We've hit the halfway point of the season in this preview and what a brutal first half that it was. The Hawks opening eight games include five games on the road and all three divisional games away from home. The schedule includes recent champions, teams favored for the championship this year, and some of the best young teams in the NFL, so if the Seahawks can escape at 4-4, they might actually be in line for a solid second half run to the playoffs.
Frankly, if you come out of those first eight games with a .500 record healthy, you should be good enough to run off potentially six or more wins after that. Seattle managed a 5-3 finish last year (and winning five out of six before dropping the last two close ones) and they should be a much better team in 2012 than they were in 2011. The Hawks should be better and they could be better, but if should's and could's were will's and must's, then everything I predicted would be words you could trust.
In other words, we don't know shit yet. But we can try!
Right now, Seattle's first half looks tough and their second half looks manageable. The key will be not entering the second half with a 2-6 record. The Seahawks could have run the table last year and been 10-6 but you'd like to go into that portion of the season with some momentum and some room for error. Knowing last year that the margin of error was razor thin and that the Seattle's chances were out of their hands removed hope from watching games at that point with the idea that maybe we could backdoor our way to a Wild Card. However, if Seattle is 4-4 and eyeing their next two games they might think, "Hey, we could slide into the bye week with a real chance to win this division here."
If they are 4-4, it will have meant that they won at least a couple of very tough games. Games that they didn't win in 2010. Games that they rarely won in 2011. If I identified the eight hardest matchups that Seattle had last year, I would say that they went 2-6 in those games. (@SF, @PIT, ATL, @NYG, @DAL, BAL, SF, @AZ) Actually, I short-changed the Bengals there. So, Seattle went 2-7 in their toughest nine games.
This season, it probably won't work for the Hawks to lose seven games at all, so they have to not be a team that simply beats a better opponent sometimes. They have to be the better opponent. Will they?
Should's and could's, my man. Should's and could's. Let's take a look at the third quarter of the Seahawks schedule:
Week Nine: Minnesota Vikings
When I watched the Vikings last year, I rarely ever felt that I was watching a 3-13 team. They seem better than that and they've got more elite players than many teams. But they didn't have good quarterback play, they faced some injuries, and there seems to be a giant dropoff from their "elite players" to the rest of the team. Like, Percy Harvin is a great player but he'd thrive in an offense where he wasn't the number one option. Harvin can you give great production but he's not a number one receiver. The dropoff from Harvin to Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu is massive.
And honestly, how many people could name a single Vikings defensive player besides Jared Allen? There's Kevin Williams, but he is nothing like the dominant force he was in the prime of his career.
Going into the draft, I felt that the Vikings would have been the most disappointing team at the top of the draft if they hadn't managed to get either Matt Kalil or Morris Claiborne. For a minute there, I thought they were going to mess that up, but they didn't and now Kalil will be the cornerstone left tackle that they could use. The Vikings offense not-so-coincidentally thrived with an offensive line that had Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson. I'm sure Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson are very grateful for the help they've received. But I don't think it's enough help to make them a very good team this year.
This team was in a lot of close games last year and like I said, didn't feel like a terrible team. But I don't think that they are yet a good team. Ponder is only in his second year and the book is still out on him. They added two WRs in the draft (Greg Childs and Jarius Wright) but only as fourth rounders. Peterson's health is questionable, though I think that Toby Gerhart is one of the league's best backups. Their defense still seems to have holes. And they have to play the Packers, Lions, and Bears twice each. The Vikings are a team that I didn't think was as bad as 3-13 last year, maybe more like 5-11 or 6-10.
I still think that's what they are. Playing at home, I hope that Seattle takes care of business in week nine.
Week Ten: New York Jets
Sometimes I think about the concept of Solipsism and wonder for a long time whether or not it could be real. Basically, and I only learned the term myself recently, Solipsism is the theory that perhaps your mind and your concept of reality is the only one that really exists. Basically, all of you and all of this is just a figment of my imagination, like we're all in our Matrix pods perhaps but we don't have a shared reality. This is all for me.
It's a crazy concept maybe, but at other times it's hard not to wonder: "IS this all for me?!"
When Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow become teammates, this was one of those times.
I write complete weekly recaps over at FakeTeams every Monday on every NFL game. Sanchez and Tebow probably garnered most of my attention on those days, because there aren't really two players in the NFL that I more enjoy making fun of. In my opinion, when you factor in everything, they could be the two worst quarterbacks in the NFL from a passing standpoint. Sure, Sanchez threw 26 touchdowns last year and Tebow made the playoffs, but since when were either of those accurate summations of the quality of a quarterback? Okay, for some people, those still are accurate ways to tell that a quarterback is good, but I'm not one of them.
Maybe I am old-fashioned but for a quarterback to be good, he should be able to throw a football to another player. If Solipsism is real, then this was all for me. However, if Hell is real, then when I die I will go to a place where I have to be the third-point of a passing triangle with Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez, spending the rest of eternity running back and forth while I pick up ill-placed footballs.
"I got it. I got it. It's okay, Mark, I'll go grab this one too. No worries, Tim. How did you get here anyway?"
One might ask Tebow the same question right now. "How did you get here?" The Broncos had no choice but to rid themselves of Tebow after they signed Peyton Manning, because you simply couldn't have that head-to-head controversy just in case. Manning is the unquestioned starter and that's not a distraction they need. But why the Jets?
He's actually one of the only starting downgrades from Mark Sanchez, so he doesn't exactly help you move onto the next era if the Sanchez era doesn't last very long and I'm not sure that it will. The Jets were 8-8 last season after having gone to back-to-back AFC Championship games, so the franchise is finally taking a look at other QB options. I'm just not sure how Tim Tebow falls into those plans. Considering that we play the Jets in week 10, we might know by then.
If Sanchez continues to play the way he has throughout his career, it won't take long for the Tebow chants to start. They might have already started. Nobody was going to chant "Brunell!" over the last three years, but now one of the biggest names in sports is holding the clipboard so it's going to get interesting. But will the team be good?
The major difference in the Jets from 2009-2010 and last year was the scoring defense. They were 1st in 2009 and 6th in 2010 but dropped to 20th last year. Why? Well, they were 5th in Total Defense but the easiest way to break that down is this: Sanchez threw 18 interceptions and the Jets fumbled it 25 times. They were 29th in the NFL in turnovers and 19th in turnover differential. Not good.
The Jets responded by drafting two players early that Seahawks fans had an eye on leading up to the draft: Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill. (They actually moved up in the 2nd round in a deal with Seattle to draft Hill.) The wide receiver fills an obvious need, replacing Plaxico Burress to an extent. LaDainian Tomlinson retired and the Jets drafted RB Terrance Ganaway in the 6th and are expecting bigger things from Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight.
The Jets were led in sacks last year by Aaron Maybin with 6, so they are going for an obvious need in Coples who seems to be a boom or bust prospect. If it all works out, he could be among the league leaders in sacks every year, but it needs to "all work out" first. Maybin himself, only 24, could be an interesting case. He had been a major bust in Buffalo but showing signs of life with the Jets.
New York isn't going to be a gimme game for anybody and I think they could definitely be a playoff team again. They didn't have any glaring upgrades that I can see like they normally do in free agency, but they were already a solid team. The best news though is that the game comes in Seattle. The Jets were 2-6 on the road last year.
Week Eleven: Bye
Given the complexity of the first half schedule, I would have preferred to see this come earlier. However, the real strength of it's importance in timing won't be known until later. If an injury to an important player comes at this time, then sure, it was great luck to have a week eleven bye. We just don't know yet and I'm just filling some space with useless speculation!
Week Twelve: at Miami Dolphins
Bienvenidos a Miami.
The Hawks hit the road again and this game might be tougher than it would look on paper. The Dolphins were 6-10 last year but most people remember the 0-7 start instead of the 6-3 finish and two of those losses include a 27-24 loss at New England (Dolphins led the Patriots 17-0 at the half) and a 20-19 loss at Dallas. A couple of subtle differences here and there and the Dolphins are the league's "hottest team" down the stretch.
However, last year and this year are much different for Miami. Most notably, Joe Philbin is a head coach now and former Seahawks OC Mike Sherman is new offensive coordinator. Kevin Coyle is a complete unknown to most as the new defensive coordinator.
Matt Moore and David Garrard will fight for the starting job, but Ryan Tannehill could be the starter by week twelve against the Hawks. It actually seems quite likely to me unless the Dolphins are a surprise team this year but unless Chad Ochocinco channels Chad Johnson, there isn't anyone to throw to.
It's never easy to win on the road, it's really hard to get a handle on how good the Dolphins will be this year or how bad, and it's tough to travel to the kitty corner of the country for a game too. But coming off of a bye, hopefully the team will just come out ready for this one and mark a "W" on the road schedule. The Dolphins could struggle this season as they transition to a new regime.
Week Thirteen: at Chicago Bears
A small footnote in the new CBA that few people noticed was Article 21A.6342B which states:
"Seattle must play at Chicago every season, all of the time."
Which sucks because I think the Bears are pretty good and we won't be so fortunate to face Caleb Hanie again, since he has been released. If something happens to Jay Cutler, then Jason Campbell will step in as one of the most qualified backup-QBs in the league. Actually, the depth for the Bears has improved all around.
Michael Bush replaces Marion Barber as Matt Forte-insurance. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall help put all of the other wide receivers in better positions for them to succeed. The Bears first round pick, DE Shea McClellin, finally gives Julius Peppers some help on the line.
I am not a Bears fan but right now I am a "Bears appreciator." When they were 7-3 last season I thought they could very well be the team to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl but after Cutler went down, they were just an awful team. When they're healthy, they're not a team I'd like to face and especially not in Chicago again. Theoretically if the Hawks finished the first half 4-4, it would be ideal to come into this game at 7-4 because right now it looks like it might be the most difficult game of the second half. If it's any consolation, the Bears will be coming off of a Monday night game against the 49ers and hopefully will feel some hangover from that.
Maybe Chicago will be too tired from knocking the snot out of the 49ers.
We'll wrap up with the final quarter of the schedule next time, which has a whole lot of division games at home. What do you think about this stretch?