The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will get together to renew an old AFC West rivalry to kick off the 2018 season at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Sunday.
Seattle is a team in transition. The Legion of Boom is no more, with the departure of Richard Sherman to the 49ers and Kam Chancellor's retirement. Earl Thomas is back but did hold out all of training camp before reporting on Wednesday. In addition, the Seahawks defensive line lost Cliff Avril to a career-ending injury and traded Michael Bennett to the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. Russell Wilson is a contender for the MVP award in 2018 after carrying the Seattle offense on his back in 2017. Wilson threw for 3,983 yards, rushed for 586 and accounted for 37 touchdowns last season.
Denver is coming off a rough 2017 season in which the Broncos finished 5-11 under the direction of head coach Vance Joseph. The instability at the quarterback position was a major culprit, so Executive Vice President of Football Operations/GM John Elway acquired Case Keenum to take the reins in 2018. Keenum led the Minnesota Vikings to an NFC Championship Game appearance last season and did a very nice job of managing games for the Vikings. The defense is still in very good shape with plenty of talent along the defensive line, linebacker and the secondary. This unit is going to have to carry the offense a little bit in the early stages of the season.
Series History: 55 meetings (Broncos lead 34-21)
Last Meeting: Seahawks 26, Broncos 20 OT (Sept. 21,2014 in Seattle)
Seattle at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 9 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Broncos -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' offensive line
Mike Solari replaced Tom Cable as offensive line coach for the Seahawks in the offseason and has brought a new look. It will be interesting to see if this group can jell quickly. Duane Brown and Justin Britt are going to need to stay healthy and continue to produce at an above-average level at left tackle. Ethan Pocic should take a step in his second season at guard after an okay rookie season. D.J. Fluker and Germaine Ifedi are the wild cards in this equation. Fluker, if healthy, should be a reliable run blocker. It is do or die time for Ifedi as he has underachieved as a Seahawk. Solari is going to find out quickly how far Seattle has come up front, because the Broncos will bring plenty of heat off the edge with Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb.
2. Denver running game
One way for the Broncos to neutralize Russell Wilson is to keep him off the field by establishing a strong ground game early. Rookie running back Royce Freeman has been named the opening-day starter for Denver after posting 15 carries for 84 yards and three touchdowns in the preseason. Devontae Booker should still see some carries on Sunday despite a pedestrian preseason in which he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry (for his career, Booker is averaging only 3.6 yards per rush). Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will need to stay patient with the running attack in the early going until the offensive line can impose its will on the Seahawks in the second half. In addition, a strong running game will take some pressure off of Keenum.
3. Seahawks' road opener issues vs. Denver’s September home dominance
The Seahawks have struggled mightily during their first road games of the regular season in the Pete Carroll era. Seattle has gone 1-7 in those games, and that one win was 12-7 nail biter at Carolina during their Super Bowl season. Offensive consistency has been a problem in these games, which you can attribute to the Seahawks' bargain-basement approach to their offensive line in recent years. Seattle has not even scored a touchdown in a road opener since 2015. Meanwhile, Denver has been outstanding at home during the first two weeks of the season as they are 19-1 in Week 1 or 2 home games since 2001. The Seahawks need to take care of the football and make the Broncos beat them by driving the ball 70-75 yards per possession all day long.
This should be a one-score game heading into the fourth quarter, when it will become a battle between Russell Wilson and Case Keenum to see which quarterback can rise to the occasion. Denver has historically had its way with Seattle at home, as the Broncos have lost only four times to the Seahawks on their home field. Seattle will also be without linebacker K.J. Wright, who is recovering from knee surgery last week. It will be up to rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin to rise to the occasion and make plays to take pressure off Bobby Wagner. Look for the Broncos to escape with a close win over the Seahawks, as they should do just enough to slow down Wilson and open the season with a win.
Prediction: Broncos 23, Seahawks 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.