How many games can Hawks win with No. 4 toughest schedule?

Golden Tate as a Detroit LionThe Seahawks have the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL in 2015, based on 2014 results. But it’s not as if a tough schedule is anything new for them. They had the No. 10 slate in 2013 and the No. 6 schedule last year — and we all know they should be 2-0 in the Super Bowl.

But they aren’t, so we are left to look forward to the 2015 season and wonder whether the Hawks can become the first team in the salary-cap era to play in the Super Bowl in three straight seasons.

Here’s an early look at that No. 4 schedule:

DIVISION

Arizona (11-5): Bruce Arians managed to get the Cardinals into the playoffs despite starting three quarterbacks during the 2014 season. That earned him his second Coach of the Year award. Like Pete Carroll, he lost his defensive coordinator (Todd Bowles to the Jets), but he also promoted from within to maintain continuity. Larry Fitzgerald will return, solving one question, but the bigger issue is Carson Palmer’s health. Without that, the Cardinals probably don’t stand a chance of overtaking the Seahawks in the NFC West. Arizona is one of two teams to beat the Seahawks in Seattle in the past three seasons, but last season the Hawks wiped out the Cardinals 54-9 on aggregate in a sweep. The Cardinals should be tougher this year.
Early prediction: Split

San Francisco (8-8): Jim Harbaugh is gone, replaced by a guy who has even less of a personality — if you can believe that. Jim “Tongue-Tied” Tomsula and his gang of NFL Europe alums are an odd bunch, and it raises more questions than it answers about whether the 49ers can rebound and challenge Seattle in the West again. The Hawks beat the 49ers 36-10 on aggregate last season as Carroll finally beat them in San Francisco. The 49ers are still a tough group of players, and the coaching acumen on defense — four former coordinators — should keep them competitive on that side. But they have not drafted very well recently and it’s hard to see them beating Seattle.
Early prediction: Sweep

St. Louis (6-10): If only Jeff Fisher had a quarterback, the Rams would be a dangerous team. But unless Sam Bradford can stay healthy for the first time in three seasons or the Rams come up with a good starter somewhere else, they will continue to have issues scoring points. Fortunately for them, Fisher pretty much outcoaches Carroll in St. Louis nearly every time — meaning a 50 percent chance of a split.
Early prediction: Split

HOME

Chicago (5-11): The Bears upgraded their coaching significantly by pulling John Fox from Denver, and Fox will get another shot at revenge vs. Carroll’s club after his Broncos were blown out in Super Bowl XLVIII and lost in overtime in Week 3 of the 2014 season. But Fox was not able to bring Peyton Manning with him; he’s stuck with Jay Cutler for now. And Cutler should get eaten alive by Seattle’s No. 1 defense, especially in Seattle.
Early prediction: Win

Detroit (11-5): This game will be all about one man, as Golden Tate gets his chance to stick it to John Schneider, Carroll, the Legion of Boom and all of the emotional Seattle fans who ripped Tate for taking a better deal in Detroit last year. The Lions seem unlikely to have Ndamukong Suh, so it will be interesting to see what their defense, which ranked second only to Seattle in 2014, looks like. The last time the Hawks played the Lions, in Detroit in 2012, Russell Wilson drove the Hawks to the go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes, but Seattle’s defense gave up the game to Matthew Stafford with 20 seconds left. That offense against this defense will be fun to watch. And Tate will get to see what it’s like to face the Legion in a live game.
Early prediction: Win

Cleveland (7-9): This franchise is a complete mess, even if owner Jimmy Haslam won’t admit it. The Browns were stupid enough to waste a first-round pick on Johnny Manziel, who now is in rehab. The general manager is being investigated for texting plays to the sideline. They have no QB to speak of. They have no defense to speak of. By the end of next season, they probably will have no coach to speak of — again. And Browns fans thought Mike Holmgren’s tenure was terrible. The last time the Hawks played the Browns, in Cleveland in 2011, Tarvaris Jackson was injured and Charlie Whitehurst led the Hawks to a 6-3 loss. Meanwhile, Schneider was scoping out Russell Wilson at Wisconsin.
Early prediction: Win

Pittsburgh (11-5): The Steelers haven’t been to Seattle since 2003 (Seattle won 23-16). They were supposed to come in 2011, but a new NFL rule that favored East Coast teams traveling west forced the Hawks to go back to Pittsburgh, where they were shut out for the second straight time (21-0 in 2007, 24-0 in 2011). After a slow start in 2014, Ben Roethlisberger turned it up in the second half of the season and the Steelers got back to the playoffs for the first time in four years. This could be a very interesting game, especially with Lofa Tatupu on the Hawks’ coaching staff and surely eager to get back at Big Ben for Super Bowl XL.
Early prediction: Win

Carolina (7-8-1): The Panthers essentially have become a division opponent for the Seahawks. This will be the fifth meeting in four years, and the Panthers cannot be looking forward to it. The Seahawks have won thumping defensive battles at Carolina in each of Wilson’s first three seasons, and then Kam Chancellor turned into Batman in the 31-17 playoff win last month. Cam Newton figures to drop to 0-5 against Wilson and the Hawks.
Early prediction: Win

AWAY

Green Bay (12-4): It’s tough to know exactly how the Packers feel about facing the Seahawks for the fourth time in four years — particularly after the way the last three games have gone. First was the Monday night “Fail Mary” in 2012, then the wipeout in the 2014 season opener and — worst of all — the agonizing overtime loss in the NFC title game. Of course, all of those games were in Seattle. Mike McCarthy’s strategy came under criticism in both games last season, and he apparently is planning to give up play calling to Tom Clements next season. Even if the Packers lose Randall Cobb in free agency, Davante Adams is ready to step up, so the Packers should not lose much on offense. And they will be champing at the bit for revenge at Lambeau.
Early prediction: Loss

Minnesota (7-9): The Vikings’ biggest offseason story is the expected return of Adrian Peterson, who missed almost all of last season while dealing with the fallout from his “early 20th century/redneck” style of parenting. The Vikings want him back — as they should — so the big question will be whether this is another matchup of the two most physical backs of the last decade: Peterson vs. Marshawn Lynch. In the 2012 meeting in Seattle, Peterson ran for 182 yards and Lynch rushed for 124 in the Hawks’ 30-20 win. Of course, the Vikings’ QB then was Christian Ponder, which explains why they lost. Now they have Teddy Bridgewater, who showed promise as a rookie. In the last five games, he completed 72.1 percent of his passes, with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. The Vikings could be a playoff team next season, but it’s hard to imagine them being good enough to beat Seattle.
Early prediction: Win

Baltimore (10-6): The Ravens were a top contender to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl last season. The Hawks probably wish they had managed to hold on to two 14-point leads against New England in the divisional playoff game, which the Patriots rallied to win 35-31. So can the Ravens keep it going? Will Justin Forsett and Lynch — former teammates at Cal and in Seattle — be back with these teams to play in the same game one last time? The Hawks have won the last two matchups in Seattle but have not played in Baltimore since a wild 44-41 overtime loss in 2007. Something tells us this one will be a lot lower scoring.
Early prediction: Win

Cincinnati (10-5-1): The Bengals are the ultimate bridesmaids — always good enough to get to the playoffs but never good enough to win once they get there. They have flamed out in the first round for four straight years, and Cincinnati fans have tired of coach Marvin Lewis and QB Andy Dalton, although the duo is not going anywhere for now. The Bengals have been good at home over the last two years, going 13-2-1, so they are no gimme. But this is not the Seattle team they destroyed 34-12 in Seattle in 2011.
Early prediction: Win

Dallas (12-4): The Cowboys are one of the two teams to beat the Seahawks in Seattle over the past three years, but the question is: Will they be as good in 2015 as they were in 2014? Their top two skill players, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, are slated to be free agents — and they probably can afford to keep only one because Tony Romo will count almost $28 million. Murray could be the odd man out, although Dallas should be able to draft a replacement and plug him in behind an offensive line that might be the best in the league. Odds are the Cowboys will regress, but they’ll be ready to prove to the home crowd that they can beat the two-time NFC champs.
Early prediction: Loss

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