It's time to put the hype to the ultimate test. Or, at least, the first test of many.
The Seahawks open the season today on the road against the Carolina Panthers. These two teams are young, hungry, and talented, making the matchup extremely intriguing for the first game of a season coming with huge expectations. Last year, the Seahawks came into Carolina with – dare I say it – questionable play from the young quarterback, Russell Wilson, and managed to escape with a close 16-12 win.
The Panthers put up a good fight, limiting big plays from the Seahawks' offense, but Cam Newton had a horrendous time making anything happen against this secondary. Fast forward 10 months, and the rematch occurs in the same stadium, but with both teams older – and wiser.
Will the Seahawks' Legion of Boom defense hold true to form and make life a living hell for Cam Newton? Can Beast Mode break through the formidable Carolina front seven? Will Russell Wilson begin to silence the inexplicable predictions of a sophomore slump? There are many questions, but here are some key matchups to watch for some answers.
Legion of Boom vs. Cam Newton. Last year, the Seahawks' secondary forced Cam Newton into silly mistakes and errant throws. He went 12/29 for 141 yards and took four sacks. The camera famously panned to Newton literally throwing in the towel (over his head) at the end of the game, which was a testament to how badly the Seattle defense buried him. Get inside Cam's head, and the road to victory is that much closer.
Beast Mode vs. Carolina run defense. Marshawn Lynch only ran for 85 yards on 21 carries with no touchdowns on this D last year. There's no question the Carolina front seven is stout, with a line featuring Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, not to mention two tackle-machines at linebacker with Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly. But Lynch rushed for a career-high 1,590 yards last year, and had 10 times when he rushed for 100 yards or more in one game. Carolina was the exception, not the rule, and don't think for a minute Lynch doesn't remember that. He'll be ready.
Zach Miller vs. Luke Kuechly. Miller showed his versatility in the pass-catching game in the playoffs last year, lighting up both Washington and Atlanta on the road. Now that Darrell Bevell has nailed a way to use the "move" tight end in more formations, look for some added creativity in two-TE sets, featuring Miller and promising rookie Luke Willson. How well Miller does today relies heavily on if he can beat ace LB Luke Kuechly in man coverage.
Seattle vs. Carolina weather. As is the case at the beginning of every season, summer is barely starting to fade away, and that means weather that's going to be hotter than hell in most parts of the country. In Charlotte, NC, it's supposed to top out at 91 degrees today, with the hottest part of the day coming in what will likely be the fourth quarter. It's been a really warm summer in Seattle, so let's hope the team is already accustomed to sweating it out in the heat.
Russell Wilson vs. Captain Munnerlyn. Russell Wilson threw his only pick-six of the season last year to Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn. It was arguably Russell's only "rookie mistake" of 2012, but it also ended up being the only touchdown Carolina would score that day. I don't have to tell you how far Wilson's come since then, so don't expect history to repeat itself there. Still, Munnerlyn picked off Wilson once, and he'll be looking for another shot all day.
It's getting closer to game time, friends, and Week 1 is a perennial crapshoot for everyone. It's the best time of year for football, and the Seahawks have never looked better. Buckle up, because it's about to get real.