Richard Sherman says the Seahawks could be even better in 2014 than they were in the season that brought Seattle its first Lombardi Trophy. That’s certainly possible, as most of the team’s core is young and healthy. It’s also within the realm that Sherman could be even better than ever, since he’s only 26 and entering his fourth professional season.

However, Sherman has never faced this kind of scrutiny before. Translation: he’s never headed into a season after pissing this many people off. Not just Michael Crabtree, either. Of course, Sherman continues to supply the 49ers wide receiver — who already wasn’t short on motivation since he’s entering a contract year — with an abundance of reasons to work out a little harder and watch more video than ever before … of Sherman, of course.

Here’s the latest, courtesy of USA Today (which grabbed quotes from Sherman’s appearance on “American Muscle”):

“It’s much more of just I don’t like the dude,” Sherman says in the episode, which was viewed early by For The Win. “You know what I’m saying. And I think he’s sorry. So it’s really what it comes down to.”

Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks cornerback, tipped a pass intended for Crabtree, the San Francisco 49ers receiver, and the pass was intercepted, sealing the Seahawks’ trip to the Super Bowl. Sherman famously ranted to Erin Andrews about Crabtree moments later.

“It’s just about him, it’s just about Crabtree,” Sherman says on tonight’s show.

“It’s not going to be something that goes away. I hope to play him every year for the rest of my career and choke him out. There’s not much else I can say about the subject. Nobody will understand it but him and me. That’s all that needs to understand.”

The “choke him out” remark leads us into what I believe could be a changed NFL environment in 2014, due to his outspoken ways and peaking fame.

The NFL is a passing league, not a covering league

After one of the most boring Super Bowls in history, where Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense stifled golden boy Peyton Manning and the decidedly more offense-centric Denver Broncos, how do you think the NFL reacted?

A couple of choices:

1. Yay! Finally, a team built around rushing and defense from the Pacific Northwest is primed to take over!

2. Hmmm … this outcome goes against nearly every rules change we’ve implemented over the last three decades.

Don’t be surprised if NFL zebras pay a little closer attention to all the clutching and grabbing those Seahawks defensive backs are known for. The going theory is the officials can’t call EVERYTHING, and so far they haven’t. If Seahawks games — several of which will be on national TV — continue to look like slugfests, where passes end up rolling around on the turf instead of in the arms of receivers, the flags could start flying at a much higher rate.

Sherman was whistled for nine penalties last year, tying him for third in the league among cornerbacks. He’s already toeing the line as it is, and if “a penalty every other game” turns into “here’s a penalty in the first quarter just to show you we mean business” too frequently, he’ll need to adjust his style of play. And this is a player who hasn’t lost a step or suffered a significant injury yet.

Sherman has spent the last seven months painting a bullseye on his back

1. This exchange:

 “Well, I’m the best corner in the game!” Sherman shouted. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree that’s the result you’re gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me!”

“Who was talking about you?” Andrews asked.

“Crabtree! Don’t you open your mouth about the best! Or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick!”

2. Beef jerky commercials

3. Madden cover

There’s more, but you get the picture.

When you call yourself the best in the game, even those who didn’t give a hoot about you before are going to do all they can to prove you wrong. Darrelle Revis didn’t appreciate Sherman’s boasts. Neither did DeAngelo Hall. Patrick Peterson said Sherman couldn’t handle the Cardinals’ scheme.

Opposing cornerbacks are powerless to stop Sherman from intercepting passes or stat-bragging on Twitter. But the NFL is a fraternity, full of players and coaches who talk about guys who drive them insane. No doubt about it: Crabtree and the 49ers aren’t the only ones who’d love to shove a few touchdowns in Sherman’s gigantic and permanently open piehole.

This is the place where we give Sherman his due. The stats don’t lie. He’s really, really good. He made the biggest play in Seahawks history when he tipped Colin Kaepernick’s pass to Malcolm Smith. He intercepted a league-leading eight passes in the regular season, while defending five others and allowing just one touchdown.

But Sherman snuck up on everyone. He lasted until the fifth round of the NFL Draft. He didn’t start every game as a rookie, although he appeared in all 16. He was a talented chirper last season, but now he’s a nationally-known name with a superstar’s reputation and a contract to match. As a result, the spotlight is now his on every … single … play.

That’s surely how he wants it, but it’s not like he’s the defensive version of Calvin Johnson, a guy who’s simply bigger and faster than everyone else. Sherman is taller than the average corner, sure. But his game is based on intelligence, anticipation and preparation, not speed and strength. If others start preparing for Sherman in the same manner, studying his tendencies and weaknesses, those problem areas — few as they might be — will soon be unearthed. And when they are, we’ll see if Sherman is one of those trash-talkers we’ve all known at different times in our lives.

You know the type: they love dishing it out, but they can’t take it.