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Plenty of quarterback duels for Russell Wilson in 2018

The Seahawks’ schedule provides frequent heads up tests for their superstar quarterback, and could directly shape what kind of contract Wilson commands next year

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The last few weeks are filled with speculation the Seattle Seahawks will look to gird their quarterback room to prepare themselves for future negotiations before their superstar Russell Wilson’s contract year in 2019. In the meantime, the release of the 2018 schedule provides a glimpse at the opportunity Wilson has to show himself down against some of the best quarterback competition in the league.

Of course, heads up QB matchups don’t prove anything directly; the passers match up against the opponents’ respective defenses not each other. But the aura of the quarterback win still permeates the NFL and as Wilson jockeys for position amongst the highest-paid signal-callers while the Seahawks form themselves more and more around his talents than around complementary factors, alloying his reputation as one who can give an edge in such duels could define his financial stakes. With a rebuilding defense, we may see more shootouts like the classic 2017 week 8 affair between Wilson and Deshaun Watson.

Watson and the Houston Texans aren’t on the slate again, but one big reason the schedule provides so many choice cuts in this regard is how imbalanced the quarterback situation is right now toward the NFC. As Kenneth Arthur has pointed out, the senior conference probably has 10-12 passers better than all but four or five of the best the AFC can offer. And although Seattle dodges some of the top guns like Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Carson Wentz, Wilson still has to face most of the rest. And even some of the names you wouldn’t list as premium elite stack up as interesting challengers or potential pitfalls in a season when the Seahawks aren’t anticipated to be heavy favorites heading into many of the matchups. Let’s break down the schedule, according to projected opponents’ starting QBs:

Week 1, Case Keenum, Denver Broncos: Until last season, the league viewed Keenum as a middling retread, perhaps damaged goods after his years with Jeff Fisher. But he did already boast a 2-0 starting record against Wilson, and with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017 Keenum won 11 of 14 starts and lodged the second best QBR in football, nearly doubling his career touchdown total with 22 against just 7 interceptions.

Week 2, Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears: Trubisky was one of the worst passers in his rookie season, but that doesn’t forbid a breakout season for the former second overall pick. Wentz was in a similar situation after a brutal 2016 before lighting the league on fire with a revamped offense in his sophomore season. If Trubisky advances to anywhere near his draft worth with an improved Bears team, this early season matchup could be a shining opportunity to catapult him back into intrigue. Remember, it was in Soldier Field when Wilson first emerged as a player who could take a team on his back and forge victory out of sheer will back in 2012. Perhaps a like opportunity for the young Chicago quarterback here.

Week 3, Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: There’s a little tarnish on Prescott after he didn’t repeat his extreme efficiency from his Rookie of the Year season, yet this encounter should still be billed as two of the most dynamic players in the NFC facing off. There will come a lot of pressure on both teams to correct playoff trajectories as each quarterback aims for top extensions the following offseason.

Weeks 4 and 17, Sam Bradford or Mike Glennon or Rookie X, Arizona Cardinals: Maybe the softest spot, quarterbackwise, as Seattle looks at the upcoming season, but still a lot of uncertainty left. Bradford is the assumed starter, yet if the Cardinals decide to move up in the draft or pick a prospect like Louisville’s Lamar Jackson they could instantly have a rookie project taking the reins much like Watson did for Houston last year. Even if not, Bradford was actually pretty outstanding the last two seasons in Minnesota with career lows in interception rate, career highs in completion percentage and adjusted yards per attempt and got off to an explosive start before Bradford’s knees came back to sideline him early in 2017.

Weeks 5 and 10, Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams: Goff is about the least fearful players on the Rams from a Seahawks perspective, but the defending division champs are still holding over Seattle for now and regardless of fine-tuned performance from the passer position an appearance of dominance could go a long way in shaping attitudes about who top leaders are in the conference. These games might have a pivotal outcome for the two faces of these franchises, even if the numbers continue to justify Wilson as the superior player.

Week 6, Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders: Similarly, we have spilled gallons of pixels on the internet discussing how Carr’s performance rather restricts Oakland’s opportunities after the Raiders paid him as the top quarterback in football after 2016. But the fact remains Carr is one of the few signal-callers now better compensated than Wilson and a nationally-broadcast platform of a London game allows Wilson the option to smack down one of his rivals clogging up the quarterback salary charts.

Week 8, Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: The Andy Benoit Bowl.

Week 9, Phillip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers: When Wilson had Baker Mayfield on his QB2QB show last week, Wilson revealed Rivers as one of his favorite players to watch—and for good reason: Rivers is a likely Hall of Famer, his steadiness in the pocket and quick release could be a model for how Wilson reshapes his technique after his mobility dries up, and Rivers remains one of the only opposing passers Wilson has yet to defeat, the 1-0 record still standing up from Seattle’s week 2 loss back in 2014.

Week 11, Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: The gold standard for quarterback duels, Rodgers has got the better of Wilson now three straight times dating back to 2015 after Wilson together with the Seahawks started off 3-0 against Green Bay. But all six games have split along homefield advantage, and this next meeting grants Wilson the benefit of the Seattle crowd late at night. Containing Rodgers with the revised edition of the Legion of Boom, while protecting Wilson from the mayhem that hazzarded him in the backfield in last year’s opener, will likely determine the matchup more than the head to head numbers. But this is still the standard Wilson needs to be judged by—and he can’t afford another horrendous game like the five-interception affair in 2016.

Week 12, Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Yet another former MVP gets the showcase against Wilson down the stretch as this exercise turns into quite of a gauntlet of top QB talent. Apart from two matchups in 2015, Newton has struggled badly against Seattle but again how much does a new edition of the Seahawks defense shape the texture of Wilson’s apparent “matchups” against these opposing passers? If Newton starts bombing deep passes against a deficient secondary group, it could reignite the ancient debates about the value of volume yardage among the thick headed NFL commentariat.

Weeks 13 and 15, Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers: By this point in the season, and barring injury interference, we will have double—double!—the sample of 2018 Garoppolo starts to compare against his previous career and see whether the touted 49er prospect is a genuine challenger to Wilson’s NFC West throne or just a mirage propped up by favorable conditions and spot duty.

Week 14, Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings: What better way for Wilson to earn himself a sterling payday than outplaying the two biggest bonus babies in the NFL for three straight weeks in the heat of the NFC playoff chase?

Week 16, Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: And then we’re right back where we started with the likes of Trubisky and Prescott, against a player who has the pedigree to make strides into the one of the best of the next generation of quarterbacks. With an innovative offense pinned around Andy Reid’s established credentials, Mahomes has every opportunity to turn this game into another measuring stick against Wilson. If the Chiefs do turn into a scorched earth offense with all their weapons plus some advancement by Mahomes, at least Wilson and the Seattle defense can take solace they won’t cross paths for another four years.

Unless in a Super Bowl?