For the Seattle Seahawks, they will be kicking off their 40th season on Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field as they host the Miami Dolphins. Things have been drama-free for the most part during the offseason, which is why the Seahawks organization, along with its fans, are hoping it carries over onto the field resulting in a faster start to the season. Offensively, MVP candidate in quarterback Russell Wilson leads a group that has the potential to be one of the best units in all of the NFL despite the loss of Marshawn Lynch as he retired from football. Defensively, most everyone is back and this unit should be more than capable of once again locking down the running game; a category Seattle led the league in last season. The question is can the Legion of Boom return to an elite level of play this season?
Miami embarks on another new era on Sunday as Adam Gase takes over as head coach. It will be up to the offensive-minded Gase and his staff to see what they can do with quarterback Ryan Tannehill along with getting the Dolphins back to the playoffs. Tannehill has been inconsistent at best so far in his career but he gets another shot in Gase’s no-huddle offense, which has been productive for other quarterbacks, namely Peyton Manning. Defensively, Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Mario Williams form a very formidable defensive front that will cause plenty of problems for teams all season long if they all play to their potential. However, the long trip to Seattle and the electric atmosphere of playing in front of the 12s is going to test Miami to the hilt on Sunday.
Miami at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 11 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Seattle -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks Defense vs. Ryan Tannehill
The Seahawks are going to need to play fundamentally sound defense in order to keep Miami’s new-look offense in check. Tannehill has the ability to get out of pocket, which will stress the Seattle defense if the Seahawks are not careful and don’t stick to their assignments. Therefore, it will be up to Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett along with the rest of the defensive line to control the line of scrimmage and keep Tannehill in the pocket. If that can be accomplished it will put the secondary in a great position to keep the Dolphins’ rock-solid wide receiving corps in check. Patience also will be a virtue for Seattle on defense, as it may take a series or two to truly get a read on Gase’s plan of attack. Limiting big plays in the passing game and on the ground by Arian Foster will be critical and the defense must avoid giving Miami free yards by way of costly, avoidable penalties, even if it is the first game of the season.
2. Seattle Offensive Line vs. Miami’s Defensive Line
This is going to be a fun battle to watch for 60 minutes. The Seahawks have a revamped offensive line that did a nice job of coming together as a unit in the preseason. On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins bring plenty of star power along the defensive line to the table with Suh and Williams. Thus, it will be up to center Justin Britt to be at the top of his game with communicating the calls at the line of scrimmage in order keep Russell Wilson upright all afternoon long. This need for flawless communication on Sunday is heightened by the fact that Miami has a first-year defensive coordinator in Vance Joseph and the Seattle offensive staff does not have much film of his defenses to work with. Look for Joseph to push to test Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable by bringing plenty of pressure from all directions. The Seahawks’ front five needs to do its job and Wilson will need to be decisive and get rid of the football quickly to help the offense find its rhythm early.
3. Seahawks Running Game without Marshawn Lynch
Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls have the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Lynch, who decided to retire after last season. Michael looked good in the preseason, but it remains to be seen what he can when the games count. Rawls is gradually returning to full strength from the season-ending ankle injury he sustained last December, but it is going to take time for him to get back to a place where he can carry the ball 20-25 times per game. Rookie C.J. Prosise will be the third-down back and if he can make some plays early that will provide a significant boost to the offense. In the end, the unsettled backfield situation could bring out the best in all three players as they seek to make the most out of the touches they receive.
If the Seahawks are going to get back to the Super Bowl, they have to start the season faster than in previous years. The NFC with the likes of Carolina, Arizona, and Green Bay is just too tough a conference to dig an early-season hole and still expect to have home-field advantage come playoff time. On paper, Seattle’s roster is deeper and more competitive, which should provide head coach Pete Carroll opportunity to mix and match and also help the team weather any injuries that crop up. Now, it is up to the Seahawks to show that they are still an elite team and a legitimate championship contender. Look for a solid opening performance on Sunday, as the Seahawks should win fairly comfortably at home to move to 1-0.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Dolphins 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.