Yesterday I kicked off this preview of the Seattle Seahawks 2012 regular season schedule, and so now what am I supposed to do? Oh yeah, continue the preview with the next quartet of games. Such is the point of me tossing softball articles to myself.
Seattle opens the year with two tough games at home, two games on the road, two division opponents, and a Monday night game. Wait, that's seven games in four weeks! That sure doesn't seem fair, Mr. NFL. I think the consensus among fans right now would be that a 3-1 start is great and a 2-2 start is more than reasonable. The Hawks opening quarter features the best team in the NFL over the last two years, a tough Cowboys team, and then must go on the road for two games, so to grab two wins in the first four would feel pretty good.
Of the last ten teams to go to the Super Bowl: Three started 4-0, five started 3-1 and two started 2-2. Basically, the Hawks could start out 2-2 and be okay, but obviously you'd be much happier with a 3-1 start, which is entirely possible even if it's not entirely probable. You'd make good money betting on a 3-1 start with that schedule. Oh, and by the way, the next four games are even tougher.
The Hawks play three of their four games in the second quarter of the schedule on the road and their home game comes against a perennial Super Bowl contender. The first quarter of the schedule is tough. The second quarter of the schedule though... I want it to die of butt Ebola. Perhaps people could say things like, "Well, if you're gonna be the best, you should have to beat the best!" and to that I say, "Chut Up. Get off the stage, Cherita!"
Nobody knows how hard the 2011 New York Giants schedule was and nobody cares. Nobody is going to sit around and reminisce about the Rams 1999 schedule. The only thing that matters once you win the Super Bowl, is that you won the Super Bowl. So yeah, I'd rather have a schedule that gives a softer blow with some tough tests of your players will, but as my favorite line from The Matrix goes... "Not like this."
Indeed, not like this. Not like what I'm about to go over...
Week Five: at Carolina Panthers
After the trip to St. Louis, the Hawks fly all the way across the country to face the most "upcomingist" team in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton. This season for Carolina will be the best coming of age story since Stand By Me and I predict that the Panthers will win the division and possibly go deep into the playoffs. There's no doubt in my mind that at some point in his career, Newton will hold the Lombardi Trophy, and it's going to be difficult for anybody to go into his home this year and win.
The Panthers won four of their last six games last year and with a rookie quarterback finished 5th in the NFL in scoring. They need to clean up a lot of their overall game to be better, such as red zone scoring and overall defense, but naturally I assume that problems in the red zone for Newton will easily be solved and by now the Panthers could start scoring 30 points per game.
Defensively, the added LB Luke Kuechly in the draft, and I expect him to be a big contributor right away. It won't fix all of their defensive problems, but I fully expect them to just outscore most of their opponents with the combination of Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Steve Smith, and Greg Olsen. They still need someone to definitely step up opposite of Smith, and they drafted WR Joe Adams out of Arkansas in the fourth, but overall they will be one of the hardest teams to stop.
Winning on the east coast is something that Seattle has struggled with for a long time. I always look forward to watching Newton play, but this is not a game I would have wished for if I was making schedule wishes.
Week Six: New England Patriots
Oh, but I certainly would have wished for the Patriots because that should be easy enough!
New England was definitely the best team in the AFC last year and it's hard to see why they wouldn't be the best team again this year. They have one of the most elite passing games in NFL history and then they went out and replaced Chad Ochocinco with Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney. They have two elite tight ends that are barely old enough to drink and then said, "Screw it! All of the tight ends!" and signed Jake Ballard too.
To top it all off, they added two first round picks with Chandler Jones (DE) and Dont'a Hightower (LB) plus safety Tavon Wilson in the second. Perhaps the leagues best team got smart in free agency and added three top fifty picks in the draft, so this should be fun.
If there is a bright side, Seattle draws the Patriots at home. Also, the game is on CBS and Pete Carroll is 2-2 with the Seahawks on CBS games, which is a straw that I am pulling at. The Hawks play the Patriots and Jets on CBS this year and so it's science that they'll go 1-1 in those games.
Anyways, this is going to be a really hard game to win and it's another matchup of your elite passing game with our elite secondary. A great test for both Brady and the Angry Birds so maybe it's a draw and then the Pats have to win by stopping the Seattle offense and establishing some sort of running game. The Patriots running backs are mostly young and fairly intriguing but they haven't really relied on a running game since Corey Dillon so it usually doesn't matter.
But if you thought that winning this game would be tough...
Week Six: at San Francisco 49ers
And it's not only that Seattle has to travel and win in San Francisco to dethrone the defending divisional champions, it's that Seattle has to do it on three days rest. The 49ers also have to play on the same amount of rest and they draw the Giants, but they won't be doing any travelling. It will be the 49ers third straight game at Candlestick Park.
We all should know by now that the 49ers had a great defense in 2011 and it shouldn't be surprising if they still have a great defense this season. Maybe not as good, but when you've got Patrick Willis, there's still a chance it could be as good or better. And so, the 49ers focused their offseason efforts on improving their offense.
Like, they reallllly focused on it.
Welcome: Josh Johnson, LaMichael James, Brandon Jacobs, A.J. Jenkins, Mario Manningham, and Randy Moss. San Francisco will be running a four-RB offense because Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are still here, and added those three wide receivers that may all be better (arguably) than Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn, Jr.
Will it work though? It's hard to say right now but with the right coaching, they have a lot more talent on offense than they did last season, without even mentioning Vernon Davis as the self-proclaimed future "Greatest Tight End of All Time."
The other key to all of that will be whether or not Alex Smith can advance to the next level, if Colin Kaepernick can develop into a quality starter, or if Josh Johnson could rise above both of them. Regardless of offense, playing the 49ers in San Francisco on a Thursday night is a damned travesty that we will hopefully overcome.
Week Eight: at Detroit Lions
So top that off with a 10 AM game at Detroit and you've got your third straight 2011 playoff opponent and it all happens in an 11-day span! (Edit: The 11-12 day span is week 5-7 from Oct. 7 at Carolina to Oct. 18 at San Francisco)
The Lions finally emerged as a good team last year and they're built to be very good for a very long time. They've got Calvin Johnson, who I consider to be the best receiver in the league and probably one of the top five overall players. They've got Matthew Stafford, who stayed healthy and threw 41 touchdowns a year ago. They've got health problems at running back, but when they don't have health problems they've got Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith, and Mikel Leshoure.
Behind Johnson they've got Nate Burleson as a steady number two and Titus Young as an emerging big threat, plus tight end Brandon Pettigrew and his 83 catches for 777 yards a year ago.
They finally addressed problems on their offensive line by drafting T Riley Reiff at pick 23, when some people projected him as a top ten pick. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles was added in the second round and cornerback Dwight Bentley was grabbed in the third. Also on defense, it hardly gets much better or more exciting than Ndamukong Suh, a player that could be the best defensive tackle of his generation when he keeps his head on straight.
Detroit went 10-6 last year and they had some hiccups because of their youth, where they lost and won some very close games, but I feel like they'll definitely be better than 10-6 this year and be one the Hawks most difficult opponents. Certainly, the close of the first half of the schedule doesn't get any easier than any of the other seven games.
This might be the hardest damn half of a season that any team in the NFL has to face:
Five road games, Monday Night, Thursday Night, a team that won the Super Bowl two years ago, a team that went to the Super Bowl last year, all three divisional games on the road, two of the best up-and-coming teams in the league, and two morning games in other time zones. Here are the quarterbacks you most likely face in the first half: Kevin Kolb, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Alex Smith, and Matthew Stafford.
There you go Kam, Earl, Sherm, and Browner. You basically asked for this and proclaimed that nobody could get the better of you. Nobody else will face a lineup quite like this one and if the Hawks emerge from the first half with a top 10 passing defense, it will be a real damn testament to who has the best secondary in the NFL.
You've just called me and told me that you have a very special set of skills. My reply to you: "Good luck."