Beginning their NFC West title defense, the Seahawks will open the 2021 season on the road when they travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to face an upstart Colts squad for the first time in four years.
Seattle and Indianapolis each enjoyed successful 2020 campaigns, finishing with 12 and 11 victories respectfully to earn playoff spots. But despite winning four of their final five regular season games going into postseason play, both teams bowed out with early exits in the wild card round, leading to significant changes for each franchise this offseason.
With Philip Rivers retiring and turning in his helmet to become a high school football coach, the Colts traded multiple draft picks to the Eagles for quarterback Carson Wentz, reuniting him with coach Frank Reich. The team also replaced retired left tackle Anthony Costanzo with former Chiefs No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, bringing stability to the offensive line.
Meanwhile, despite all of the rumors that circulated about his future this spring, Russell Wilson is back under center for the Seahawks, who made several moves to bolster the roster around the star quarterback. Along with trading for steady veteran guard Gabe Jackson and hiring offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, the front office signed former Rams tight end Gerald Everett and used a second round pick on speedy receiver Dee Eskridge.
After exiting last season with a bad taste in their mouths, both the Seahawks and Colts will be aiming to get off to a fast start as they push for deeper postseason runs in 2021. Heading into a much-anticipated Week 1 battle between two legitimate Super Bowl hopefuls, which five matchups will have the greatest impact on who kicks of the season with a win?
--Seahawks edge rushers versus Colts tackles Braden Smith and Julie'n Davenport: Less than eight months after tearing his Achilles, coach Frank Reich hasn't ruled out the possibility of veteran tackle Eric Fisher playing on Sunday. But most likely, the Colts will turn to Davenport, who previously struggled as a starter with the Texans and Dolphins. Back in 2018, Pro Football Focus charged him with 12 sacks allowed, a whopping 68 quarterback pressures, and 16 penalties. He wasn't much better in 2019, giving up six sacks and 31 pressures on only 389 pass blocking reps. Seattle's core group of pass rushers headlined by Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa, and Alton Robinson should be licking their chops about the chance to exploit his shortcomings in pass protection and turn up the heat on Carson Wentz. On the other side, Smith has developed into one of the best right tackles in the game and will present a far more difficult challenge for Dunlap and company to go up against.
--Seahawks interior offensive line versus Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner: Playing his first four seasons in San Francisco, Seattle knows all too well how dominant Buckner can be in the trenches. In eight career games against the them, the former Oregon star has amassed 43 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, and seven tackles for loss. On two different occasions, he has sacked Russell Wilson twice in the same game. Coming off his first All-Pro selection in 2020, trying to slow down the disruptive 6-foot-7 defender will once again be a point of emphasis for the Seahawks. On the plus side, new right guard Gabe Jackson had great success against Buckner a year ago with the Raiders. But as well as Damien Lewis played as a rookie, pass protection was a struggle at times, particularly against athletic rushers with length, so this may not be an ideal matchup for him. Meanwhile, Kyle Fuller is expected to make his second career start at center and if the Colts are smart, they will try to isolate Buckner at nose tackle against him to capitalize on an obvious mismatch.
--Seahawks linebackers Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks versus Colts running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines: While the Colts might put the ball into Wentz's hands more often than Philip Rivers a year ago, they will still lean heavily on their ground game with a bevy of talented backs and one of the best offensive lines in football. With All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson likely to play in the opener, the Seahawks are preparing for a large dose of Taylor, who rushed for over 1,100 yards as a rookie. Wagner and Brooks will need to bring their hard hats, as the former Wisconsin star produced nearly half of that total after contact and can be difficult to bring to the ground. As for Hynes, he will be Indy's primary third down back and will be a significant factor in the passing game, as he caught 170 passes for 1,227 yards and six touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons. As Wagner noted earlier this week, the Colts rarely keep their backs in to pass protect and the linebacking corps will need to be ready to cover them running routes all afternoon long.
--Seahawks receivers DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Dee Eskridge versus Colts cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, T.J. Carrie, and Rock Ya-Sin: If there's one clear area where the Seahawks should have the advantage, it lies on the outside with their talented receiving corps against a banged-up Colts secondary. Rhodes didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday due to a calf injury, putting his status for the opener in doubt. If he can't play, Carrie and Ya-Sin present ideal matchups for Metcalf, Lockett, and even Eskridge to feast. Though Carrie had two picks last year, he allowed 558 yards and four touchdowns on 46 receptions. Regressing in his second NFL season, Ya-Sin yielded 43 receptions for 636 yards and a pair of touchdowns while allowing opposing quarterbacks to post a 105.0 passer rating when targeting him. Both players struggled giving up explosives, as Ya-Sin in particular allowed 67 and 69-yard receptions against him last year. While Seattle will aim to utilize the quick strike passing game more under new coordinator Shane Waldron, even in the event Rhodes does play, there should be chances for Wilson to take shots downfield against a suspect corner group.
--Seahawks cornerbacks Tre Flowers and D.J. Reed versus Colts receivers Michael Pittman and Parris Campbell: Coming out of training camp, cornerback remains Seattle's biggest question mark on defense and Indianapolis has two intriguing young talents at receiver who could test that group right away. Though he isn't necessarily a burner, Pittman showed glimpses of big play ability as a rookie and at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he's equally adept at winning jump balls against smaller corners and breaking tackles to create yardage after the catch. Per Pro Football Focus, 331 of his 593 yards last year came after the reception. Flowers has the size, length, and athletic profile to match up well against him, but Campbell could be a bigger problem if healthy. Injuries have limited him to nine games in his first two seasons, but the former Ohio State standout has blazing 4.31 40-yard dash speed and can take the top off of a defense while also factoring into the run game on jet sweeps. The Seahawks haven't typically moved outside corners with receivers and the Colts will likely try to get Pittman lined up against a much smaller 5-foot-9 Reed along with the speedy Campbell facing off against Flowers.