This schedule is much better than 2014

Chris Matthews comes down with the onside kick amid several Packers (Seahawks.com)So, apparently if you lose a Super Bowl in agonizing fashion, you get a much friendlier schedule the next year.

For a team with the fourth-toughest schedule in the league (based on 2014 records), the Seahawks pulled as amenable a schedule as they could have requested Tuesday when the NFL released the full slate.

With a team-record five prime-time games, three straight contests at home in November, a perfectly placed midseason bye, no bad-weather games and a friendly final two months, the Seahawks have a much better setup than they faced in 2014. (Plus, they get Al Michaels calling games three times and we have to suffer through Jon Gruden just once.)

Last year, the Seahawks were among the first set of byes in Week 4 and finished with five rugged division games in the final six weeks — and they still claimed the top seed in the NFC for the second straight year.

Despite a tough early schedule, they are in good position to win the NFC for a third straight year.

Sure, they open with two tough road games — at St. Louis and then at Green Bay on NBC — which means they could be 0-2 to start it all off.

The St. Louis game is the first of three 10 a.m. starts. That has been a 50-50 proposition for them; they went 4-1 in early starts in 2013 but were just 1-2 last year.

They play three of the next four at home — Chicago, Detroit on “Monday Night Football” and Carolina — with a trip to Cincinnati in Week 5. Then they take a short trip to San Francisco for a Thursday night game in Week 7 — the third Thursday meeting between the teams in four years and the fourth straight year they will meet in prime time. The Hawks finish the first half at Dallas — a chance to get revenge for the Cowboys’ win in Seattle last season.

Worst case, the Hawks could be 4-4 heading into the bye. And then it gets much easier. They open the second half with three straight home games — a Sunday nighter against Arizona and day games vs. San Francisco and Pittsburgh. All three teams will be coming off byes.

They play some very beatable teams in December: at Minnesota, at Baltimore, home vs. Cleveland, home vs. St. Louis.

The Rams have to be happy they don’t finish the season in Seattle. They had done that in four of Pete Carroll’s five years and had lost all four.

Instead, the Hawks will finish at Arizona in what the NFL surely hopes is a battle for the NFC West title.

Here’s how the Hawks will get there:

WEEK 1
At St. Louis, 10 a.m. (FOX)
The storyline: The Rams gave up on the injury-prone Sam Bradford, swapping him for Nick Foles in hopes that the former Philly QB will stay on the field and help the Rams finally field an effective offense. They also made the league’s best D-line even better by signing Nick Fairley. Jeff Fisher outcoaches Carroll in St. Louis nearly every time — often using huge special-teams plays. Last year, it was a misdirection punt return and a fake punt on fourth down at the end of the game. Seattle ST coach Brian Schneider needs to beat John Fassel for once. Just like the last three years, this probably will be another low-scoring, ugly game.
Prediction: Hawks, 17-10. Jimmy Graham will tilt the odds in Seattle’s favor this time.

WEEK 2
At Green Bay, 5:30 p.m. (NBC)
The storyline: 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. This one’s in Green Bay, and Mike McCarthy is planning to give up play calling to Tom Clements. The Packers kept Randall Cobb and should be every bit as dangerous on offense. And they will be champing at the bit for revenge at Lambeau.
Prediction: Packers, 24-21. Aaron Rodgers finally will beat Russell Wilson (even if some of the fans will be cheering for the former Wisconsin QB).

WEEK 3
Chicago, 1:25 p.m. (CBS)
The storyline: 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. And Cutler should get eaten alive by Seattle’s No. 1 defense, especially in Seattle. This game got cross-flexed across networks to give it a bigger audience, like the Carolina-Seattle game last season. It’s one of five afternoon national games the Hawks play this year.
Prediction: Hawks, 27-13. Jared Allen will see what he missed out on last year and Michael Bennett will play a key role in beating his brother’s team.

WEEK 4
Detroit, 5:30 p.m. Monday (ESPN)
The storyline: The NFL put Golden Tate’s return to Seattle on “MNF,” where the former Hawk will get 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 will not 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. The Seahawks are 8-0 in night games in Seattle under Carroll, and seven have been double-digit wins (the notorious 14-12 Monday night win over Green Bay in 2012, keyed by Tate’s “Fail Mary” catch, is the lone exception).
Prediction: Hawks, 27-20. Tate will acquit himself well, but the Hawks also will show they don’t miss him.

WEEK 5
At Cincinnati, 10 a.m. (FOX)
The storyline: 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, but coach Marvin Lewis and QB Andy Dalton will be around for at least another year. 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.
Prediction: Hawks, 24-13. The Bengals don’t have the offense to dent the Seattle defense — even if A.J. Green is healthy and has a good game against Richard Sherman.

WEEK 6
Carolina, 1:05 p.m. (FOX)
The storyline: 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 season.
Prediction: Hawks, 20-9. Cam Newton will drop to 0-5 against Wilson and the Hawks.

WEEK 7
At San Francisco, 5:25 p.m. Thursday (CBS)
The storyline: Jim Harbaugh is gone, replaced by the uninspiring Jim Tomsula, and talk of the 49ers’ demise already was in full throat before linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired. The Hawks beat the 49ers 36-10 on aggregate last season as Carroll finally won 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 — even if the 49ers say Colin Kaepernick is a better passer.
Prediction: Hawks, 27-17. The worm has turned in this rivalry, and the Hawks will win another prime-time game in San Francisco.

WEEK 8
At Dallas, 1:25 p.m. (FOX)
The storyline: 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 as they were in 2014? They need to replace DeMarco Murray (Darren McFadden does not count) if they are going to be as balanced on offense as they were last year. Odds are the Cowboys will regress, but they’ll be primed to repeat their win over the two-time NFC champs. Will it come down to another third-and-20 this time?
Prediction: Cowboys, 24-23. The Hawks are the better team, but if they couldn’t beat Dallas at home last year they probably will come up short in Dallas this year.

WEEK 10
Arizona, 5:30 p.m. (NBC)
The storyline: 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 Carroll, he lost his defensive coordinator (Todd Bowles to the Jets), but he also promoted from within to maintain continuity. Larry Fitzgerald returns, 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. If Palmer is healthy, the Cardinals should be tougher this year.
Prediction: Hawks, 34-17. The Seahawks always win big at home in prime time.

WEEK 11
San Francisco, 1:25 p.m. (FOX)
The storyline: This home game figures to be more like the 2012 and 2013 games in Seattle than the 2014 affair — i.e., a blowout.
Prediction: Hawks, 38-17. The Seattle defense will score a couple of times.

WEEK 12
Pittsburgh, 1:25 p.m. (CBS)
The storyline: 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.
Prediction: Hawks, 24-13. The Steelers are no match for the Seahawks in Seattle.

WEEK 13
At Minnesota, 10 a.m. (FOX)
The storyline: 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. It remains to be seen whether he plays for the Vikings, so the big question will be whether this is another matchup of the two most physical backs of the last decade. In the 2012 meeting in Seattle, Peterson ran for 182 yards and Marshawn 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.
Prediction: Hawks, 31-17. Seattle is more than Lynch on offense.

WEEK 14
At Baltimore, 5:30 p.m. (NBC)
The storyline:
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? Justin Forsett and Lynch — former teammates at Cal and in Seattle — are back with these teams to play in the same game one more 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.
Prediction:
Hawks, 27-23. Lynch will outgain Forsett.

WEEK 15
Cleveland, 1:05 p.m. (FOX)
The storyline:
This franchise is a complete mess; Jimmy Haslam is one of the worst owners in the NFL. The Browns were stupid enough to waste a first-round pick on Johnny Manziel, who just got out of rehab, and they have no QB (Josh McCown does not count). By the end of next season, they probably will have no coach — 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 proved his inability to start for the Hawks in a 6-3 loss. Meanwhile, John Schneider was scoping out Russell Wilson at Wisconsin.
Prediction: Hawks, 34-10. Ahtyba Rubin will be pumped to shut down his old team.

WEEK 16
St. Louis, 1:25 p.m. (FOX)
The storyline:
The Rams have not won in Seattle since 2004, when they beat the Hawks twice — including a wild-card game. That was the last time the Rams made the playoffs. Unless Foles can snap the offense out of its eight-year funk, they won’t be going to the playoffs this year either.
Prediction: Hawks, 27-13. Foles (if he is even playing) won’t be enough to break the Seattle streak.

WEEK 17
At Arizona, 1:25 p.m. (FOX)

The storyline: If the Cardinals have stayed healthy and kept pace with the Hawks, this game could determine the NFC West. Odds are more likely that Seattle will already have it tied up. The question then would be: Do the Hawks need this game for the No. 1 seed?
Prediction: Hawks, 20-17. Even if the Hawks play backups, they will take this one. They want to send a message this year.

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