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2019 Seahawks Schedule: Five storylines to watch

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks’ 2019 regular season schedule has been released. We knew Seattle’s opponents months ago, but now we have the weeks, dates, kickoff times, etc. The road to Super Bowl 54 starts with a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and the regular season concludes with a home showdown vs. the San Francisco 49ers.

I’ve combed through the schedule and these are the games that, on paper, intrigue me the most not necessarily from a matchup standpoint, but because of the expected pre-game storylines.

at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 2, 10 AM) - Can the Seahawks finally score a point at Heinz Field?

This is a real thing, by the way. Heinz Field opened in 2001, and the Seahawks have played there twice before. They were shutout each time. In the 2007 season, a 3-1 Seattle squad racked up a pathetic 144 yards of total offense.

Ben Roethlisberger went 18/22 for 206 yards and a touchdown, Willie Parker rushed for over 100 yards, and Najeh Davenport rushed for two scores en route to Pittsburgh’s 21-0 victory. This was also the final game of Mack Strong’s career after he suffered a neck injury that made it too dangerous for him to play again.

Fast forward to 2011 and the Tarvaris Jackson-led offense only racked up 164 yards and an identical 8 first-downs to the 2007 team.

Seattle had zero plays of 20+ yards while the defense was fortunate to only give up 24. Pittsburgh had well over 400 yards of offense and were in cruise control all the way.

So forget actually winning in Pittsburgh, which will be a tough task given its a 10 AM game and Seattle has been a horrible September road team, let’s start with actually not getting blanked again, THEN focus on a win.

at Cleveland Browns (Week 6, 10 AM) - Russell vs. Baker

Look, it’s not really Russell Wilson vs. Baker Mayfield. It’s Russell Wilson against the Cleveland Browns defense, and it’s Baker Mayfield against the Seattle Seahawks defense. This is still a potentially important early-season showdown for both teams.

It took until 2018 to finally convince Pete Prisco that Russell is a great quarterback, and he was sensational. Mayfield was heavily hyped out of college after winning the Heisman Trophy in Oklahoma, and his slight stature led to Wilson comparisons pre-draft. Baker became the full-time starter for Cleveland in Week 3, and helped lead the team to a 7-8-1 record, all while breaking Wilson’s rookie record for touchdown passes in a season. Add in the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr, the hiring of head coach Freddie Kitchens, and there’s reason for optimism that Cleveland may be a playoff-caliber team in 2019.

Of course, I’m not looking forward to the “Wilson or Mayfield - Which QB would you rather have?” debates that will likely ensue very soon, but it’d sure be grand if Russ could outduel Mayfield even though the Browns have a formidable defense that now boasts Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson.

Oh yes, and the last Seahawks at Browns game was one of the worst sporting events I’ve ever witnessed. Let’s hope nothing happens from now until October 13th that we don’t have a Charlie Whitehurst vs. Colt McCoy equivalent.

vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 9, 1:05 PM) - The Sheriff returns to town

Bruce Arians was a thorn in the side of the Seahawks throughout his tenure as Arizona Cardinals head coach. Sure, Arians won zero games at home against Seattle in five seasons, making him as good a Sheriff as Barney Fife, but he also went 4-1 at CenturyLink Field. He’s responsible for Russell Wilson’s first career home defeat, and it’s fitting his final game as Cardinals head coach was a win at Seattle.

Arians’ “retirement” lasted one season as he bored everyone to death commentating for the NFL on CBS. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers job opened up and he took it, so he’ll be tasked with sending the Bucs to the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Another side story to this is the fact that Tampa Bay has only played Seattle twice in the Wilson era and they’ve yet to trail in regulation play. They were famously up 21-0 in the 2013 season as an 0-8 side, only to lose 27-24 in overtime. In 2016 down in Florida, the Seahawks fell behind 14-0 in the opening quarter, didn’t give up another point, but only managed 5 points the rest of the way. It was the first time that a Wilson-led team failed to be within one-score in the 4th quarter of a game.

vs. Los Angeles Rams (Week 5, 5:20 PM) - A rivalry renewed in primetime

Both Seahawks vs. Rams games are slated for national TV. The one at home is on Thursday night, while the rematch in Los Angeles is set for December 8th on Sunday Night Football and is subject to flex scheduling.

LA has taken the last three from Seattle, or one for each point they scored in Super Bowl 53. Sean McVay’s bunch wrecked the Seahawks in December 2017 in what may have looked like a serious changing of the guard. While the Rams did comfortably win the NFC West in 2018, things could’ve been very different if the Seahawks had gotten both games last season. They had the lead in the 4th quarters of those two meetings, scored 31 against that vaunted Rams defensive unit twice over, but lost by a combined seven points. Seattle hung toe-to-toe with the NFC’s top team and had a level of offensive productivity that we’ve not seen against the Rams in years past.

What makes the Week 5 - 2019 matchup a bit different — again, barring anything drastic happening from now until gameday — is that this is the first time that the Rams-Seahawks rivalry has reached primetime status in the Sean McVay era. Seattle is known for its exceptional home record in night games, going 26-6 (playoffs included) since CenturyLink Field opened in 2002. Under Russell Wilson, that mark is 16-2.

Over the years, the Seahawks have beaten eventual Super Bowl participants (2012 San Francisco 49ers) and Super Bowl champions (2017 Philadelphia Eagles) under the bright lights. I doubt Seattle is going to roll over and let the Rams win a third straight time at CLink.

vs. Baltimore Ravens (October 20th, 1:25 PM PT) - Earl Thomas returns

I truly hope that Earl Thomas gets a standing ovation and a loud applause when he’s on the field as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. The end of his time with Seattle may have been ugly, but he never took it out on the fans, and is one of the greatest Seahawks of all-time. If there was indifference with regards to more outsized personalities like Richard Sherman or Michael Bennett, for Thomas it was largely a matter of getting paid what he feel he’s worth.

As for the game itself, Baltimore was 3rd in DVOA on defense last year. They lost C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, as well as Za’Darius Smith. Earl is essentially replacing Eric Weddle, and the Ravens have done an excellent job maintaining at least an above-average defensive group for an extremely long period of time. Their offense is now Lamar Jackson’s, so the Seahawks will contend with the athleticism of Jackson, and potentially improved passing abilities.

Of course, I imagine many will want to see if Wilson will dare test Earl Thomas in the deep middle of the field. I have my doubts, but it should be a fascinating chess match nevertheless.