People are calling this the most anticipated season in Seahawks history. While that is certainly a lot of hyperbole for a team that has had high aspirations several times (see Chuck Knox's mid-1980s teams in particular) over 37 seasons, there is no question the Seahawks are poised to embark on a potentially dominant stretch of seasons under Pete Carroll.
Of course, first they have to build off last year's success with a stellar 2103 season. And to do that, they have to win on the road -- especially in 10 a.m. PT starts.
That is why this opener at Carolina looms so significant. It is the Seahawks' chance to assert themselves from the beginning, confirming to the entire league that they are what everyone thinks they are and that they will not be dissuaded by little things like 10 a.m. starts.
The Hawks are 19-34 in 10 a.m. games over the past 12 seasons, according to Bob Condotta's report. They were 2-3 in early starts in 2011, and they were just 1-3 last season -- three of their five losses in 10 a.m. starts.
The Hawks were in every one of those games, losing 19-13 at St. Louis due largely to special teams and coaching gaffes, losing 28-24 at Detroit when the defense gave it up at the end and losing 24-21 at Miami on a last-play field goal. The defense almost gave up the 10 a.m. game in Chicago as well, but Russell Wilson willed the team to a 23-17 overtime victory.
The Hawks have been holding 10 a.m. practices throughout the preseason to acclimate the players to playing morning football. They will need to be ready if they are going to win any of their tough 10 a.m. starts. They also play at Houston (Week 4), Indianapolis (Week 5), Atlanta (Week 10) and the New York Giants (Week 15).
The Hawks' best chance to reach the Super Bowl will come if they secure home playoff games -- something they did not have last season. But to get home playoff games, they have to win road regular-season contests.
It starts Sunday at Carolina, where the Hawks won 16-12 in Week 5 last season in a 1 p.m. PT start. But this time it is a 10 a.m. start -- the first of three in the first five games. Will the Hawks be ready?
“We can’t allow any of that to be an excuse,’’ defensive end Red Bryant told Condotta. “We know Carolina is going to be geared up. It’s their home opener and it was a tough game last year that came down to the wire, and we are expecting the same thing this year.
“We can’t allow the travel to be an excuse or the fact that we are playing at 10. In order to do something memorable this season, these are the types of games you’ve got to go and play extremely well in.’’
THREE AND OUT: KEYS TO THE GAME
Wilson vs. Cam Newton: These quarterbacks are nearly complete opposites. Newton is a 6-foot-5 former No. 1 overall draft pick; Wilson is a 5-foot-11 former third-round choice. Newton is a bit of a hot head coming off a so-so second season; Wilson is a cool customer coming off the best rookie season in Seahawks history. Wilson appears set to avoid the sophomore slump that Newton endured, and this game will largely be determined by which quarterback plays best.
The running game: The Seahawks had a little trouble against Carolina last season, gaining just 116 yards on 34 attempts (3.4 average). The Panthers have a potentially strong D-line, led by ends Charles Johnson (12.5 sacks in 2012) and Greg Hardy (11 sacks) and first-round pick Star Lutulelei (cousin of Seahawks rookie linebacker John Lotulelei). If the Hawks can get Marshawn Lynch going, it will keep the pressure off Wilson so he can try to take advantage of a seemingly weak Carolina secondary.
Turnovers: The Hawks won this meeting last season because the defense forced two fumbles, setting up Seattle's lone touchdown with one and ending the game with the other. Bruce Irvin had his best game against Carolina, with two sacks, two hits on Newton and a tackle for loss; he forced the final fumble on his sack of Newton. But the Hawks will be without him and Chris Clemons in this game, so they will have to find other ways to pressure Newton. Meanwhile, Brandon Browner, who came up with the TD-setting fumble, might not play either. Walter Thurmond and the rest of the secondary will have to step up, and if they are at their ballhawking best, the Hawks will have a good chance in this one.
Pick: Seahawks 20, Panthers 16