Matt Ryan and the Falcons open the season at home against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons will get together on Sunday afternoon to start off an unprecedented 2020 NFL season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. These two teams met last October, as Seattle sprinted out to a 24-0 lead at halftime and held off a second-half Falcons rally for a 27-20 victory.
It was an interesting offseason for the Seahawks, which continued to aggressively rebuild their defense on the fly. The secondary received the biggest boost when general manager John Schneider acquired safety Jamal Adams from the New York Jets and cornerback Quinton Dunbar from Washington. First-round draft pick Jordyn Brooks joins a deep linebacker group led by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. The question is going to be the defensive line, where Seattle is going to need Jarran Reed to return to his 2018 form where he collected 10.5 sacks. They also will need to see Rasheem Green take a leap forward, as he should be a starter all year long, especially with Darrell Taylor until at least Week 7.
Atlanta is at a bit of a crossroads right now; head coach Dan Quinn needs to turn things back around quickly in 2020 to stay off the hot seat. After the Falcons stumbled to a 1-7 start in 2019, there was some concern that owner Arthur Blank was going to move on from Quinn. This move ended up paying off to some degree as coach Quinn and his staff turned things around with a 6-2 finish. The offense should have a little bit of a different look with Todd Gurley trying to resurrect his career at running back after the Los Angeles Rams let him go. Matt Ryan is back healthy at quarterback after grinding his way through the 2019 season where he threw for 4,466 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Protecting Ryan is going to be crucial; the offensive line surrendered 50 sacks and 135 quarterback hits which won't cut it moving forward.
Seattle at Atlanta
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 13 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks offense
Russell Wilson will be looking to put together another MVP caliber season in 2020. Wilson threw for 4,110 yards, 31 touchdowns, and five interceptions as he led Seattle to an 11-5 season and another trip to the playoffs in what has been a tremendous career to date. Tyler Lockett (82 receptions, 1,057 yards, 8 touchdowns) and DK Metcalf (58 receptions, 900 yards, 7 touchdowns) provide two excellent weapons outside at wide receiver for Wilson. Both guys are dangerous threats at any given moment. Seattle signed Greg Olsen in the offseason after he caught 52 passes for 597 yards and two touchdowns for the Panthers last season. Olsen's experience should help form a great 1-2 punch at tight end with Will Dissly back healthy. Questions do abound for the offensive line — the lack of preseason action could be an issue in regard to pre-snap penalties and missed assignments. Chris Carson appears to be ready to go for the 2020 season after working his way back from a season-ending hip injury. Carson rushed for 1,230 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019 before his season came to a premature end. The team signed Carlos Hyde, and his experience should take some pressure off of Carson as the season goes along. Rookie DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer will also be in the mix for carries as well.
2. Atlanta offense vs. Seattle defense
Moving the football wasn't much of an issue for the Falcons in last year's game against the Seahawks defense when it racked up 510 yards of total offense. Matt Schaub threw for 460 yards with one touchdown and one interception when Matt Ryan was out with an ankle injury. But the inability to control the line of scrimmage and run the football cost Atlanta in last year's meeting as the Falcons rushed for just 69 yards on 17 carries. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will need to see some production right away from Gurley and Brian Hill in order to set up the play-action passing game for Ryan. Another fascinating matchup will be Julio Jones, who caught 99 passes for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns last season, against this revitalized Seahawks secondary. Jones should be matched up against Shaquill Griffin on most plays, which will provide fans one of the best individual matchups of the opening week of the season. Getting off the field will be key for the Seahawks, as they allowed 30 first downs in last year's contest, and if wasn't for the three turnovers, they would have fallen victim to an upset.
3. The Jamal Adams effect
When you pay a significant price in draft picks as Seattle did for Adams (75 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 interception, touchdown) it's very important for defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. to turn him loose on Sunday. Look for a mix of blitzes bringing Adams off the edge to get the Falcons passing attack out of rhythm. Moreover, Adams is a guy that is not afraid to stick his nose in on run plays and be physical. That type of physicality should remind Seahawks fans of Kam Chancellor from back in the heyday of the Legion of Boom. Another asset that Adams should bring to the table is his swagger that will fit in with fellow safeties Quandre Diggs and Marquise Blair, who are also expected to have strong seasons.
The Seahawks have been a mixed bag over the years during season openers on the road. Head coach Pete Carroll's "Always Compete" mantra is going tested to the hilt as it will be up to the Seahawks to generate their own energy on Sunday in front an empty stadium. This game will have its ups and downs, with both making early-season mistakes game. You will see missed tackles, pre-snap penalties, and so forth at a higher level than normal for a season opener. In the end, Russell Wilson and the offense will create enough balance to keep the Atlanta defense in check for a close one score win on Sunday.
Prediction: Seahawks 30, Falcons 24
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.