrated in the Super Bowl, to be the difference maker.  If only he can stay healthy.  Experience will tell you, however, that that is an enormous ‘if’.  It is likely to be a season-determining ‘if’.

By Ognjen Miletic