Bill Wixey: Bold prediction, optimism as Seahawks open regular season

Okay. The preseason is finally over. It’s time to put away the appetizers and clear the table for the main course. The opening of a new season brings optimism, and heading into this season, I’m deliriously optimistic.

There are a lot of reasons for Seahawks fans to be excited. First, their schedule is favorable. Preseason rankings indicate Seattle has the 5th easiest schedule in the NFL (tied with Tampa Bay, and just below New Orleans). Those same rankings indicate that the Hawks have the most favorable schedule in the NFL for rushing offense, which is convenient, because the Hawks’ offense, once again, will be heavily reliant on the run.

Of course, the Seahawks are missing Beastmode this year, but I actually view the departure of Marshawn Lynch as a net positive. It seemed like he checked out after he didn’t get the ball at the goal line on the final play of Super Bowl XLIX. He was clearly not into it, when healthy. The Hawks have a young, hungry backfield -- led by Thomas Rawls -- who are anxious to show what they can do. I predict big things.

Present is Kam Chancellor, and Michael Bennett. No distractions. No holdouts. This is a team that was embarrassed in the first half of their playoff game against Carolina, but nearly came back from a 31-point deficit. The Hawks dominated the second half, but just ran out of time. This reminds me a lot of the 2013 Seahawks who came very close to a dramatic comeback win in the 2012 playoffs against Atlanta. That loss seemed to spur the Hawks to the unprecedented heights they achieved in 2013.

I see a determined and focused Seahawks team heading into the regular season, ready to lower the boom on the NFC. I am going to break it down, week by week, with the overlying presumption that:

    Those are the two biggest factors heading into the season for the Hawks, who I believe, if those conditions are met, are headed for a huge year.

    Week One: vs. Miami Dolphins
    I see a Seahawks team that will blister the Dolphins from the opening snap. The Hawks starters haven’t been given much of an opportunity to hit people in the preseason, and they will be looking to smack people around. They could get burned on some missed assignments and overaggressiveness, and give up a few big plays, but they should ground the fish handily. (1-0)

    Week 2: at Los Angeles Rams
    The Rams will be pumped up, playing in their home opener after their return to Los Angeles. This is always a brutal matchup for the Hawks, who are 2-4 in road games vs. Jeff Fisher’s Rams under Pete Carroll. This will be a high-profile matchup. There will be a lot of pressure for Rams rookie QB Jared Goff, and hopefully the Hawks can put some pressure on him to throw him off rhythm. While the Rams’ stout defensive front will keep Russell Wilson in check—as they always seem to—I predict the Hawks will get the job done with the running game, and squeak by in a defensive battle. (2-0)

    Week 3: vs. San Francisco 49ers
    Chip Kelly’s newfangled 49er offense will be attempting to find its footing in week 3, and a visit to CenturyLink Field will be brutal. The Seahawks should win this one in a rout. (3-0)

    Week 4: At New York Jets
    This is a tough one. The Hawks will face a Jets offense that found their groove last season, barely missing the playoffs with Ryan Fitzpatrick tossing a team record 31 TD passes, while gelling with wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The Legion of Boom will have their hands full, and Rex Ryan has crafted a pretty stout defense. The Seahawks will (theoretically) have a chance to go into their bye undefeated, and I see them pulling out a tough one on the road. (4-0)

    Week 5: Bye

    Week 6: vs. Atlanta Falcons
    Dan Quinn’s team is starting to mold itself into his image, but I think the Seahawks will match up pretty well with Atlanta, and the Hawks will cruise at home. (5-0)

    Week 7: at Arizona
    If Carson Palmer stays healthy, the Cards will be considered the team to beat in the NFC West, and this one will be billed as a premiere matchup of divisional titans. This is one that I worry about. The Cards defensive front does a good job of stunting and blitzing, and tend to keep Russell Wilson in the pocket. It will be a smashmouth battle in the boxes, and I think whoever has more success passing will come out on top. Cardinals pull it off by 6 points or less. (5-1)

    Week 8: at New Orleans
    The Hawks will have to keep a handle on Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-powered passing game, but they match up well, and should be able to slice and dice a weak Saints’ secondary. (6-1)

    Week 9: vs. Buffalo
    The Bills will be solid, and will face an offense featuring a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor that offers a lot of the qualities of Russell Wilson. I see this as a matchup that favors the Hawks in terms of timing and locale. The Hawks take this one at home. (7-1)

    Week 10: at New England
    This will be one of the premiere matchups of the regular season. Tom Brady will return from his four-game “DeflateGate” suspension motivated and focused, and the Hawks will be heading to Foxboro to take care of some unfinished business. I don’t think this game will be decided by more than a touchdown, but the Pats’ two-headed tight end monster of Gronk and Marcellus Bennett is scary. I think the Pats squeak by. (7-2)

    Week 11: vs. Philadelphia
    The Eagles could surprise a few people in the NFC East under new head coach Doug Pederson, but they won’t surprise the Hawks at home. (8-2)

    Week 12: at Tampa Bay
    Another one of those early starts on the east coast, but Pete Carroll has figured a plan to negate the jet-lag, and the Hawks typically don’t come out sluggish. However, this is a late season matchup against a resurgent Buccaneer team. They are going to make some noise this year, and the Hawks will have a surprisingly tough matchup here. My gut tells me the Hawks running game is the difference in this one. (9-2)

    Week 13: vs. Carolina
    If there is a single game on the schedule that the Hawks circled on their calendar from the beginning, it’s this one. After the Panthers came from behind to beat the Hawks at home last year, and followed up with a playoff thumping in Carolina, this is going to be a big one. I see both teams coming into this one as division leaders, and the Hawks are prone to come up big in big games. This is as big a regular season game as you’ll see, and I think the Hawks play their best game of the year, and set the stage for another strong finish. (10-2)

    Week 14: at Green Bay
    Coming off an emotional win over Carolina, the Seahawks travel to frigid Lambeau Field for another matchup that will almost certainly have playoff implications. I think the Hawks will have their hands full with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, and Jordy Nelson, but the Hawks put the rest of the league on notice with another stellar showing. It’s a tight ballgame, but the Packers manage to grind out a home win in the final seconds. (10-3)

    Week 15: vs. Los Angeles Rams
    The Seahawks will run over the Rams like a speedbump, and wrap up the NFC West title op playoff seed in the NFC. (11-3)

    Week 16: vs. Arizona
    With a chance to wrap up the top seed in the NFC heading into the playoffs, the Hawks vanquish the defending division champs, and make sure that the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle, sealing homefield advantage through the playoffs, and an opening round bye. (12-3)

    Week 17: at San Francisco
    Seattle will rest most of its starters, but still rolls over the 49ers to finish 6-1 down the stretch to wrap up the regular season. The Hawks stand tall as the team to beat in the NFC heading into the playoffs. (13-3)

    Of course, I could be wrong. Regardless though, this should be a fun season for Seahawks Nation.