NELKE: Intriguing season begins for 49ers, Seahawks

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For some reason, I don’t view Richard Sherman as an annoying and yapping — albeit quite talented — cornerback anymore.

I no longer yearn for the days — rare as they were — when he got torched on a touchdown pass.

I now look at Sherman as a wise, sage, veteran defensive leader, looking to share his wisdom with — and hopefully, some of his greatness will rub off on — a group of young, up-and-coming defensive backs on his new team.

I maintain this newfound respect and admiration for No. 25 merely coincides with the fact Sherman, after being released by the Seattle Seahawks following last season, signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers — a team I have been known to root for on occasion.

Details, details.

Will Sherman’s presence in the 49ers’ secondary — coupled with a full season of Jimmy G — lead to a run at a playoff berth after several trying seasons for San Francisco?

Will Sherman’s absence from the Seahawks’ secondary — coupled with the loss of several other key members of the Legion of Boom defense — lead to a second straight year without playoffs for Seattle? Or will the Seahawks be able to replicate that type of defense with new, younger, healthier players — Baby Boomers, as it were?

We’ll start learning the answers to these questions — and more — starting today.

• Seahawks: The national pundits — I just like using the word ‘pundit’, as I was once referred to as a ‘regional pundit’ — have Seattle winning anywhere from 5 to 11 games, but mostly in the 7- to 9-win range, which would put them on the fringe of the playoffs.

Too many studs lost on defense (Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson).

A still-shaky offensive line.

The Pete Carroll factor (OK, that’s the regional pundit speaking).

They may be right, but I still think the Seahawks will be in the playoff hunt, despite all that.

They’ll plug in some young’ens on defense and, combined with holdovers like Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas (for now), will continue to play the same aggressive, dare-you-to-beat-us style ever since Carroll showed up there.

There are no superteams in the NFL anymore — just a collection of teams who teeter between mediocrity and pretty good. Depending on the breaks, Seattle could fall into the latter category.

Some teams are still afraid to beat the Seahawks in Seattle (see Green Bay in the 2014 NFC title game). Yes, the Rams splattered the Seahawks 42-7 in Seattle last year, and the Redskins, Falcons and Cardinals somehow snuck out of CenturyLink victorious. But Seattle beat Philly, the eventual Super Bowl champ, at home. So maybe there are the beginnings of some cracks at the Clink.

And besides, as long as the Seahawks have The Great Russell Wilson, they will always have a chance. You would think that, one time, Mr. Wheaties Box would make a wrong turn while scrambling, get steamrolled by a defender and have to be removed from the field with a spatula. But it hasn’t happened yet, and oftentimes his improvising leads to receivers becoming ridiculously wide open for touchdowns.

• 49ers: The Niners are the sexy playoff pick this year, after Jimmy Garropolo took over at quarterback and led S.F. to five straight wins — including one over AFC finalist Jacksonville — to close the regular season.

Not so fast, my friends.

Jimmy G’s performance covered up for the fact the 49ers were otherwise bereft of NFL talent on their roster last year.

In fact Sherman, rolling around on a knee scooter after tearing his Achilles tendon last year, still might have been better than any of the 49ers’ defensive backs.

With an improved line and depth in receivers, perhaps San Francisco can score touchdowns where it had to settle for field goals last year.

And, memo to defense: It is OK to get to the quarterback.

S.F. has beefed up the roster a little bit since last season. Even during a 1-10 start, the 49ers at least looked like they knew what they were trying to do out there. Hopefully this year, with a little more talent and in Year 2 under Jimmy G and Kyle Shanahan, they won’t wait until December to start winning games.

Despite the hype, the Niners could still be a year and a few more players away.

The Seahawks and 49ers don’t meet until Week 13 in Seattle — then meet again two weeks later in Santa Clara.

Hopefully both of those games matter by then — to at least one of the teams.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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