Hawks set up for 10-11 wins, with division games the wild cards

2020 scheduleThe Seahawks’ hopes of getting home field – the easiest way to the Super Bowl – will rely on winning early, surviving the middle and staying healthy at the end.

The schedule looks like it adds up to 10 or 11 wins, assuming the Seahawks improve their pass rush and their remade offensive line doesn’t get off to a terrible start.

The opener in Atlanta is a wild card, but it’s an NFC game the Hawks really need to win if they fancy the No. 1 seed. Pete Carroll said he looks forward to facing Dan Quinn, his former defensive coordinator, again. This will be the fifth meeting since 2016, and the clubs are tied (with Atlanta getting a playoff win in 2016).

“It’s going to be a really intense preparation,” Carroll, told NFL Network. “They know us; we know them. I like it when it’s like that.”

The 10 a.m. time slot, the first of four such games, will not be an issue; Seattle is 8-0 in such games over the past two years. However, the Hawks are notoriously slow starters. They had lost five straight road openers until last year and are just 2-8 in those. In September road games, they were 2-10 with Wilson until winning the past three (two in Arizona).

The Hawks should be good for a 4-1 start before the Week 6 bye. They have a Sunday night home game against New England in Week 2 – the first of four prime-time games. Wilson is 25-7-1 in prime time, 16-3 at home. And the Patriots will be coming to Seattle without Tom Brady, now in Tampa Bay; Jarrett Stidham, a fourth-round pick in 2019, is the current No. 1 QB as Bill Belichick prepares for his first season without Brady in 20 years.

There’s no guarantee that Stidham will be the starter though. “That’s where we are. You never know what’s going to happen down the road,” Belichick told NFL Network.

The Hawks have a big home game in Week 3, against Dallas (now under the coaching of Mike McCarthy). If Seattle loses in Atlanta, this one will be even more important as Seattle jockeys for the NFC’s best record.

One problem: The Hawks have been a very average home team the last two and a half seasons. Wilson and company were 37-6 at home in the quarterback’s first 43 games — through Week 8, 2017. But they have gone 11-10 since then. They really have to go at least 6-2 at home to have a chance at the lone bye under the new playoff format (remember there will be seven playoff teams per conference).

The Hawks should win at Miami (a rebuilding 5-11 team that could be starting rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa) and in a Sunday night home game against Minnesota. Wilson is 6-0 against Minnesota, including the frigid Blair Walsh playoff game.

The middle of the season will be challenging, with four of six games on the road – and the two home games against opponents from the toughest division in the NFL.

Week 7 at Arizona: Wilson and the Hawks pretty much always win in Glendale – 6-0-1 in the last seven (the seventh game was that ugly 6-6 tie in 2016). Wilson also is 6-2 after the bye, with three straight road wins. The Hawks better watch out though; this is a rising club with Kyler Murray now throwing to surprising trade acquisition DeAndre Hopkins.

Week 8 vs. San Francisco: The 49ers won the West in Week 17 last year thanks to a dramatic end-of-game goal-line stand in Seattle. The Hawks had won nine straight in this series until December 2018, but these teams are evenly matched now, with the last three games coming down to the wire (two in OT and the goal-line finish). This one could go either way.

Week 9 at Buffalo: Wilson will finally play in Buffalo, the only city he had not yet played in. The Bills should challenge the Brady-less Patriots for the AFC East, so this one should be tough. Seattle will see Quinton Jefferson, who joins WR Stefon Diggs and CB Josh Norman among Buffalo’s newcomers. The Bills are built tough up front on both sides, so it could be a very physical 10 a.m. game – and a cold one on Nov. 8.

Week 10 at Los Angeles: The Rams took a tumble from 13 wins and a Super Bowl appearance in 2018 to 9-7 last season. So Sean McVay replaced his top three assistants and got rid of a bunch of veteran mainstays. Seattle barely managed to squeak out a 30-29 win over the Rams in October, thanks to Tyler Lockett’s magical TD catch and Greg Zuerlein’s late miss. But the Rams came back for a 28-12 win in Week 14. The Rams cut Todd Gurley and traded Brandin Cooks, but they still have tons of weapons and figure to give the Seahawks plenty of trouble again. They also will be coming off a bye for this one, although Wilson is 7-3 against teams coming off byes.

Week 11 vs. Arizona: The Cardinals have won four of the last five in Seattle, but this one is on a Thursday night and, as we said above, Wilson is 16-3 at home in prime time.

Week 12 at Philadelphia: Wilson is 5-0 against Philly, including two wins in 2019. And this is a Monday night game, and Wilson is 9-2 in those. The Eagles are in transition on offense; DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery likely will be replaced by Jalen Reagor, John Hightower and Marquise Goodwin.

Carroll said the back-to-back night games “is a pretty good deal. We’ve got a little mini-bye there, too, so it will work well out for us.”

It’s a tough six-game stretch, but Wilson has never lost three games in a row, so you can expect Seattle probably will go 3-2 in November.

The Hawks should be 8-3 or 7-4 as they start December with three easy games: back-to-back home contests against the New York teams and then at Washington in Week 15.

The Washington game will be the last of five East Coast trips — four of them 10 a.m. starts. The Seahawks are third in the league in projected “net travel miles” — their travel minus their opponents’ travel to Seattle. Being tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is always near the top in travel.

“We’re going to clock some miles this year,” Carroll said. “We’re pretty familiar with that. That’s kind of how we do it.”

A three-game winning streak to start December would put them at 10 or 11 wins as the Rams come to Seattle in Week 16 and the Hawks finish at San Francisco on Jan. 3. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called another season finale against Seattle “as good as it gets” and said, “I’m just happy that this time it will be in San Francisco.”

Will the Hawks be healthy for those big division games though? They were fairly decimated last December, playing much of it without Chris Carson, Duane Brown, Rashaad Penny, Jadeveon Clowney, Quandre Diggs and Shaquill Griffin – among others. That cost them all three division games in the final four weeks – and the division title and top seed.

Will they have the depth to beat the Rams and 49ers in the last two weeks this time? They will need it if they are going to get home field.

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