The NFL offseason is a strange beast. I'm sure there was a time, in an all-but-forgotten era, where people just thought about other things once the football season ended. Things like their jobs, families, baseball, pushing hoops with a stick. Not anymore, it seems. Now when the NFL season ends, we scrimp and claw and cling to anything that resembles NFL news, blowing up blogs and Twitter to (over)react to the smallest football-related tidbits.
Have you ever watched "The Wire?" (No? Stop reading this immediately and go watch it. Yes, all of it.) Near the beginning of the series, drug boss Stringer Bell releases some high-octane heroin to the tenants of a Baltimore ghetto, irreversibly hooking them into a debilitating dependency. After giving them enough to guarantee they'll be back, Bell starts watering down the potency, knowing that the lust for that high will lead to greater usage. The users start buying more, since it takes more to get what they're chasing, and on and on and you see exactly where I'm going with this.
Roger Goodell has effectively Stringered us all into his globally-reaching web of dependence. In the past two months, I've seen football fans obsess over minutiae like Todd McShay's pre-draft evaluation of some obscure linebacker or Peyton Manning's drive to the airport with a passion that was once reserved for playoff games. Hell, remember the fervor surrounding the uniform alterations?
I am not preaching this from a soapbox. Rather, I groan it from down amongst the writhing masses desperately jonesing for some NFL-related euphoria, even if it's just a bum needle mostly filled with two parts placebo. I too am needy for that rush and, fortunately for me (and you!), the NFL has given us exactly the bump we've been craving: the schedule for the upcoming season.
The Seattle Seahawks will be playing the 11th-toughest schedule in the league, based on opponents' 2011 won-lost records, which ties them with the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints. Their schedule is one game "harder" than the Jacksonville Jaguars' and one game "easier" than the Carolina Panthers'. Seattle's 2012 foes combined to go 129-127 last season, good for a .504 win rate.
For reference, the New York Giants have the toughest schedule (.547), which seems about right, given that they just won the Super Bowl and all. By contrast, the easiest schedules were granted to the New England Patriots (.453) and the Green Bay Packers (.469). Wait, what?
The 'Hawks boast one of the best home-field advantages in the entire league, evidenced by the dramatic disparity between their home and away records. Over the last nine seasons in SeaQwesturyLink, the Seahawks have gone 49-23 (.681) compared to 25-47 (.347) on the road. In short, the Seahawks are twice as likely to win at home as they are when they're traveling, meaning that for Seattle to make a real run at contention, they're gonna have to hold serve in the Emerald City.
The Seahawks will be rolling out the welcome mat in weeks 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, 14, 16, and 17. Their opponents will be, in order, Dallas, Green Bay, New England, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, and St. Louis Rams.
The combined winning percentage of those eight teams in 2011 was a stout 70-58 (.547,), due largely to the fact that Seattle hosts the three best teams in the NFL based on last year's records (GB, NE, SF). That obstacle is mitigated somewhat by homers against the Rams (2-14) and Minnesota (3-13), but the fact remains that the 'Hawks have some heavy lifting to do in Century Link this fall.
There are two ways to see this half of the schedule; one way is to bitch about having to play so many good teams. The other way is to be grateful that they play those games in the field-leveling comfort provided by 67,000 rowdy lunatics. I, for one, choose the latter. Plus, this sets Seattle up to finish out on a two-game home-stretch against divisional opponents, and that's gonna be all kinds of fun.
Seattle's other half of the schedule is an easier one, at least at face value. Their road games will take place in weeks 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, and 15. Their opponents in those contests will be Arizona, St. Louis, Carolina, San Francisco,Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, and Buffalo Bills. The combined record of those teams is 59-69 (.461), which is helpful given Seattle's historical struggles away from home.
Bonus: the Seahawks finally get to play a road game in Chicago!
The Seahawks will have Week 11 to rest. I've always preferred late-season byes to early-season ones, as teams are more beat up late in the year. Seattle will undoubtedly have more players dealing with injuries after ten games than after, say, five, so an 11th-week respite will be a relief for more in-need players than last season's Week 6 bye was.
Each season, the Seahawks log more travel miles than just about any team in the NFL, the result of a geographical isolation that has plagued Seattle teams since Lewis and Clark set up America's first national wiffle ball league. Last year, Seattle flew a total of 26,918 miles (an average of 3,365 round-trip miles per road game). So how does this year's gauntlet stack up? Even more total distance. 28,456 miles (3,557 round-trip per road game), to be exact.
The struggles that West Coast teams face when playing in the Eastern Time Zone are well-documented, and Seattle makes that journey three times, just like last time. The one noticeable quirk in the 2012 road is that their game against the Bills will take place in Toronto.*
*Side note: If I was a Bills fan, I'd be pissed all the way off if I had to forfeit a home game just so the NFL could expand their international appeal. I mean, I totally get why Goodell does it; increasing brand awareness is smart business, but from a fan's perspective, it blows. Imagine if one of the games you eagerly anticipated attending this year was up in Vancouver, BC. You'd be furious, especially since you're not allowed to cross the border for five more years because of that one thing that allegedly happened with the DVDs and the hooker and the pygmy goats two years ago.
Primetime games are typically treated with disproportionate interest by the fans of the teams involved. The idea of our favorite teams getting "national respect" is important to many of us and nationally televised games are seen as a sign of respect by the powers that be. To be completely honest with you, I don't particularly care how much respect the Seahawks receive from ESPN, Fox, CBS, or NFL Network.
As far as I'm concerned, national attention doesn't quantifiably affect the team's chances of winning; if anything, it's the other way around, so I only care to the extent that Seahawks games aren't announced by network scrubs like Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick every freaking time because that directly affects my viewing experience.
That said, there is a special excitement that accompanies primetime broadcasts. It's fun to go into a game knowing that it's being watched by man more people than normal. Football under the lights adds a shimmer to the game that's missing during the day, and you have more time to get MC Hammered in preparation, not that I do that, specifically not with Crown Royal poured generously into a cafeteria glass.
Last year Seattle was granted two night games, hosting the Philadelphia Eagles (Thursday) and the Rams (Monday), winning both. This year, they get two more; Week 3 against Green Bay (in Seattle on Monday night) and Week 7 at San Francisco (on Thursday night).
The Packers game was surely scheduled for the potential talking points it'll provide, namely John Schneider's adaptation of the system he was a part of in Green Bay and Seattle's acquisition of Aaron Rodgers' backup, Matt Flynn*. Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, and Co are also certain to revisit the last time the Seahawks acquired their GM and QB from the Pack when Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck ushered in a new era. For what it's worth, I'm putting the over/under on "we want the ball and we're gonna score" references at 1.5.
*ESPN is really banking on Flynn beating out Tarvaris Jackson for the starting spot by Week 3.
The Thursday game against San Francisco doesn't offer a ton of national interest beyond the fact that it's a mid-season showdown between two intra-divisional opponents that should be pretty good. Of course, the option to beat the "what's your deal?" horse corpse is always on the table. The real benefit of this game is getting to hear Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock call a 'Hawks game.
Look, my take doesn't matter. We're still a million miles away from meaningful football and lots of roster adjustments will happen between now and then. Besides, when the schedule comes out, 98% of fans see their team winning between 10 and 14 games. It's the "hope" part of fanhood that keeps us coming back every year.
For the record, I see Seattle going 9-7 this year;
6-2 at home (DAL W, GB L, NE L, MIN W, NYJ W, AZ W, SF W, and STL W)
3-5 on the road (AZ L, STL W, CAR L, SF L, DET L, MIA W, CHI L, BUF W)
If I'm exactly right, the Seahawks will be 4-2 in the NFC West and right on the cusp of a playoff berth. Feel free to list your predictions in the comments section -- it'd be interesting to get an aggregate prediction.
**Read more over at Field Gulls**