In what has become a global holiday of sorts, the NFL unleashed the 2021 regular season schedule on Wednesday, with the league expanding to an 18-week, 17 games per team format for the first time.
Looking to defend their NFC West crown, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will open the 2021 campaign on the road against Carson Wentz and the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 12. Throughout the season, they will play six NFC West divisional games, four games against the AFC South and NFC North, and also play the Saints, Washington Football Team, and Steelers.
What stands out about Seattle's 17-game schedule? Here are five quick takeaways:
1. As expected, the Seahawks will have plenty of opportunities to play under the lights in prime time.
Though the success hasn't translated into playoff wins over the past five years, the Seahawks have remained one of the NFL's most consistent franchises with playoff appearances and double-digit victories in eight of the past nine seasons. They are still one of the most marketable teams, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they have five prime time games on the docket for a second straight year. Two of those games will come against divisional opponents at Lumen Field, including a Thursday night matchup with the Rams in Week 5 and a Sunday night contest against the 49ers in Week 13.
The Seahawks will also have three consecutive weeks with prime time games starting with the aforementioned divisional match against the Rams, as they will play the Steelers and Saints in front of nationally-televised audiences in Week 6 and Week 7. With late-season rematches against the Cardinals and Rams, it's possible late in the season another game or two could be flexed into a prime time slot as well to push them towards the league-max of seven.
2. There's far more uncertainty about upcoming opponents than usual for mid-May.
Typically coming out of the draft, most NFL teams already have the majority of their 90-man roster in place and aside from last-minute veteran signings, few moves are normally made this time of year. But this has been the offseason of quarterback drama - look no further than Seattle's own reported issues with Russell Wilson - and the Texans and Packers could potentially have new quarterbacks under center when the Seahawks play them on the road this year.
After initially demanding a trade due to his lack of input in hiring a new coach, Deshaun Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women and a suspension could be looming. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers reportedly wants out of Green Bay due to distrust of the front office and coaching staff. Those two games will obviously look far different for Seattle if Tyrod Taylor or rookie Davis Mills and second-year quarterback Jordan Love are under center for those two teams instead of Watson and/or Rodgers.
3. There's a strong chance - for better or worse - the Seahawks will get a good dose of rookie quarterbacks.
Regardless of whenever the Jaguars fell on the schedule, the Seahawks knew they would be facing off against No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence for the first time. But speaking of uncertainty, with how the rest of the schedule took shape, there remains at least decent odds that they will see at least one more first-year signal caller, if not more.
The Bears may enter the season with Andy Dalton as the starter, but by the time Week 16 rolls around, it would be a surprise if Justin Fields hasn't taken the reins to square off against Wilson in a battle of dual-threat quarterbacks. Depending on how the Watson situation shakes out, Mills could potentially be starting for the Texans in Week 12. One week later, even with Jimmy Garoppolo still under contract, it's not out of the question Trey Lance could be taking snaps by the time the 49ers travel to Seattle in December. While playing a third-round pick like Mills would be advantageous, an argument can be made Fields and Lance would make both the Bears and 49ers far more difficult to defend in the second half of the season
4. The Seahawks will be tested physically by several run-oriented offenses during the opening month of the season.
The NFL continues to become a more and more passing game-driven league, but don't tell that to Seattle's first three opponents on the schedule. Indianapolis boasts one of the best offensive lines led by All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, who will be opening up holes for rising star running back Jonathan Taylor. Still the centerpiece of its offense, Tennessee will lean heavily once again on the two-time reigning rushing champion and 247-pound battering ram Derrick Henry. Minnesota also has a superstar back of its own in Dalvin Cook, who rushed for a career-high 1,515 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2020.
All three of those teams will pose significant challenges for the Seahawks due to their physicality in the trenches and also have competent quarterbacks and quality receivers to complement their rushing attacks. Facing those opponents in three straight games, they will have to bring their hard hats to work or they could be facing a 1-2 or even 0-3 start.
5. If Seattle wants to repeat as division champs, they will have to survive a gauntlet of talented teams in October and November.
Aside from opening with a pair of 2020 playoff teams from the AFC South, the Seahawks will also have to deal with five Super Bowl contenders in a six-week span, starting with a tough road game against the 49ers in Week 4. After that, they will embark on the aforementioned three-game stretch against the Rams, Steelers, and Saints in prime time before taking their bye week. Out of the bye, they will fly to Green Bay to play the Packers at Lambeau Field, where they haven't won a game since 1999.
If Seattle can manage to get through this stretch against top-notch competition with a 3-2 record or better, it could bode well for the team's chances of repeating as NFC West champions. But if they go under .500 against those teams, it could be difficult to overcome in the second half and even potentially put their chances of making the postseason altogether at risk.