The Seahawks 2011 season is over with a third place finish in the NFC West. With the third-place finish comes a third place schedule and though the dates and order of the games haven't yet been announced, the opponents have been.
At home, the Seahawks will face, of course, the three NFC West divisional rivals, the Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers, and the St. Louis Rams. In addition to those obvious matchups, the Seahawks will host the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots, and the New York Jets
As for their away games, naturally the Hawks will travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals, San Francisco to face the 49ers, and St. Louis to play the Rams. They will also travel to play the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills, and the Miami Dolphins.
Let's take a little bit closer look at the teams they'll face next season.
The NFC West is definitely a division on the rise. After being a bit of an embarrassment to the NFL last season while sending a 7-9 team to the playoffs with a home game, the NFC West secured the number two seed with a 13-3 San Francisco 49er team and had two more, the Seahawks and Cardinals, that were still in the Wild Card Playoff hunt until Week 16. The Hawks will face off twice against each of these teams and gone are the days where you could almost automatically count "W's" when looking forward on the schedule.
The Seahawks match up well with the 49ers, and both teams have a pretty similar makeup. Both teams have tough, run-stopping defenses and balanced, smashmouth offensive philosophies. Both of their games this season were close and hard fought, and I would expect much of the same next season. The 49ers swept the season head-to-head this year by winning both games, but I wouldn't expect the same results next year. I would expect the 49ers to re-sign Alex Smith and their offense will continue to lean on him to distribute the ball to Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, Michael Crabtree, and elite TE Vernon Davis. Their defense is likely to stay very strong as well, so San Francisco will be the team to beat next year in the division.
The Cardinals started the season very poorly, going 1-6 through seven weeks but then finished the year out strong for an 8-8 record and a 2nd place finish in the division. They should continue to improve in the run game with the return of 2011 2nd round pick Ryan Williams to pair with already excellent Beanie Wells. Kevin Kolb is likely to return more ingrained into the offense and improved, and I would expect a quicker start for this Arizona team next season. Oh, and they have this guy named Larry Fitzgerald that is pretty good at football. Patrick Peterson is emerging as an elite cornerback and kick returner, and there's a good chance Arizona will be a very tough football team in 2012.
The Rams are once again the cellar-dwellers after a 2-14 season. They will undergo a full coaching makeover with the departure of head coach Steve Spagnolo and OC Josh McDaniels, and Sam Bradford will have to learn his third new offense in this third season. That said, they have some young talent on their roster and if they can recover from some key injuries, they could surprise some teams. Not to mention, they now hold the #2 pick in the Draft this year, and will undoubtedly pick up a premiere talent with that pick. I can't say that St. Louis is going to be a cakewalk next year.
The Seahawks, somehow, managed to grab a pretty tough schedule at home next year despite the third-place finish. Let's start out with the most obvious two - Green Bay and New England.
Green Bay is the immediate favorite to win it all this season with their 15-1 record and will likely be very dangerous next season as well. They're an offensive Juggernaut but don't possess a great pass defense. When you face Green Bay, typically, it's going to be a race to score more points than them but if the Seahawks can put together some long drives, maintain ball possession, and keep Aaron Rodgers and company on the sideline, they would have a chance. With ARod, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Starks, and most of their stars on defense all returning, this will be a game to circle on your calendar.
New England is another favorite for the Super Bowl this season after a 13-3 regular season campaign. Like Green Bay, the Patriots enjoy one of the most prolific offenses in the game and struggle a bit on defense. Your only hope is to contain Tom Brady and his main offensive weapons, particularly Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker. Good luck, Seahawks. Regardless, should be a fun game and a solid test for the young Seahawks next year.
The Hawks get some respite at home by hosting the Minnesota Vikings, a team that will be led by soon to be-sophomore Christian Ponder and elite running back Adrian Peterson. The Vikings finished 3-13 this season and this will be one of those games that everyone assumes the Seahawks will handle with ease. Compared to New England and Green Bay, sure, but this is a dangerous team with a very good pass rush and some weapons on offense.
The Hawks host the Jets next year and this game should provide some interesting storylines. There is still that lingering bitterness apparent between Mark Sanchez and Pete Carroll, after Carroll voiced his opposition to Sanchez's decision to go pro. Rex Ryan is interesting, albeit fairly obnoxious, and the Jets share a similar identity as a hard nosed defense and ball-control offense. It should be a fun game between two teams that match up well with each other.
Left on the home schedule are the Cowboys. The Seahawks went to Dallas this season and lost a tough one, and Dallas is likely to be an improved team next season. Look out for DeMarco Murray, and the Seahawks will surely have their hands full with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. It's always fun to play 'America's Team' and this game will be something to look forward to.
On the road again. No rest for the weary as the Seahawks will face tough tests at an improving Miami team, an exciting Carolina squad, will travel AGAIN to Chicago, face a very strong Detroit team, and travel to the cold north of Buffalo.
First off, seriously? The Seahawks have to go to Chicago again? For the fourth time in two years, the Seahawks will travel to Soldier Field to take on the Bears, in what's becoming, by default of frequency of matchup, a pretty good rivalry. The Hawks have won two of three there and will look to make it three of four, but this time should have a bit tougher time of it with an assumption that Jay Cutler will be under center. That said, it's looking like a new offensive coordinator and system change in Chicago is in order, so hopefully that will cause problems for the Bears' offense. Their defense, on the other hand, should continue to be very strong.
The Dophins will have a new coaching staff and have question marks at quarterback. Will they stick with Matt Moore, who came on strong in the end of the season? Will they draft a QB? Sign a free agent? Much change can be expected there but make no mistake, the Dolphins have some weapons on offense, including Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall, and Davone Bess. Daniel Thomas will have a chance to come on strong in his second season, and the Seahawks shouldn't overlook this team despite their eventual 6-10 record from this season.
Carolina finished 6-10 this season but showed that Cam Newton is the real deal. Newton set all kinds of rookie records and if Carolina can improve on defense a bit, could be a very dangerous team. They are very, very young and I am actually pretty excited about this matchup. I have no doubt that Carolina will be a much improved team in 2012 and may threaten for the playoffs. Look out for DE Charles Johnson on defense, and WR Steve Smith on offense, with rushing stalwarts DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart returning. This game will be no cake-walk.
Buffalo finished the season in a tail-spin after a very strong start, but also have some impressive weapons on offense, particularly Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. They have a nice young receiving corps and it will be interesting to see if Ryan Fitzpatrick remains their starting QB. Should be an interesting matchup.
Finally, Detroit. Obviously, a scary team on offense that will retain an extremely strong defensive line, anchored by Ndomakong Suh and Nick Fairly. Their pass defense is actually pretty good, and this team is a few pieces away from being elite. They are very young, and should only continue to improve. Circle this game on your calendar as well, because it should be a great one at Ford Field in MoTown.
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