If you wanted to see the best rivalry in the NFL separated by a bunch of tension-building weeks, well, there's always 2015. This year, the schedule-making elves have bunched both league-shattering Hawks-Niners games at the end of the season. Good or bad? Here's a collection of pros and cons, first from a fan's perspective, then from an on-field one.
Week 15: Dec. 14, 49ers at Seahawks, 1:25 p.m.
Won't Somebody Think Of The Fans? The Fans Are Our Future
Three cons come to mind:
1. Ugh, you got to wait.
Week 13 is a long time away. It's Thanksgiving. That's in seven months. Even once the season starts, 19 weeks from now, the first Niner game will still be 12 weeks away.
2. Bunched-up games don't give story lines as much of chance to develop.
Spacing the rivalry games out allows for weeks and weeks of gamesmanship, talking, fretting, revenge plot-hatching, Richard Sherman tweets, roster decision, player development in between, all the nitty-gritty stuff that enriches rivalries. We're only getting 17 days' worth of that brand of fun in 2014. Boo.
3. One of the teams might be out of the playoff race by then. We all know which one.
In all seriousness, though, delaying the games this long is a risk for the league and the viewer -- one you wouldn't have to concern yourself with in Week 3. Both teams will still be in contention in September or early October. Once you reach Week 13, it's not such a sure bet. The rivalry could reach a new anti-climax if a 10-2 team meets a 4-8 one that got itself ravaged by injuries and bad luck. And then they have to do it all again two weeks hence.
Three pros now, if you're into that kind of thing.
1. Yay, you get to wait.
Let the tension build. Let it crescendo. Embrace the delayed gratification. I teach music for a living, and one of the things I tell students is that composers often intentionally delay the peak of their piece until the three-quarters mark of the piece, in order to maximize buildup. Think of the schedulers as crafty musicians, if that helps.
2. The Niners and their fans have to stew longer.
By Thanksgiving, it will have been 10 months since the NFCCG. That's a long time to carry a bitter loss. Oh well.
3. Road games and Thursday road games in particular were going to be tough anyway, mitigating the sting of a possible loss in SF.
The Hawks are 1-1 in Thursday night road games, which isn't terrible, but the memorable blowout win in Arizona last year is counterbalanced by an offensive offensive showing in 2012 at... San Francisco. So having an away rivalry game on a Thursday night allows fans to kill two psychological birds with one psychological stone. A Thursday road game was a risk, the game in Santa Clara was a risk, and now what could have been two challenging trips are combined into one game, which carries a possible huge reward against an expected loss.
The Games Take Place On The Field, Though
No need to use that giant headline font. I hear you. So how about three on-field cons.
1. A significant Seattle injury could impact both games.
Knock on wood, plastic, gaseous, liquid, anything, everything. Then consider that a Thomas or Sherman or Lynch or Harvin or [redacted] injury could cause any one of them to miss both Niner games. The potential for an injury to be devastating, season-wrecking, instead of merely inconvenient, is there.
2. If the Hawks are in bad form at the end of the season, it'll cost them dearly. Eggs are in one basket.
With five division games in the last six weeks, poor form in a single month could keep Seattle away from HFA or out of the playoffs altogether. There were stretches in 2012 and 2013 when one unit struggled with issues, only to solve them a month later, in time for the postseason. No such luxury in the last five weeks this time.
3. The bunched-up games help create a dream end-of-season scenario for the 49ers.
In the final five weeks, the Niners get both Hawks games to go along with a light travel schedule. Their only road games are at Seattle and at Oakland. If they're a game back of Seattle with five to play, or a game ahead, they'll be glad to see the Hawks twice. Chance for them to get back in the race or clinch the division.
Good news: the Hawks-friendly points are numerous. Six of them!
1. Turns out Seattle isn't that bad on Thursday night in general.
Thursday games sound tough, but the Hawks have played their opponents pretty evenly on Thursdays. They've been outscored only 83-80 and have a 2-2 record, despite three of those games being on the road. Naturally, the 2012 loss in San Fran stands out, as the most lopsided loss in the RW era, and the fact that it was against those Niners. But the midweek has been far from unkind to Seattle. Pete Carroll (2-1 on TNF) knows how to get his guys prepared on a short week.
2. Having the games later in the season should give an advantage to the deeper team.
And that's Seattle. Going off of last year, at least, when:
35 Hawks played at least 400 snaps; only 30 Niners did the same.
Just four Hawks played 1,000 snaps or more; eight did so for the Niners.
3. There will be plenty of new Hawks this season, who could use some acclimation.
There will be tough games before Week 13. (In fact, I like this post on NN which puts all four schedules side-by-side, so linky linky linky.) But turnover means new faces are set to be rotated in on both sides of the Seattle trenches -- so I like the idea of them getting three-quarters of a season to gel and grow before they get exposed to the 49ers.
4. The second meeting could easily decide the division, and it's here.
Granted, all games count equally in the standings. But just as the Hawks had a chance to clinch the NFCW in San Francisco last year in week 14 last year, they could conceivably have a similar opportunity this year, only at the CLink in Week 15.
5. Injuries work both ways.
The Niners could just as easily suffer a key injury or incur a key suspension in the second half of the season. Will Aldon Smith even be available? Will an aging linebacker be too beat up? I don't wish for those things, but they are likely realities.
6. Carroll can work with this schedule.
ChipMaster Pete is locally known for playfully setting his players against each other in practice, stoking their competitiveness, allowing them to cultivate their personal shoulderchips. (If one of you can provide the link to the recent story I'm referencing, please do so. I couldn't dig it up on short notice. But I know it exists.)
It's not so impossible to imagine Pete whispering sweet nothings like "Look at this schedule, Earl. They don't respect our rivalry the way they do the Ravens-Steelers" in Thomas' ear, come late November. It's not impossible he'll tell Sherman all season long that delaying the SF-Sea games mean people will forget about The Tip, or discount it as ancient history. Oh, Pete.
I'd call these just a few starting points. Please add your own observations below to the pro and con ledgers.