Pre-draft look at 2016 opponents

2016 opponentsIn the NFL, April is draft month. But it also has become schedule month.

Word is the NFL will release the schedule April 19-21, a week before the April 28-30 draft.

We already know their opponents, of course. Based on 2015 results, the Seahawks have the fifth-toughest schedule next season. There’s nothing new about that, though: Their 2015 schedule ranked fourth and their 2014 slate was sixth.

But those preseason rankings don’t reflect changes teams have made since the last season ended.

As we transition from free agency month into draft month, let’s see how Seattle’s opponents have changed since last season.

HOME OPPONENTS

Atlanta (8-8 in 2015)
Key additions: C Alex Mack, DE Derrick Shelby, WR Mohamed Sanu, LB Sean Weatherspoon, LB Courtney Upshaw.
Key losses: SS William Moore, WR Roddy White, LB Justin Durant, DT Paul Soliai.
Better, worse or the same? Better. Dan Quinn got the Falcons off to a 5-0 start in his rookie season, but they faded. They have given QB Matt Ryan some good help with Mack and Sanu, and Quinn — Seattle’s former defensive coordinator — surely will get some more defenders in the draft. The Falcons should be a factor in the NFC South and no pushover for the Seahawks.
Pre-draft prediction: The Seahawks get even with the Falcons for that gut-wrenching playoff loss in the 2012 season.

Carolina (15-1)
Key additions: C Gino Gradkowski, DT Paul Soliai.
Key losses: DE Jared Allen, DT Dwan Edwards.
Better, worse or the same? Worse. No way the Panthers will win 15 games again, even with No. 1 WR Kelvin Benjamin back and the draft offering opportunities to replenish the D-line. That was a magical year, until the real Cam Newton showed up in the Super Bowl. Expect him to fall back into the pouty .500 QB he is.
Pre-draft prediction: The Seahawks will be so pumped for this home game after losing twice to Carolina last season. And they will get their revenge — however minor.

Buffalo (8-8)
Key additions: None.
Key losses: DE Mario Williams, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Ron Brooks.
Better, worse or the same? The same. Rex Ryan’s team is a JV version of Seattle’s. Ryan loves to win with defense and a running game (NFL’s best in 2015), and he has a mobile QB in Tyrod Taylor. But the Bills have merely maintained status quo to this point, and the draft won’t make them a playoff team.
Pre-draft prediction: The Seahawks will appreciate looking in a small mirror — and then they will break it. The Bills should be no match.

Miami (6-10)
Key additions: CB Byron Maxwell, LB Kiko Alonso, DE Mario Williams, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, DE Andre Branch.
Key losses: DE Olivier Vernon, DE Derrick Shelby, RB Lamar Miller, WR Rishard Matthews, WR Greg Jennings, CB Brent Grimes.
Better, worse or the same? The same. As in, the more they change, the more they stay the same. Miami has merely shuffled a bunch of players around on defense, including trading for former Legion of Boomer Maxwell, and done nothing to fix one of the league’s worst offenses.
Pre-draft prediction: Maxwell’s return to Seattle won’t be a happy one, beyond seeing his old teammates.

Philadelphia (7-9)
Key additions: CB Leodis McKelvin, S Rodney McLeod, QB Chase Daniel, OG Brandon Brooks, CB Ron Brooks, LB Nigel Bradham.
Key losses: WR Riley Cooper, LB DeMeco Ryans, CB Byron Maxwell, LB Kiko Alonso, RB DeMarco Murray, S Walter Thurmond.
Better, worse or the same? The same. The Eagles have spent this offseason undoing Chip Kelly’s 2015 moves, purging the roster without any discernible improvement for new coach Doug Pederson. They basically have replenished the secondary and brought in a different QB to push Sam Bradford, who was one of the few Kelly acquisitions they kept.
Pre-draft prediction: Tough to see Pederson getting this team up to beat the Hawks in Seattle.

ROAD OPPONENTS

New Orleans (7-9)
Key additions: TE Coby Fleener, LB James Laurinitis, LB Craig Robertson, DT Nick Fairley.
Key losses: OG Jahri Evans, LB David Hawthorne, WR Marques Colston, CB Brandon Browner, TE Ben Watson.
Better, worse or the same? The same. The Saints got rid of some older, overpaid players, but they have taken just baby steps to fix the NFL’s 31st-ranked defense. They just gave coach Sean Payton a new contract, but now they need to give him some good players to fix his defense.
Pre-draft prediction: The last time the Seahawks played the Saints, they beat them on their way to Super Bowl XLVIII. This is supposed to be 2013 all over for the Hawks, and this Saints team is not as good as that one.

Tampa Bay (6-10)
Key additions: OG J.R. Sweezy, CB Brent Grimes, DE Robert Ayers, CB Josh Robinson.
Key losses: None.
Better, worse or the same? Better. The Bucs have improved their secondary, but they have moved on to yet another coach (dumping Lovie Smith after two years and promoting Dirk Koetter) as they seek to hit .500 for the first time since 2010. This is one of the league’s worst-run franchises.
Pre-draft prediction: Former Hawk Sweezy will see what it’s like to face the Seattle defense live. So will second-year QB Jameis Winston, who doesn’t have the experience to beat the Hawks yet.

New England (12-4)
Key additions: OG Jonathan Cooper, DE Chris Long, TE Martellus Bennett, LB Shea McClellin, WR Chris Hogan, DT Terrance Knighton.
Key losses: DT Akiem Hicks, DE Chandler Jones, TE Scott Chandler, WR Brandon LaFell.
Better, worse or the same? Better. The Patriots melted under a hot mess of injuries last season, and they have quietly been very effective at improving their team this year. Bennett will team with Rob Gronkowski to give the Pats the best 1-2 TE punch in the NFL, and Long and McClellin should help the Patriots’ pass rush.
Pre-draft prediction: In what very well could be (hopefully will be) a Super Bowl preview, Martellus’ crew figures to win at home over brother Michael’s Seahawks.

New York Jets (10-6)
Key additions: RB Matt Forte, DE Jarvis Jenkins, NT Steve McLendon.
Key losses: CB Antonio Cromartie, DT Damon Harrison, RB Chris Ivory, LB Demario Davis.
Better, worse or the same? Worse. Ryan Fitzpatrick is still unsigned and the Jets are looking around for a possible replacement, so it’s hard to know who will be playing QB for them. They also are still in flux on both lines, with D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Muhammad Wilkerson potentially leaving. Todd Bowles did a great job in his first season, and he probably will have to be even better in Year 2 if the Jets are going to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Pre-draft prediction: The Jets won’t have the quarterback to beat the Seahawks.

Green Bay (10-6)
Key additions: TE Jared Cook.
Key losses: DT B.J. Raji, CB Casey Hayward.
Better, worse or the same? Better. Getting Jordy Nelson back will be an immense help, and Eddie Lacy apparently has trimmed way down. Add Cook, and Aaron Rodgers will have a lot of quality weapons next season.
Pre-draft prediction: This will be the fifth meeting in five years and the second straight year the Seahawks will have played in Green Bay. They never fare well there, so call it a loss.

DIVISION OPPONENTS

Arizona (13-3)
Key additions: S Tyvon Branch, DE Chandler Jones, OG Evan Mathis.
Key losses: OT Bobby Massie, OG Jonathan Cooper, S Rashad Johnson.
Better, worse or the same? The same. The Cardinals made a big swap to try to help their pass rush with Jones but otherwise have just filled in the blanks in free agency. They remain the team to beat in the NFC West after claiming the title from the Seahawks in 2015.
Pre-draft prediction: Figure these teams split again — unless the Seahawks can figure out how to beat the Cardinals in Seattle.

San Francisco (5-11)
Key additions: OG Zane Beadles.
Key losses: OG Alex Boone.
Better, worse or the same? The same. Beyond hiring Chip Kelly, the 49ers have done nothing to try to improve the squad that sank to five wins in 2015. GM Trent Baalke apparently is planning to fix the team with his 12 draft picks. He might add another one if he trades QB Colin Kaepernick to Denver. He is great at amassing picks (50 in the past five drafts), but not too good at using them.
Pre-draft prediction: The 49ers are no longer any match for the Seahawks, and Kelly won’t make a difference. The Hawks should sweep this series again.

Los Angeles (7-9)
Key additions: CB Coty Sensabaugh, DE Quinton Coples.
Key losses: TE Jared Cook, LB James Laurinaitis, DE Chris Long, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Rodney McLeod, DT Nick Fairley.
Better, worse or the same? Worse. The Rams are headed to Los Angeles a lot lighter on defense, with some mainstays gone. They still have some work to do to improve the 23rd-ranked defense, and they have no QB to speak of — even if they do declare Case Keenum their starter over Nick Foles.
Pre-draft prediction: The Hawks were embarrassingly swept by the Rams last year — a product of the Rams’ D-line whooping Seattle’s O-line twice. That is Exhibit A for why the Seahawks need to beef up their OL. Assuming they do, these teams probably will split.

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2 thoughts on “Pre-draft look at 2016 opponents”

  1. The Panthers signed Charles Johnson to a 1-yr contract in early March:

    http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/carolina-panthers/charles-johnson/

    Strength of schedule is hard to gauge because so much of it has to with when games are played. Last year, the Seahawks lost in the second week to a GB team that started off 6-0 and finished 4-6. Put that game in the second half and Seattle might well have won it.

    All things considered, you want your hard games to be at home and your easy games to be on the road. This makes the division games a wash. Looking at the home and road opponents, the 2016 schedule appears to weighted to easier home games.

    On the other hand, I agree that Seattle outclasses the Jets. For me, this comes down to wishing that one of either GB or NE was in Seattle, meaning that there’s not much to gripe about the slate of opponents. It’s when they play each them that will be interesting.

    Like

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