Season success will be determined in prime time

2019 scheduleSeattle’s 2019 season will be defined in prime time in November and December.

The Seahawks got a very balanced schedule, highlighted by alternating home and road games through the first 14 weeks and four straight night games in the second half of the season.

The Hawks will play five prime-time games overall, including two against the division rival Rams.

Seattle also has four 10 a.m. games, but Pete Carroll doesn’t care (ask him). His teams are 13-11 in 10 a.m. starts (playoffs included) since Russell Wilson arrived, and they have won seven of the last nine (all three in 2018).

The Seahawks will play the four AFC North teams in the first seven weeks. They open with Cincinnati in Seattle’s first home season opener since 2016 and just the third season-opening home game of Wilson’s tenure (back to 2012). Then the Hawks head to Pittsburgh for a 10 a.m. kickoff against a Steelers team that just lost two big stars; the Seahawks won a shootout there in 2015, so they know how to win at Heinz.

They then have a big NFC showdown in Week 3, vs. New Orleans in Seattle. That game should have major playoff implications late in the season. The Saints will be coming to Seattle after what figures to be a huge grudge rematch with the Rams in Los Angeles, so maybe they will be distracted complaining about another missed key call. (Too soon?)

After that duel, the Hawks open division play in Week 4 at Arizona, where the Cardinals figure to once again feature a first-year coach and quarterback. But the Hawks need to beware the trap game, because they return home for a big Thursday night brouhaha vs. the Rams — a game that should set the NFC West leader after the first quarter of the season. Wilson is 22-5-1 in regular prime-time games, including 14-2 at home and 2-0 vs. the Rams (2013 and 2016).

Seattle will finish off its AFC North set the next two weeks, first heading to Cleveland to play the overhyped Browns in a 10 a.m. game and then coming home to host Earl Thomas in his return to Seattle with a Baltimore squad that is undergoing some major change.

Then it’s on to the NFC South, with a big early game against Dan Quinn & Co. in Atlanta in Week 8 and then back to Seattle to play Tampa Bay in the House That Bruce Arians Owns (he was 4-1 there with Arizona).

After that comes the big run of prime-time games. This is the seventh straight year the Seahawks will play at least four, and they are one of 10 teams with five (seven of those teams are in the NFC).

A Monday night contest at San Francisco on Veterans Day kicks it off. The Hawks lost in San Francisco in overtime last season, so Wilson & Co. will be looking for payback against Richard Sherman & Co.

Then the Hawks get a week off in Week 11, their latest bye since 2013. Their byes since 2012: Week 11, 12, 4, 9, 5, 6, 7, 11.

That sets up a trip to Philadelphia for a Sunday night game that also could have big NFC implications. Wilson’s Hawks are 5-2 after the bye, with two straight road wins. The Eagles’ fate rests on the healing back of QB Carson Wentz; will he be healthy by this point?

The Hawks start December at home on Monday night against Minnesota. Wilson & Co. are 7-0 in December home night games.

The final prime-time showdown is in L.A. — a Sunday night finish to that season-defining series. That five-week run will indicate whether the Hawks are good enough to win the NFC.

They head to Carolina the next week for the final morning game before finishing at home vs. the Cardinals and 49ers. A good chance for three straight wins to finish the season.

We pretty much nailed last season’s predictions (missed only the Chicago loss), so we’ll try to do it again. We put the over/under at 11 wins this season. Here’s a look at each game:

Week 1: CINCINNATI
Sunday, Sept. 8, 1:05 p.m., CBS
Storyline: Cincinnati replaced longtime coach Marvin Lewis with 35-year-old Zac Taylor, a Sean McVay disciple, and Taylor has his hands full as he tries to fix the league’s worst defense. He also needs to decide whether Andy Dalton is his quarterback. It’s a big “figure it out” year in Cincy, and the Bengals won’t have nearly enough figured out to win in Seattle in the opener.
Early prediction: Hawks, 31-17

Week 2: At Pittsburgh
Sunday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m., FOX
Storyline: Ben Roethlisberger will get his chance to validate opinions that he is better than Wilson. But he’ll have to do it without superstars Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, who both forced their ways out of Steel Town. The last time these teams met, in 2015, Wilson was much better than Roethlisberger, throwing five TD passes in a 39-30 win that sparked Seattle’s high-scoring finish (six wins in the final seven games). Other than adding CB Steven Nelson and a couple of linebackers, the Steelers haven’t done much to improve the squad that went 9-6-1 in 2018 — and the losses of Bell and Brown sure make it look like they are sliding toward .500 or worse. The Seahawks are plenty capable of beating these guys in Pittsburgh again, without the shootout.
Early prediction: Hawks, 30-13

Week 3: NEW ORLEANS
Sunday, Sept. 22, 1:25 p.m., CBS
Storyline: Sean Payton, Drew Brees & Co. missed a big chance to reach the Super Bowl again last season. They got the replay changes they wanted, so now they will try to make another run at it. They lost three key offensive players — C Max Unger and TE Ben Watson retired, and RB Mark Ingram signed with Baltimore — and replaced them with Nick Easton, Jared Cook and Latavius Murray. They also added D-linemen Malcom Brown and Mario Edwards to the league’s No. 2 run defense/No. 5 sack unit. The Saints are still stacked and will be on a mission this season. If the Hawks could beat them at home, like they did in 2013, it would augur good things. But we’ll go with the prodigals for now.
Early prediction: Saints, 30-26

Week 4: At Arizona
Sunday, Sept. 29, 1:05 p.m., FOX
Storyline: Not only do the Cardinals have a new coach for the second straight year, they apparently are strongly considering using a second straight first-round pick on a quarterback. That should help Jaron Brown and Mike Iupati (who swapped clubs with J.R. Sweezy) get a win over their former team. You have to wonder why Larry Fitzgerald came back for more. David Johnson said he is aiming for a double millennium, and he might actually get it if Kyler Murray dumps the ball to him all season. The Cardinals have done their best to fix a bottom-10 defense, adding LB Jordan Hicks, CB Robert Alford, DT Darius Philon and old friend Terrell Suggs. But this team doesn’t look much better than the club that went 3-13 in 2018, and Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t figure to end Arizona’s six-year losing streak at home vs. the Seahawks.
Early prediction: Hawks, 26-13

Week 5: L.A. RAMS
Thursday, Oct. 3, 5:20 p.m., FOX
Storyline: The Rams won two close games for the sweep last year, and each matchup this season figures to say a lot about which team wins the NFC West. The Rams replaced Lamarcus Joyner with Eric Weddle and added Clay Matthews to Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler & Co. Will that be enough to improve the 19th-ranked defense from 2018? The offensive line looks like a weakness at this point, with Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan gone. That’s not good news for Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, if the ace running back is even healthy. The Seahawks were close to beating the NFC champs twice last year. They should be able to split with them this time.
Early prediction: Hawks, 28-24

Week 6: At Cleveland
Sunday, Oct. 13, 10 a.m., FOX
Storyline: Cleveland was the buzz of the league after trading for Odell Beckham Jr., with everyone from the Dawg Pound to the Peanut Gallery predicting the Browns will win the AFC North. Even Wilson was impressed: “Wow, I was definitely shocked by the Odell move. In the NFL in today’s age, a lot of crazy things happen. … Cleveland will have a good squad.” The Hawks will see 2017 trade acquisition Sheldon Richardson for the second straight year; he left Minnesota to join Cleveland. The Browns, who had the third-worst defense in the NFL last year, also acquired Olivier Vernon (though their poor run defense does not seem much improved yet). They also added depth to their much-hyped offense with a couple of linemen and Cordarrelle Patterson. Elevated coach Freddie Kitchens knows paper lions mean nothing and his squad has a lot of hype to live up to. They won’t do it against Seattle.
Early prediction: Hawks, 24-18

Week 7: BALTIMORE
Sunday, Oct. 20, 1:25 p.m., FOX
Storyline: Baltimore’s visit to Seattle will be a major occasion, as Earl Thomas (if healthy) will show up with middle fingers raised, set to get some revenge against his former team. But does he have the team around him to beat the Hawks? The Ravens have moved on to a new QB, 2018 first-rounder Lamar Jackson replacing the traded Joe Flacco. They brought in Mark Ingram to carry the ball and re-signed TE Nick Boyle, but they need some receivers after dropping Michael Crabtree and losing John Brown. The league’s No. 1 defense took a few hits, too, as C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs all left. The secondary should be great, but the front seven doesn’t look nearly good enough to help Thomas get his revenge.
Early prediction: Hawks, 25-10

Week 8: At Atlanta
Sunday, Oct. 27, 10 a.m., FOX
Storyline: This is the third meeting in four years between Dan Quinn and his former club. He has to hope his talented defense heals up and stays healthy after a tough 2018. The Falcons also have tried to fix their offensive line to help their running game, re-signing Ty Sambrailo to replace Ryan Schraeder and adding new guards, including former Seahawk first-rounder James Carpenter. The last two games, both in Seattle, were split by a combined five points. The last game in Atlanta was in 2013, when Seattle blew out the Falcons 33-10 to get some measure of revenge for the playoff loss 10 months earlier. We’ll presume the Falcons stay healthy enough to end that losing streak.
Early prediction: Falcons, 30-27

Week 9: TAMPA BAY
Sunday, Nov. 3, 1:05 p.m., FOX
Storyline: The Hawks always had trouble with Bruce Arians’ Cardinals in Seattle (he was 4-1), and now he takes over a Tampa team that already has some decent talent — despite the losses of WRs DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries. It will come down to how quickly he can get Jameis Winston to play his way and also whether Arians’ former Arizona DC, Todd Bowles, can successfully flip Tampa’s defense to his 3-4 style. He probably won’t have enough to carry over his Seattle success with the Bucs this year. And Bradley McDougald is looking forward to that.
Early prediction: Hawks, 30-13

Week 10: At San Francisco
Monday, Nov. 11, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
Storyline: The 49ers staggered to a 4-12 record in 2018, but they learned one thing anyway: They have a pretty decent backup QB in Nick Mullens. Of course, they will hope franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo finally gets to play a full season. They added Tevin Coleman and Jordan Matthews but still are weak at receiver. On defense, they traded for Dee Ford and signed injury gambles Kwon Alexander and Jason Verrett. Ford joins three former first-round picks on the D-line, and the Niners still have former Seahawks Richard Sherman and Malcolm Smith, so that could be a pretty strong unit. The 49ers beat the Hawks in overtime in San Francisco last season, ending a 10-game losing streak in the series. And the Niners should be better this time.
Early prediction: 49ers, 26-23

Week 12: At Philadelphia
Sunday, Nov. 24, 5:20 p.m., NBC
Storyline: The Hawks head to Pennsylvania twice this season, and this sure looks like it will be the tougher of the two. The Eagles have undergone a lot of change this offseason, losing QB Nick Foles, LB Jordan Hicks and former Seahawks Golden Tate and Michael Bennett and adding DT Malik Jackson, WR DeSean Jackson and RB Jordan Howard. They also have retained DE Brandon Graham, C Jason Kelce, OG Isaac Seumalo, OT Jason Peters and CB Ronald Darby. With Foles gone, Carson Wentz is the undisputed leader again. But he is still recovering from a back injury and will need to prove he can stay healthy — or else Nate Sudfeld might end up behind center. Either way, we’re going with Wilson & Co., who are 3-0 against the Eagles, 5-2 in November night games and always win these benchmark battles late in the season.
Early prediction: Hawks, 24-20

Week 13: MINNESOTA
Monday, Dec. 2, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
Storyline: The Seahawks play the Vikings in a home Monday night game for the second straight year. They won 21-7 last December even though Wilson played probably his worst game of the season. The Vikings are basically the same team — their biggest moves re-signing Anthony Barr and bringing back Shamar Stephen from Seattle to replace Sheldon Richardson. The Vikings have to hope $84 million QB Kirk Cousins steps up his game in 2019, and they need to find a running back to support injury-prone Dalvin Cook, since Latavius Murray left. Most important of all: They desperately need to fix their offensive line. Wilson is 5-0 against the Vikings, including that lucky frigid playoff win in the 2015 season, and we don’t see him losing to them in 2019 either.
Early prediction: Hawks, 31-21

Week 14: At Los Angeles Rams
Sunday, Dec. 8, 5:20 p.m., NBC
Storyline: Wilson is 2-5 at the Rams, including 1-2 in L.A. This game might determine the NFC West — and possibly the entire NFC.
Early prediction: Rams, 30-28

Week 15: At Carolina
Sunday, Dec. 15, 10 a.m., FOX
Storyline: These clubs continue their near annual rivalry as the Hawks go back for the second straight season; it’s the ninth meeting in eight years (counting two playoff contests). Carolina has let a bunch of guys go: Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers (retired), Captain Munnerlyn, Devin Funchess, Ryan Kalil. Their best moves have been keeping S Eric Reid and OT Daryl Williams and adding C Matt Paradis and former Seahawk Bruce Irvin. But that hardly counts as improvement for a club that was 7-9 in 2018. The key for Carolina in 2019 will be the health of Cam Newton, whose bum throwing shoulder was a big part of the Panthers’ issues last year. The Hawks won a shootout (30-27) at Carolina last year, the fourth win by Wilson & Co. in four regular-season visits to Charlotte. Those games have been won by margins of four, five, four and three. The Hawks should be at least four points better again.
Early prediction: Hawks, 24-20

Week 16: ARIZONA
Sunday, Dec. 22, 1:25 p.m., FOX
Storyline: Arians used to own Carroll’s club in Seattle, but the Seahawks ended a three-game losing streak last season as he took a year off from football. They should make it two wins in a row this time.
Early prediction: Hawks, 23-13

Week 17: SAN FRANCISCO
Sunday, Dec. 29, 1:25 p.m., FOX
Storyline: There’s a chance the 49ers could turn into an NFC contender, as they were largely predicted to be in 2018; in that case, this game could be pretty big. But Wilson has never lost to the 49ers at home, winning all seven by an average of 18.6 points.
Early prediction: Hawks, 27-17

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