Seahawks’ schedule keeps getting easier

WelkerThe Seahawks’ schedule just keeps getting easier.

The news that Denver receiver Wes Welker will be suspended for four games, thus missing the Broncos’ game in Seattle in Week 3, is just the latest blow to a Seattle opponent.

While the Hawks appeared to get better at nearly every spot this year, many of their opponents lost key players.

We took a look at the Seahawks’ schedule when it was released in April and projected another 13-3 record. Let’s see what has changed since then:

Week 1: vs. Green Bay, Thursday, Sept. 4, 5:30 p.m.

Super Bowl FootballThe Packers’ biggest loss was nose tackle B.J. Raji, who suffered a torn right biceps last month and is out for the season. The Packers will use three players to replace Raji: second-year DL Josh Boyd (6-2, 309 pounds), mammoth undrafted rookie Mike Pennel (6-4, 333) and veteran Letroy Guion (6-3, 315). We’ll quickly find out whether they are going to be able to help fix a defense that ranked 25th last season. The Packers also will be starting a rookie at center this week. Aaron Rodgers is running a hurry-up offense this season, and the league’s season opener probably will be determined by how well the Hawks, who are short on healthy cornerbacks, handle it. If they shut Rodgers down, this game could be a blowout — like most of Pete Carroll’s prime-time home games.

Prediction: Seahawks, 34-17

Week 2: At San Diego, Sunday, Sept. 14, 1:05 p.m.

The Chargers were unable to stop Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense in Seattle’s 41-14 blowout win a few weeks ago. Sure, that was the preseason. But Wilson and company have been nigh unstoppable, and Philip Rivers will have to replicate his 455-yard performance from the 2010 meeting between these teams just to give the Chargers a chance.

Prediction: Seahawks, 31-17

Week 3: vs. Denver, Sunday, Sept. 21, 1:25 p.m.

Welker’s absence puts more focus on Denver’s running game to provide some ball control amid the air attack that should still be very good with Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos also will be without kicker Matt Prater, who is out four games due to a substance-abuse violation. Denver acquired second-year kicker Brandon McManus from the Giants to step in while Prater is out. The Broncos are supposed to be better on defense, having added DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib, but that was not the problem in the Super Bowl as the Broncos were demolished 43-8. Manning and company might avoid a first-play safety, but that won’t prevent them from struggling against Seattle’s defense in front of the 12th Man.

Prediction: Seahawks, 31-17

Week 4: Bye

Week 5: At Washington, Monday, Oct. 6, 5:30 p.m.

Wilson-GriffinSafety Brandon Meriweather will be back from his two-game suspension, but the Redskins will be without suspended tight end Fred Davis and safety Tanard Jackson indefinitely. This game is being featured because of Wilson and Robert Griffin III, who had an agonizing game (torn ACL) the last time these teams met, in the 2012 playoffs. The undercard is the ongoing trash talk between cornerbacks Richard Sherman and DeAngelo Hall, who argued on Twitter this offseason about who is better. This game probably won’t be very close, but it could be very entertaining and provide a week’s worth of aftermath stories.

Prediction: Seahawks, 34-17

Week 6: vs. Dallas, Sunday, Oct. 12, 1:25 p.m.

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick will be back from his four-game suspension by this time, but the Cowboys’ defense still will be without LB Sean Lee (ACL) and rookie DE Demarcus Lawrence (broken foot). That won’t do anything to fix the league’s worst 2013 defense. The Hawks beat Dallas 27-7 in 2012 when Wilson was a rookie. Now he’s a Super Bowl champion quarterback poised for a monster season, and the Cowboys aren’t any better than they were two years ago.

Prediction: Seahawks, 38-13

Week 7: At St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 19, 10 a.m.

The Rams once again will be without QB Sam Bradford (ACL), but that is nothing new. And they have a better backup this time in Shaun Hill. The Seahawks were lucky to get out of St. Louis with an ugly 14-9 victory last season, and they have to hope their O-line will be much better this time against the NFL’s best front four. Jeff Fisher always has his team prepared, and it might come out on top this time.

Prediction: Rams, 20-17

Week 8: At Carolina, Sunday, Oct. 26, 10 a.m.

Ron Rivera was coach of the year last season after leading his team to a five-win improvement with a 12-4 record, thanks to the league’s No. 2 defense. That unit looks just as good, but the offense, which completely revamped its receiving corps, could be a work in progress all season. Seattle escaped Charlotte with a 12-7 victory in the 2013 season opener, but based on the disparate offenses, it won’t be that close this time.

Prediction: Seahawks, 24-10

Week 9: vs. Oakland, Sunday, Nov. 2, 1:25 p.m.

Rookie QB Derek Carr’s performance against Seattle’s backup defense tipped the scales in his favor over veteran Matt Schaub, but if Carr is still starting by this point in the season he will get a major lesson in just how far he is away from contending for a Super Bowl. The Raiders spent liberally in free agency to try to beef up their defense, but it is unlikely to help them against Seattle.

Prediction: Seahawks, 38-13

Week 10: vs. N.Y. Giants, Sunday, Nov. 9, 1:25 p.m.

The Giants finished strong in 2013, winning seven of their final 10 games. But even amid that big streak, they were blanked 23-0 by the Seahawks. And that was in New York. The Giants don’t look any better, especially after losing several skill players to IR, and there is no way they will win in Seattle.

Prediction: Seahawks, 31-17

Week 11: At Kansas City, Sunday, Nov. 16, 10 a.m.

Andy Reid was 9-0 to start his KC tenure, and then his team dropped six of eight – ending with a 45-44 loss in Indianapolis in the playoffs. The Chiefs just gave Alex Smith a huge contract extension, so they obviously are counting on him. Will Jamaal Charles remain healthy to keep the pressure off Smith? This could be the most interesting AFC West foe the Hawks play this season. Or the Hawks could crush them, too.

Prediction: Seahawks, 27-13

Week 12: vs. Arizona, Sunday, Nov. 23, 1:05 p.m.

The Cardinals lost their two best defenders — LB Karlos Dansby in free agency and DT Darnell Dockett to a torn ACL.  Those are crushing blows to a defense that ranked sixth in the league last season and helped Arizona become the only team to beat the Seahawks in Seattle over the past two years. The Hawks’ defense has Carson Palmer’s number — four picks in the ugly 17-10 defeat last December — and with Arizona’s defense a shell of its 2013 self, the Hawks should handle the Cardinals at home this time.

Prediction: Seahawks, 34-17

Week 13: at San Francisco, Thursday, Nov. 27, 5:30 p.m.

Arrests, suspensions, holdouts, injuries. The 49ers seemingly have been falling apart at the seams. The D-line has taken the most hits, with top pass rusher Aldon Smith suspended for nine games, DT Glenn Dorsey (biceps) out for the season and DT Ray McDonald recently arrested. Of course, Smith and McDonald should be playing when they host the Seahawks in this Thanksgiving nightcap. The OL is in one piece again after RG Alex Boone ended his holdout this week. And LB NaVorro Bowman, who suffered a gruesome knee injury in the NFC title game, should be back for this game. This is the latest these clubs will play their first game since 2002, when the Hawks returned to the NFC West. Carroll’s Hawks are 0-4 in San Francisco, but the deficit has shrunk every game (19, 16, 7, 2), so this might be Seattle’s year.

Prediction: Seahawks, 24-20

Week 14: at Philadelphia, Sunday, Dec. 7, 1:25 p.m.

Chip Kelly’s up-tempo team raced to the playoffs last season, winning seven of the last eight, and is the favorite to win the NFC East again. This could be a major trap game, but the Hawks will have extra time to get over the 49ers and get focused for this one before playing the 49ers again the next week. The Hawks look like they have the offense to sprint up and down the field with the Eagles, and the difference probably will be in the defenses. The Hawks are stacked, while the Eagles’ unit does not look much better than the one that ranked 29th in 2013.

Prediction: Seahawks, 31-24

Week 15: vs. San Francisco, Sunday, Dec. 14, 1:25 p.m.

The Hawks have dominated the 49ers in the last three games in Seattle, outscoring San Francisco 94-33. The 49ers took it down to the wire in the NFC title game in January, losing 23-17, and will come off an easy trip to Oakland in between their Seattle games – while the Hawks trek east to Philly and back. If the Niners haven’t imploded by this time, they might steal this one.

Prediction: 49ers, 24-21

Week 16: At Arizona, Sunday, Dec. 21, 5:30 p.m.

The Seahawks sacked Carson Palmer seven times in a 34-22 prime-time win in Glendale last October, but the Cardinals paid some big money to beef up Palmer’s protection and avoid that kind of performance. Of course, even if their offense can move the ball, their embattled defense might not be able to stop the Hawks.

Prediction: Seahawks, 20-17

Week 17: vs. St. Louis, Sunday, Dec. 28, 1:25 p.m.

The Hawks finish their rugged NFC West gauntlet against — who else? — the same team they have played in the finale in three of the past four years. The Hawks have won all of them and have beaten the Rams in Seattle nine straight times. Hard to see that changing unless the Hawks already have the top seed wrapped up and sit their starters early for this one.

Prediction: Seahawks, 27-17

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