The Seattle Seahawks will kick off Week 1 of the NFL season on Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field as they will host the Cincinnati Bengals. Opening up at home presents a nice opportunity for the Seahawks, who have historically had some problems on the road in the opening month of the season. These two teams last met in 2015 at Paul Brown Stadium as Cincinnati knocked off Seattle 27-24 in overtime.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks head into the 2019 season in an interesting spot as they have had seven straight winning seasons and have consistently been in the playoff conversation. Wilson received a huge contract extension in the offseason worth $140 million over four years. Linebacker Bobby Wagner signed a huge extension as well for $54 million over three years. Adding to the excitement of the offseason, Frank Clark was traded to Kansas City, and Earl Thomas left for Baltimore in free agency. The Seahawks then traded for Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney late last week from the Houston Texans without having to give up a ton in return. The move to get Clowney is another example of the "Always Compete" mentality that prevails throughout team headquarters on a daily basis.
Cincinnati begins a new era, as head coach as Zac Taylor takes over for Marvin Lewis, who was let go after the 2018 season. Taylor was the quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams and was hired in part due to the success of the Sean McVay offensive scheme. Taylor has the challenge of rebuilding the Bengals quickly, which is easier said than done in the AFC North. Also, the football gods have not been kind this preseason, as star wide receiver A.J. Green is dealing with an ankle injury that required surgery in training camp and will likely cause him to miss a couple of games in the regular season.
Cincinnati at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 8 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks defense vs. Bengals offensive line
It is not realistic to expect Jadeveon Clowney to come in and play at an all-world level with less than a week to learn the Seattle defensive playbook. However, the Seahawks should have a significant advantage at the line of scrimmage this week, which should buy Clowney some time to get comfortable. The biggest advantage Seattle has is the injury situation along the offensive line for Cincinnati. The Bengals lost rookie left tackle Jonah Williams for the season with a torn labrum injury, and Cordy Glenn, who was supposed to be a replacement for Williams, is still dealing with concussion issues. Look for Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. to turn his defense loose and attack Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton all afternoon long. The first couple of series will be very telling, as the Cincinnati offensive line can ill afford to allow the Seattle defense to get off to a fast start.
2. Who’s going to step up and catch the football?
This is going to be a fun storyline to watch unfold in this game as Seattle lacks a proven wide receiver outside of Tyler Lockett. The loss of Doug Baldwin to retirement in the offseason creates a void that will have to be filled quickly if the Seahawks are going to thrive in the passing game. The team is high on DK Metcalf, a rookie second-round draft pick out of Ole Miss, but he recently had knee surgery. Metcalf is a physical freak of nature, but you never know how a young player will respond to live regular-season action. For the Bengals, they will need former University of Washington standout John Ross to step up and finally live up to the hype of a first-round draft pick. Ross caught 21 passes for 210 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, but in order for him to get in position for that all-important second contract, he must improve significantly.
3. Cincinnati defensive line vs. Seattle offensive line
Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins leads a unit that has a lot to prove against the Seahawks offensive line. Cincinnati was 29th in the NFL last season in rush defense, allowing 137.9 yards per game. While the Seattle offensive line is not great as a whole, it is excellent at run blocking. The Seahawks led the league in rushing offense in 2018, averaging 154.9 yards per game on the ground. Head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are going to pound the rock, so it will be interesting to see how the Cincinnati defensive line responds to the challenge on Sunday.
Seattle is usually a tough out in its home opener, as the crowd will be locked and loaded, ready to supply its usual high level of noise. The matchup as a whole favors the Seahawks in most areas, so this game will be a matter of maintaining focus from the opening kickoff. If they give the Bengals hope by letting them stay in the game deep into the second half, they could put themselves in a tight spot. Look for Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense to set the tone early with a balanced attack and then pull away for a two-score victory to start 2019 at 1-0.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Bengals 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.