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NFC outlook: Seahawks' goal is to re-Pete

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll lifts the Lombardi

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll lifts the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

It didn't take Pete Carroll long to start talking about a Super Bowl repeat.

The morning after the Seahawks crushed the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium, Carroll brought up the subject himself.

"Our guys will be surprised if we didn't [repeat as champions],'' Carroll said. "We have an eye on what's coming. We don't dwell on what's happened. We'll enjoy the heck out of it, but that doesn't mean we can't set the sights of where we can go. We're in a very fortunate situation.''

The coach's talk of a repeat -- or, in Carroll's case, "re-Pete'' -- wasn't coming from a post-Super Bowl adrenaline rush. Most coaches and players who win it all one year express extreme confidence about winning it again the following season, but Carroll's bravado might be more justified than most.

Just about every key performer from last season is back, and that includes star quarterback Russell Wilson, bruising tailback Marshawn Lynch, as well as defensive stars Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.

Barring an extreme run of injuries, this team will be tough to beat. But as we've seen every year since the 2003-04 Patriots, the defending champs run into something -- or someone -- that squashes the repeat. Carroll believes his team can stop that run.

Wilson enters just his third season, but his poise and leadership, combined with an uncanny ability to scramble out of danger, make him one of the game's most efficient quarterbacks. About the only thing he doesn't have is a fair salary; because of rules governing contract extensions for drafted players, Wilson can't redo his deal until next year. His salary for this season is $662,434, and he'll have to wait until next year for a Peyton Manning-type deal.

The Seahawks' smothering defense, which stacks up against just about any defense from any era, remains largely intact. The secondary features Thomas and Sherman, both of whom scored lucrative contract extensions in the offseason. Pass rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are back, and Smith, who had offseason ankle surgery, looks ready to go.

This is still a young team at most positions, so don't be surprised if the Seahawks are in the championship conversation for a few more years.

But it's no lock that Seattle becomes the latest repeat champion; the NFC is loaded at the top. The Seahawks' biggest rival, the 49ers, went to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season and look like contenders again. Colin Kaepernick, who earned a $126-million extension, is back for his second full season as quarterback.

The Packers won it all after the 2010 season, and the way Aaron Rodgers looked in the preseason, they might be ready to make another run if the defense come together.

The Bucs look to become this year's worst-to-first surprise under new coach Lovie Smith. The defense has been upgraded with the addition of pass rusher Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner, and veteran quarterback Josh McCown, coming off an impressive relief performance in Chicago last year, now runs the offense.

Another Super Bowl year for the Saints and Drew Brees, who made it to last year's divisional round? Could be, especially with second-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan back for another season.

And in the NFC East, it looks like it's Philly or bust, with Dallas, the Giants and Washington all with roster deficiencies.

New York Sports