Previewing the season

As this oddest of NFL seasons begins, the Seahawks look strong enough to contend for the Super Bowl again – assuming (1) they aren’t hit by a bunch of COVID afflictions, (2) their lines hold up and (3) they learn how to play offense in the playoffs.

After adding Jamal Adams, Quinton Dunbar, Greg Olsen, Carlos Hyde, Phillip Dorsett and Jordyn Brooks, the Hawks look very solid at DB, TE, RB, WR and LB – and of course QB. But their pass rush is still a major question mark, they look really thin at defensive tackle and center is a big unknown.

Bruce Irvin thinks he, Benson Mayowa, Alton Robinson, L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green will be more effective than most of us expect: “I have the utmost confidence in myself and these guys, and I think we’re really going to prove people wrong this year.” Let’s hope so.

But what about the run defense, which struggled last year even before Al Woods was suspended? They have the same three defensive tackles they had last year, with Bryan Mone the No. 3 instead of their usual veteran. That leads us to think they might be waiting to add a guy after Week 1, when salaries are no longer guaranteed. If not, Poona Ford and Jarran Reed are going to have to stay healthy and play strong.

There is also talk about Collier and Green playing inside, but that would be on passing downs – neither would be much help against the run.

As for the offensive line, Ethan Pocic is the center for now – unexpectedly beating out $4 million addition B.J. Finney. But it would be no surprise to see Justin Britt come walking in the door next Monday and start within a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the Hawks need to hope their new right side plays as well as reports indicate (no preseason means no one really knows what they will do).

The Hawks are otherwise very strong at the other positions, and their tight ends and safeties could be the keys to the season. They are three deep at each spot and need to use them.

Olsen, Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister need to get on the field together. If Brian Schottenheimer is not planning that, he is an idiot. Those three with Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf could create quite the varied passing attack for Wilson. And 1-3 personnel can help the running game as well. So let’s hope Schotty is planning it.

And let’s also hope they come out firing. Wilson has lobbied for it this offseason. Slow starts are why they lose road games, especially in the playoffs. They are 57-0 when leading by four or more at halftime; they need to get that unbeatable lead.

As for safety, Adams, Quandre Diggs and Marquise Blair are going to play a lot. As K.J. Wright said, “We gotta have Marquise on the field this year.” The three safeties – even Blair, in his short time — are proven playmakers and they should force a lot of turnovers together. It’s the most exciting part of this team as the season begins.

We all know the Seahawks will make the playoffs — especially with seven spots per conference now. The only question is how far they will go once they get there.

Last year they were in the race for a bye until the end, with New Orleans, San Francisco and Green Bay. Injuries really messed with the Hawks in December as they were swept by their division foes, and their injury issues (and another poor offensive plan) certainly contributed to their flame-out in Green Bay.

This year, COVID-19 is going to throw some curveballs, too. We’ll see how rampant it is as the season moves along, but there are sure to be games lost to positive tests. (Here are the details of the NFL’s COVID-19 policy.) And there might even be canceled games.

Assuming they manage to play a full slate and don’t have too many COVID games missed, we see the Hawks winning 11 games:

Week 1: At Atlanta

Storyline: This is Seattle’s first 10 a.m. season opener since 2015, when the Hawks lost an overtime thriller in St. Louis. Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn know each other well and have split their two meetings in Atlanta. But the Hawks almost always lose their road opener (Wilson is 1-4 when opening the season on the road), typically because their offensive line stinks early in the season. Don’t expect anything different during a prep-deprived season.

Pick: Falcons, 20-13

Record: 0-1

Week 2: New England

Storyline: Two of Seattle’s favorite foes have joined forces, so the Hawks can kill two birds with one football. Wilson was 6-2 against Cam Newton and Carolina, and now Newton (odd as it is to write) has replaced Tom Brady as QB of the Patriots. The Patriots are missing four starters who opted out due to COVID-19, further weakening Bill Belichick’s team. In a 2016 Sunday night game, the Hawks got a measure of revenge for the Super Bowl XLIX debacle, so this is just another prime-time game — Wilson is 25-7-1 in prime time, 16-3 at home.

Pick: Hawks, 24-14

Record: 1-1

Week 3: Dallas

Storyline: This is a big early-season NFC contest against a team many think can contend for the Super Bowl. The Cowboys are loaded with skill players, including first-round WR CeeDee Lamb, and also have focused on building a strong front seven to support a weak secondary. The Hawks will see Everson Griffen, who many thought might end up in Seattle, and the NFL reinstated troubled pass rushers Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory as well. Even with fans, the Hawks had lost any home-field advantage since mid-2017, going just 11-10. Their defense will need to get some takeaways to have a chance in this one.

Pick: Cowboys, 30-24

Record: 1-2

Week 4: At Miami

Storyline: Will touted rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa have taken over from The Beard this early in the season? Or will Ryan Fitzpatrick – this generation’s Dave Krieg – still be slinging it? The Hawks are 8-0 in 10 a.m. games over the past two years, so that will not bother them – especially in warm Miami. With a couple of rookies starting on Miami’s O-line, this could be a good game for Seattle’s pass rushers to get it going (if they haven’t yet done anything).

Pick: Hawks, 25-16

Record: 2-2

Week 5: Minnesota

Storyline: Kirk Cousins doesn’t care if he dies. Will he care when he loses to Seattle yet again? Wilson is 6-0 against Minnesota, including the frozen luck playoff game in January 2016, and this one will be in the comfy C-Link on a Sunday night (Wilson is 6-2 in home Sunday night games). This could be a big test for Seattle’s run defense. And the Hawks also will see Yannick Ngakoue, the pass rusher they considered trading for long before Minnesota pulled the trigger. Wilson has averaged 33 points a game in five regular-season wins vs. the Vikings; he should have another 30 for this aging defense.

Pick: Hawks, 30-20

Record: 3-2

Week 7: At Arizona

Storyline: The last time these teams met, in December, Seattle was decimated by injuries and played its worst all-around game of the season. Kyler Murray gave Seattle’s defense fits as a rookie; just imagine what he might do now that he has some experience — and DeAndre Hopkins to go with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. This offense could be a three-ring circus that takes the big top off the defense. But Seattle has a safety trio that could loom large in this one. More significant is that it is a midseason game, coming after the bye, at a place where the Hawks have not lost since Wilson’s very first NFL game.

Pick: Hawks, 24-21

Record: 4-2

Week 8: San Francisco

Storyline: These teams are as evenly matched as it gets – a net difference of two points in last season’s split. The Hawks had won nine straight in this series until December 2018, but the last three games have gone to the wire (two in OT and a goal-line stand that gave the 49ers the division last December in Seattle).

Pick: Hawks, 26-20

Record: 5-2

Week 9: At Buffalo

Storyline: Wilson’s first trip to Buffalo comes as the Bills ascend to AFC East favorites (since Brady has left the Patriots). Perhaps the biggest thing hindering the Bills is QB Josh Allen’s inaccuracy (league-worst 58.8% last season). Will WR Stefon Diggs help? The Bills lost star DT Jordan Phillips and DE Shaq Lawson, but they replaced them with Vernon Butler, Mario Addison and Seattle’s own Quinton Jefferson. The Bills are built tough on both lines, so this could be a very physical 10 a.m. game – and a cold one.   

Pick: Bills, 19-17

Record: 5-3

Week 10: At Los Angeles

Storyline: After going from Super Bowl to non-contender, Sean McVay replaced his top three assistants and replaced many veteran mainstays. His offense is still potent even after losing Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley. The defense, which still has Aaron Donald and super-rich CB Jalen Ramsey, lost the 19.5 sacks of Fowler and Clay Matthews and is counting on Leonard Floyd to pick up the sack slack. And that means the Rams will probably be in a lot of shootouts. The Rams have averaged 33.6 points against Seattle over the past five meetings, winning four. Will Jamal Adams help solve that problem? Maybe not in LA.

Pick: Rams, 31-26

Record: 5-4

Week 11: Arizona

Storyline: The Cardinals have won four of the last five in Seattle, all coming in Week 10 or later. It’s just not a good combination for the Hawks. But perhaps they will be a little healthier for this one. Oh, and it’s a Thursday nighter – Wilson is 2-0 vs. Arizona on Thursdays (16-3 in prime time overall).

Pick: Hawks, 24-17

Record: 6-4

Week 12: At Philadelphia

Storyline: This is the third meeting between these teams in two seasons, thanks to the wild-card game Seattle won in Philly last season. Wilson is 5-0 against the Eagles and 9-2 on Mondays, so history certainly favors the Hawks. The Eagles are an aging team, especially on offense, and only injuries could stop the Hawks from making Wilson 6-0 against them.

Pick: Hawks, 24-10

Record: 7-4

Week 13: New York Giants

Storyline: Golden Tate, now on his third team since leaving Seattle in 2014, won’t recognize these Hawks, beyond the W’s — Wilson, Willson, Wagner and Wright. And the Hawks won’t recognize the Giants from their game three years ago; they are on their third coach since then (Joe Judge), youngsters Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley now lead the offense, and the defense is almost entirely new over the past two years. Even if the Giants are better than 4-12, the Hawks are just in a different class.

Pick: Hawks, 30-17

Record: 8-4

Week 14: New York Jets

Storyline: Adams faces his old club, and you can bet he will be incredibly motivated to stick it to them. But so will Bradley McDougald, who swapped spots with him, and George Fant as they come back to Seattle. The Jets have no star skill players — RB Le’Veon Bell is just a salary albatross – to help them improve much beyond their 31st rank in scoring in 2019. Their defense was middling with the All-Pro Adams, and it didn’t get any better.

Pick: Hawks, 34-20

Record: 9-4

Week 15: At Washington

Storyline: Ron Rivera picked a heck of a year to become this team’s coach. The Redskins are no more, and Dan Snyder’s club is dealing with a bunch of sexual harassment complaints as well. On the field, Dwayne Haskins takes over at QB – though Alex Smith could be taking snaps by this point in the season. Their defensive line could be a problem, with five first-round picks, but it’s hard to see Washington (3-13 in 2019) being good enough to beat Seattle.

Pick: Hawks, 27-17

Record: 10-4

Week 16: Los Angeles

Storyline: The Hawks lost 28-12 in L.A. last December, a punchless defeat that helped cost them the division as they lost two of the last three after that. Injuries contributed, but they really just need to persevere late in the season. And, as we said above, the defense needs to figure out how to hold the Rams under four touchdowns. It’s impossible to predict the injury/COVID situation, so this game is maybe the hardest on the entire slate to project. But we’ll give the Hawks the home win and season split.

Pick: Hawks, 30-27

Record: 11-4

Week 17: At San Francisco

Storyline: The Hawks lost the division on a goal-line stand by the 49ers in Week 17 last season. This time the Niners are at home, so it’s hard to say the Hawks will beat them – all things being equal, which they probably won’t be.

Pick: 49ers, 25-23

Record: 11-5

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