Week 1: Seahawks at Panthers (9/8)

Back in the twilight of the Holmgren years (and that lone, painful season under Mora), a game on the east coast was basically a penciled loss for the Seahawks, and if the game had an early start you could just go ahead and mark it down in ink.  Last year, thankfully, that wasn't the case.  Including the playoffs, the Hawks went 4-2 on the eastern seaboard, and the only things that stood between them ahd a perfect 6-0 mark were some late game heroics by Ryan Tannehill in Miami and Matt Ryan in Atlanta (or, if you don't feel like giving credit to the opposing team, some late game collapses by Seattle's pass defense).

One of those four wins came in week five against a Carolina team struggling its way through a sophomore slump by their star touchdown machine quarterback Cam Newton.  To be fair though, Newton did eventually start playing more like his old self later in the season, and it isn't like he was the team's only problem that year.  The o-line leaked like a sieve, WR Steve Smith and TE Greg Olsen were the only consistently viable receiving threats on the team, and despite the efforts of a trio of truly outstanding players (MLB Luke Kuechly and DEs Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson) the defense's production was lukewarm at best.

To fix those problems, the Panthers drafted two big, badass defensive tackles high in the draft (Star Lotulelei & Kawann Short) to bolster their d-line, and . . . uh . . . that's pretty much it.  Thanks to a strong rushing attack made even stronger by the return of a healthy Jonathan Stewart, the heart of the Panthers' passing game is the play-action pass.  However, Smith and Olsen are still the only targets Newton can rely on to actually catch the ball, and he'll still have to worry about being pressured by defenders surging past balky pass blockers Amini Silatolu at left guard and Byron Bell at right tackle.  Assuming Richard Sherman and company can once again frustrate Smith and Seattle's pass rush can make Newton uncomfortable without the services of Chris Clemons (out) or Cliff Avril (doubtful), the third year QB's notoriously erratic accuracy should make short work of Carolina's drives.

Of course, that also depends on how successful the front seven will be at containing Newton as a rushing threat (not to mention his supremely talented RB teammates), but hey, nobody said winning football games was supposed to be easy, right?

On offese, the Seahawks can use this game to set the tone for the rest of the season.  If Lynch, Michael, and Turbin can get some traction running the ball against Kuechly and Lotulelei, the team can take some pressure off Wilson early and open up some room for the passing game.  If not, that opens things up for Hardy and Johnson to do their level best to take off Wilson's head on every single snap.

Speaking of the offense, if you're wondering why the coaches decided to keep just two tight ends on the roster, it's because they like G Mike Person's ability to play the tight end position as a de facto run blocking specialist (I have no idea if he's even remotely viable as a receiver).  And if either Miller or Willson ends up missing significant time due to injury, they can alwasy call up Cooper Helfet from the practice squad.

Bottom line, I feel really good about the Seahawks' chances in this one so long as their injury-plagued d-line holds up and Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Malcolm Smith show some improvement over last year in zone coverage.  If they start letting the Panthers march down the field via completions on short-to-mid range passes between the numbers, well, I'm afraid I'm going to start inadvertently teaching my infant daughter how to hurl things at the television.