Maybe somewhere between the conclusion of the 2014 NFL playoffs and the start of free agency, Pete Carroll and John Schneider decided they'd had enough of the heart-wrenching finishes. Maybe the Seahawks' brain trust realized the vaunted defense couldn't preserve a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead against the multidimensional Patriots attack. Maybe the brain trust noticed there wouldn't even have been a second-and-goal to botch if not for the all-time fluky catch by Jermaine Kearse. Maybe Carroll and Schneider would've stood pat had they beaten the Pats.
That's not what happened, though, so Seattle moved a Pro Bowl center and a first-round draft pick for the best pass catcher the Seahawks have had since Russell Wilson got to town. Expect 2015 to be the fourth-year pro's best statistical season, but it's not just Wilson who'll benefit. Marshawn Lynch likely won't see as many eight-man boxes through his tinted visor this year.
Yes, the Seahawks still only have that one Lombardi, but they now have a set of triplets that should put their offense on par with any in pro football. How good is it? How good are the other 31 teams' top offensive trios? I'm glad I asked -- here's the list (updated from last December's pecking order, with previous rankings listed for easy consumption):
Previous rank: No. 1
Over the last two seasons, Brown has been, at worst, the second-best WR in the NFL (239 receptions!). In 2014, Bell was, at worst, the second-best RB, while Roethlisberger had, at worst, the third-best season among QBs. Add 'em all up, and it's tough to argue anything other than this trio* being, at worst, the best.
*As we learned in last January's wild-card game vs. Baltimore, removing one of said trio limits the production of the remaining two.
Previous rank: No. 3
Rodgers is this century's best QB (and maybe its top player overall), but Nelson deserves recognition as the most productive target the King in the North has had since taking over for the currently retired Brett Favre. It should go without saying, but Lacy is no mere distraction for opposing defenses. In fact, he's a top-five performer at his position.
Previous rank: No. 5
For a guy who's finished two of his three NFL seasons in the Super Bowl, Wilson seems to have been underrated by curmudgeons who suggest he's been a passenger on the backs of Lynch and the Seahawks' mighty D. 2015 will give him a chance to steer a modified offense now featuring one of the best receiving TEs of the Super Bowl era. Then again, you can still expect Carroll and coordinator Darrell Bevell to lean on Beast Mode in the big moments. Well, most of the big moments.
Previous rank: No. 8
It's crazy to think Gore is pro football's most durable success story when knee injuries kept the prodigy off the field more often than not during his days at the U. Even at the decrepit age of 32, 1,100 yards and a half-dozen TDs seem like a sure bet for his first run in Indy, as he provides the theoretical balance the pass-first (and -second and -third) Colts offense has sought. Don't worry, though, fantasy fans: Luck will continue to fulfill your dreams ... and Hilton's, too.
Previous rank: No. 4
While most others deemed the Pats' sluggish start last season to be an indication that the glory days were over, I told you all would end well in Foxborough, so long as Gronk returned to full health. He did, and it did. (End well, I mean. Well, mostly ... aside from the $1 million fine, loss of draft picks and suspension of the Super Bowl MVP.) Speaking of that decorated signal-caller, Brady will be 38 by the time he gets back on the field. Only John Elway has won a Lombardi at such an advanced age.
Previous rank: No. 2
Whether it's Randle or Darren McFadden getting the bulk of the carries, how the 2015 Cowboys perform will go a long way toward determining whether the offensive line makes the runner or vice versa. Even without the power running game, though, Romo & Dez are sure to provide more than their fair share of fireworks.
Previous rank: No. 6
Was Peyton's late-2014 swoon due to injury or age? TBD this September. Whichever the case, Thomas is a stud who produces no matter who the QB is (yes, even when it's Tebow), while Anderson is a modern-day Joe Morris: a diminutive, shifty banger who looks capable of carrying the load ... so long as the sheriff is willing to cede top billing.
Previous rank: No. 9
Megatron might be more machine than man. Same goes for the rocket right arm of Stafford. A dynamic duo, to be sure. Why, you may then wonder, aren't they an even more dynamic duo on a weekly basis? Based on the adds made via free agency and the draft, the Lions' brain trust must think it's been owed to a shoddy offensive line. Now presumably improved up front, look for both Bell and the passing game to benefit.
Previous rank: No. 7
Don't listen to the cynics: Superman is real -- and so are those last two division titles. Newton's sophomore sidekick, Benjamin, can leap tall DBs in a single bound, while Stewart consistently shows his high pedigree on the too-rare occasions he isn't felled by the kryptonite called injury.
Previous rank: No. 11
Team Teva struggled for a second straight season, but that had little to do with Ryan and the otherworldly Jones. Freeman and/or rookie home-run hitter Tevin Coleman could thrive behind the upgraded O-line.
Previous rank: No. 10
Previous rank: No. 14
Saints loyalists will be offended by this ranking, but facts are facts: The QB is past his prime, while the RB and WR are both still more about potential than results. Ingram's got a DeMarco Murray-in-2014-type season in him ... if he can just make it through 16 games. Cooks needs the same kind of luck.
Previous rank: No. 18
Hear me now, believe me later: These triplets will lead K.C. to a division crown in 2015. Charles is a jewel whose luster is oddly underappreciated (but will be eventually cloaked in a gold jacket). Smith is (still) better than you think. Maclin (rejoined with his old pal, Andy Reid) is, at a minimum, an upgrade ... and even has an outside chance at catching a TD pass this season.
Previous rank: No. 12
When we did this five months ago, the Eagles' trio consisted of Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy & Jeremy Maclin. Chip Kelly is definitely not sentimental. The next six or so months will go a long way toward determining if he's a genius. For the record, I'm on Team Chip ... but I don't blame any Eagles fan for being nervous about this dicey trio.
Previous rank: No. 17
Fair or not, Rivers' career will forever be judged against those of his more bejeweled draft classmates, Eli and Big Ben. After years of being tormented by division foe Jamaal Charles, the Chargers landed the K.C. star's pigskin doppelganger in Gordon. If San Diego intends to make a deep January run, Keenan Allen needs to replace Gates as the team's top pass catcher.
Previous rank: No. 13
Green doesn't get enough credit for perpetually biting his lip when the subject of his QB's mediocrity arises. Deep down, Green no doubt knows his lofty production comes in spite of the Red Rifle, not because of it. Hill further proves Cincy's decision-makers know what they're doing at the draft.
Previous rank: No. 19
Supporters rightly point to Flacco's ability to raise his game in January, but Joe can look awfully ordinary -- or just plain awful -- in the regular season. Forsett and Smith were both nice stories for a franchise desperately in need of them, but the NFL is a "What have you done for me lately?" league. Will the journeyman running back and mature receiver be able to help carry the load again in what'll be a closely contested AFC North?
Previous rank: No. 16
I know, I know: Cutler is today's answer to Jeff George. But Forte is THE most underrated offensive player in the game, while Jeffery will keep on putting up big numbers, even if rookie Kevin White steals some downfield targets.
Previous rank: No. 29
If you had told Vikings fans two years ago that Minnesota would be putting Louisville's star quarterback on the field with the generation's best running back and a game-breaking wideout, they would've thought it sounded grand. Here in June 2015, it still sounds pretty good. But will Peterson's off-field strife impact his on-field performance? Can Wallace get anywhere close to the form he showed in his Steel City days?
Previous rank: No. 15
Previous rank: No. 20
Unlike their predecessors, 21st-century quarterbacks taken in the first round are expected to be great from Day 1. While Tannehill hasn't exactly achieved that since the Dolphins picked him eighth overall in 2012, he has been more than solid, considering he's only played the position against top-tier competition for four full years (including his final season at Texas A&M). Fairly or not, Parker is the one who must now dazzle from the get-go -- the rookie will have to produce early and often for Miami to make a run at the AFC East title.
Previous rank: No. 25
Mallett was a first-round-caliber talent who, thanks to off-the-field stuff, dropped to the Patriots in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Mallett's offensive coordinator in New England that year -- Bill O'Brien -- is now his head coach in Houston. Texans fans can rightly expect a lot of wins, with Foster and Hopkins providing more than enough offensive punch for the emerging defensive juggernaut.
Previous rank: No. 24
For all the excitement these Bills promise to deliver this season, Rex Ryan -- who watched Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith throw away plenty of games over the last few years -- will settle for a steady hand from Cassel at quarterback. Shady's got a chip on his shoulder, while Watkins also has something to prove after being overshadowed by other rookie wideouts in '14.
Previous rank: No. 22
Injuries and inconsistency have plagued this trio, but the Cards are nonetheless worthy playoff contenders, thanks to coach Bruce Arians and a terrific defense. Ellington's breakout -- foretold by over-anxious Arizona coaches last year -- could come in 2015 behind what looks to be a rugged line.
Previous rank: No. 27
Previous rank: No. 21
Alright, maybe I'm being simplistic, but Carr just cuts the figure of an NFL QB. Sure, there were plenty of rough patches in his rookie season -- but then, who was he throwing to? Cooper is a big step up in class over what Carr had to work with in 2014. The bigger question is whether Murray can turn last year's promising moments (413 rushing yards over the season's final six games, at a clip of 5.43 per carry) into steady production going forward.
Previous rank: No. 32
Chan Gailey has worked wonders with a lot of quarterbacks over the years, so why can't the Jets' new offensive coordinator do the same for Smith? Marshall, too, has lifted up some thoroughly mediocre signal-callers in his day. Throw in a no-nonsense backfield hammer like Ivory, and there might not be room this fall for the snark and cynicism that typically fills the New York tabloids.
Previous rank: No. 30
Gurley ran over and/or past a lot of NFL-sized players during his time in the SEC. Look for him to keep on rolling, even in the brawny NFC West. If Foles is to have any chance at getting back to his 2013 form, he'll need Austin to provide more consistent glimpses of his playmaking ability.
Previous rank: No. 26
Coming out of a football factory like Alabama, the talented Yeldon doesn't have much wear and tear on his body. That'll change behind the Jaguars' crummy line. But with Bortles and sophomore breakout candidate Lee also in Jacksonville, things are at least headed in the right direction.
Previous rank: No. 23
Jackson is great -- sometimes. RGIII, on the other hand, rarely reaches that level anymore. But in the name of being more glass half-full, let's remember the heights attained by the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year not so long ago. Running a straight line between these human roller coasters is Morris, who's topped 1,000 rushing yards and scored seven-plus touchdowns in each of his three pro seasons.
Previous rank: No. 28
Sankey was vaguely disappointing (3.7 yards per carry, two touchdowns) in his 2014 rookie season. Wright was fine (57 catches for 715 yards and six scores), but he didn't exactly set the world on fire. What happens next rides on Mariota. Sorry, but my expectations are not high.
Previous rank: No. 31
The Drago v. Mr. Football saga will get the headlines, but Crowell's quietly successful (607 yards, eight touchdowns) rookie season -- along with the similarly promising debut campaign from fellow runner Terrance West (673 yards and four scores) -- offers the most immediate reason for optimism in Cleveland, especially when the uninspiring Bowe stands as the Browns' current top pass catcher.