The Seahawks’ most anticipated season since 1984 and 1985 will include four games in prime time, the most they have had since they played the maximum five night games in 2006 after their Super Bowl season.
The Hawks are coming off an 11-5 season — the third-best finish in franchise history — in which they came within 25 seconds of an NFC championship date against the division nemesis San Francisco 49ers.
That makes them a popular pick to challenge for the Super Bowl. While they were not among the seven teams slated for the maximum five night games — San Francisco , Denver, New England, Atlanta, Green Bay, Washington, New York Giants — the Hawks have two games on Monday night, one on Thursday and one on Sunday night.
The first prime-time game will come in Week 2, when the Hawks host the Niners on Sunday night.
“It will be a great game,” quarterback Russell Wilson told NFL Network. “It’s in the division; that’s what really matters.”
Wilson said the rivalry with the 49ers is “one of the best in football. The talent on both sides of the ball is exceptional. “
The Seahawks split with the Niners last season, blowing them out 42-13 in the Week 16 game. They are trying to take the division mantle from San Francisco, which represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last season after losing in the NFC title game the previous year.
Both games between the Hawks and Niners were in prime time last season: a Thursday night in Week 7 and the flexed Sunday in Week 16. It is quite possible the Week 14 game this year becomes a Sunday-nighter, too, giving the Hawks five prime-time contests.
The Seahawks would benefit greatly from winning the NFC West and getting a bye and/or home playoff game. The easiest path to the Super Bowl is to play in front of the 12th Man, as Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck can tell Pete Carroll and Wilson.
Of course, Carroll and Wilson surely know that already. They won all eight home games in 2012.
“We went 8-0 last year at home. Now we have to see if we can do it again,” Wilson said. “It will be a tough challenge.”
Of course, he credited the 12th Man as the best fans in the NFL and said he was excited to get to the first game, let alone any of the prime-timers.
The Hawks open at Carolina in a 10 a.m. start Sept. 8. Then they return home for the big Sunday night game against the 49ers on Sept. 15.
After that, they host former Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
Seattle then heads to a couple of AFC South outposts — at Houston in Week 4 and at Indianapolis in Week 5. Both are 10 a.m. starts — the Hawks play five morning games. They were 3-6 in early starts over the past two years.
In Week 6, the Hawks host former Husky Jake Locker and the Tennessee Titans.
Then they play back-to-back division games in prime time. They have a four-day turnaround to face Arizona on Thursday, Oct. 17. Then they get 11 days off before playing the Rams in St. Louis on Monday, Oct. 28.
That’s five road games in the first eight.
The second half of the season is home-friendly. The Hawks are home for a three-week stretch, including their Week 12 bye, and they finish with four of the last six at home.
They have a home game against Tampa Bay in Week 9, and then the Hawks go to Atlanta for a rematch of their crazy playoff game from last season. Surprisingly, that game is not a national contest. And it cannot be flexed because it comes before Week 11 (the first week the NFL can start changing games to prime time).
The Hawks will then have their anticipated Vikings reunion in Week 11 before taking a week off. The Week 12 bye is even later than the Week 11 hiatus last season, which was their latest bye since 2000.
The Hawks come off the bye to host New Orleans on Monday night, Dec. 2. Then they head to San Francisco six days later to face the 49ers and New York Giants before finishing with Arizona and St. Louis at home.
Here’s a game-by-game look, with predictions:
Week 1: at Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Sept. 8, 10 a.m.
The Hawks head back to Carolina for the second straight year. Last year, they met in Week 5 and knocked off Cam Newton and the Panthers 16-12. Bruce Irvin sealed it with a strip sack on the final play — the fourth sack of the game by the Hawks. The Panthers started 3-9 last season but finished with four straight wins. Wilson will upstage Newton again.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Panthers 17
Week 2: vs. San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Sept. 15, 5:30 p.m.
The Hawks destroyed the 49ers 42-13 at home last season. Was it a fluke? Or was it a sign the Hawks are ready to take the NFC West from the 49ers? The entire country will find out in the second game of the season as these squads renew their rivalry. Last year was the first time in five years the Hawks and 49ers did not play within the first two weeks, but they are back to the early meeting again this year. Give the Hawks the home win again.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, 49ers 20
Week 3: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 22, 1:25 p.m.
An old friend comes to town as Bradley brings his Jags for a visit. The Jags were 2-14 last season, and Bradley faces an uphill climb in building the franchise in his vision along with new GM Dave Caldwell. But Bradley knows the Hawks as well as anyone, so they need to be wary of a trap game here, especially coming off the big Sunday night game against the 49ers.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Jaguars 13
Week 4: at Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m.
The Texans have won the AFC South the past two years, but they have not been able to get past the divisional round of the playoffs. Will Ed Reed be enough to get them over the top? The last time the Hawks played the Texans was in 2009, when Jim Mora’s team was blown out 34-9 in Houston. This will be a great road test for Carroll’s club.
Prediction: Texans 23, Seahawks 17
Week 5: at Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Oct. 6, 10 a.m.
Luck vs. Wilson in a battle of 2012 rookie standout QBs. And former Seahawk Matt Hasselbeck will have a front-row seat as Luck’s backup, likely watching the man who eventually will erase all of his Seattle passing records. The Colts (11-5) were the surprise of the league last season, even as coach Chuck Pagano took a leave of absence to fight cancer. Bruce Arians was so good in relief that he was voted coach of the year and was hired as Arizona’s coach. Can the Colts keep it going without him?
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Colts 17
Week 6: vs. Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 13, 1:05 p.m.
Locker returns to Seattle when it counts this time. Will he be healthy for this one? The former UW QB faces a make-or-break season in his third NFL year. The Titans, led by former Seahawk exec Mike Reinfeldt, have spent a bunch of money this offseason to try to improve on both sides of the ball. But they are not in Seattle’s class, especially at the home of the 12th Man.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Titans 13
Week 7: at Arizona Cardinals, Thursday, Oct. 17, 5:25 p.m.
The Hawks face Arians’ club on a short week, but the Cardinals are coming off the tougher game — in San Francisco. The Hawks lost the 2012 season opener in Arizona as Wilson and the offense failed to convert several chances in the red zone at the end of the game. But the Hawks blew out the Cards 58-0 late in the season. Wilson is light years better than he was in Week 1 of 2012. Can Arians and new QB Carson Palmer make Arizona good enough not to get blown out?
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Cardinals 13
Week 8: at St. Louis Rams, Monday, Oct. 28, 5:40 p.m.
The Hawks beat the Rams by an aggregate score of 54-20 in 2011, but Jeff Fisher quickly made the Rams competitive in the NFC West. They outcoached the Hawks in Week 4 and beat up the Hawks in a Week 17 loss. Fisher’s team certainly will be no pushover in 2013, and this game figures to be as physical as any the Hawks play in 2013.
Prediction: Rams 23, Seahawks 20
Week 9: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 3, 1:05 p.m.
The last time the Bucs came to Seattle, they knocked off Jim Mora’s lackluster team at the end of the 2009 season. Raheem Morris was Tampa’s ill-chosen coach back then, and Josh Freeman was a rookie QB. Greg Schiano is entering his second season as Morris’ replacement, and Freeman is still the QB — although his hold on the job seems tenuous after the Bucs lost five of their last six games last season to finish 7-9. Michael Bennett gets to face the team for which he became a good player, and he surely has something to prove to the Bucs. Give him two sacks and the Hawks an easy win.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Bucs 10
Week 10: at Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Nov. 10, 10 a.m.
The drama will be thick for this one on and off the field. These teams played a doubly lopsided postseason game — the Falcons dominating the first half, the Hawks owning the fourth quarter — last season, and the Falcons’ offense racked up 417 yards in a last-second 30-28 win to reach the NFC title game. Wilson threw for a team playoff record of 385 yards and led the Hawks on three fourth-quarter TD drives, rallying from a 20-0 deficit to briefly lead 28-20. But the defense folded again in the final 25 seconds, and that is how the season ended. Richard Sherman and the Hawks will be itching for revenge against Roddy White and the Falcons. And they will get it against an Atlanta team that is worse on defense than it was in that fourth-quarter meltdown.
Prediction: Seahawks 38, Falcons 34
Week 11: vs. Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 17, 1:25 p.m.
The Hawks got run over by Adrian Peterson (182 yards) last season, but Wilson and Marshawn Lynch carried the Hawks to a 30-20 win. That Week 9 victory put the Hawks back above .500. It doesn’t figure to be that close this time, especially with two more Vikings having joined the Seahawks. Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield will be itching to destroy the Vikings, and fellow former Vikes Sidney Rice and OC Darrell Bevell will happily help them.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Vikings 13
Week 12: Bye
Week 13: vs. New Orleans Saints, Monday, Dec. 2, 5:40 p.m.
The last time the Saints came to Seattle, for the playoffs in January 2011, they got YouTubedized (the new version of posterized) by Lynch, who came up with one of the greatest touchdown runs in NFL playoff history. After an 0-4 start without suspended coach Sean Payton last season, the Saints rallied to finish 7-9, and with Payton back they surely will be revitalized and seek to get back to their double-digit win totals. This one could be a barnburner. But it’s in Seattle, so that settles it.
Prediction: Seahawks 38, Saints 27
Week 14: at San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Dec. 8, 1:25 p.m.
The Seahawks haven’t won in San Francisco since 2008, the last year of the Mike Holmgren era. They have been outscored 109-54 there over the past four years, but last year they lost by just a TD, 13-6. Wilson improved by leaps and bounds from that start to the 42-13 domination in Week 16. Was that blowout just a fluke? Or was it a sign of things to come? We’re going with the latter.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, 49ers 21
Week 15: at New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 15, 10 a.m.
The Giants finished 9-7 in 2012 but missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. Only the fact that they won the Super Bowl in the one playoff season (2011) has kept coach Tom Coughlin off the hot seat. But if they struggle again, he likely will be on it. Carroll’s Hawks are 1-1 against Coughlin’s team. The Giants blew out the Hawks 41-7 in Seattle in 2010, but the Hawks shocked the Giants 36-25 at the Meadowlands in 2011. There will be no surprises this time — just an expected Seattle win.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Giants 20
Week 16: vs. Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 22, 1:05 p.m.
Will the Cardinals be any better than the team that went 5-11 last season and was blown out 58-0 in Seattle? Carroll is 3-0 against Arizona in Seattle, and the Hawks have won eight of the last 10 meetings in Seattle. The only thing that might prevent this from being a blowout is if the 12-win Hawks already have the NFC West won by this time and decide to rest Wilson and other key players.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Cardinals 17
Week 17: vs. St. Louis Rams, Sunday, Dec. 29, 1:25 p.m.
If the Hawks have a first-round bye wrapped up, they might not work hard for this one. But if they still are battling to win the division or secure the best record in the NFC and home-field advantage, they will keep the starters in. Let’s go with the latter for the sake of legitimacy and give the Hawks a franchise-record 14-2 record.
Prediction: Seahawks 20, Rams 13
As Wilson told NFL Network, “It’s really exciting to get back (to work in Seattle) and get our schedule. The idea of that championship offseason really comes together now.”