Will Earl Thomas play? How will preseason star Shaquem Griffin, making his first career start in place of the sidelined K.J. Wright, look in real game action? Can Germain Ifedi hold up against Von Miller? Beat writer Bob Condotta previews Seahawks-Broncos.
Here’s a look at the Seahawks’ regular season opener Sunday at Denver.
Two teams that met in the Super Bowl following the 2013 season — and two of the last five Super Bowl champs overall — are now in the midst of rebuilds, each desperately looking for a week one win to restore some faith in themselves and their fan bases. For the Seahawks, it’s game one of what feels like a whole new era with the Legion of Boom pretty much existing in name only and likely only four players who were part of the Super Bowl win over Denver on the field Sunday.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Seahawks RT Germain Ifedi vs. Denver OLB Von Miller. Miller is still one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL even if his production has tailed off just a tad the last few years — his 10 sacks last year were his least in any full season. And Miller, who typically lines up on the left side, will be a huge challenge right out of the gate for Ifedi, the lightning-rod-for-criticism right tackle who has admitted he needs to take a step forward in his game as he enters his third NFL season. Denver is a notoriously tough place to play and Ifedi will be challenged not only by Miller but to avoid the false start penalties that were way too many in number last season. After letting Ifedi know midway through camp he needed to play well to keep his job Seattle coaches have been publicly giving him lots of votes of confidence the last few weeks. Now Ifedi needs to show he can live up to their words.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Rookie LB Shaquem Griffin. Griffin will get the start in his first NFL game in place of K.J. Wright, who will miss at least this week’s game after having arthroscopic knee surgery last week. Recall that Wright’s absence — coupled with a hobbling Bobby Wagner — was regarded as a big factor in the 42-7 home loss to the Rams last December. That Wagner is healthy and can help get Griffin set up is a huge bonus. Still, expect the Broncos to test Griffin both in run defense and when he is matched up in coverage on tight ends or running backs.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
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Will Earl Thomas play, and if so, how much? The team activated Thomas on Saturday and he figures to start. Kam Chancellor played 37 of a possible 47 snaps when he returned from a two-game holdout on the Wednesday prior to a Sunday game against the Bears in 2015 so there’s precedent for a player returning quickly after a lengthy absence. Seattle has gone most often in the preseason with second-year player Tedric Thompson at free safety. Thompson, who played at nearby Colorado, played just eight snaps last season as a rookie.
If you haven’t heard, Denver’s stadium is about a mile high — officially, it sits at 5,280 feet. The impact of altitude can be much debated but it’s obviously not insurmountable or the Broncos would never lose a home game (Denver was 4-4 at home last season, 1-7 on the road). Still, it’s something to watch. Russell Wilson talked this week of how the ball travels further in Denver so he needs to remember to adjust a little with his passes. And Seattle’s defensive depth could be tested, especially on the line. One fun thing to consider is the impact of the light air on the punts of Seattle rookie Michael Dickson, who will be making his official NFL debut.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
Third-year running back C.J. Prosise could see significant action as the team’s two-minute third-round down back, and maybe even in early downs to spell Chris Carson if the team eases in rookie Rashaad Penny a little after he missed the last three preseason games with a finger injury. Prosise’s durability has been oft-discussed. But he was largely healthy through the preseason and if he’s going to prove his worth there’s no better time to begin than Sunday in an offense that features passes to the running backs.
The Seahawks are 4-4 in opening games under Pete Carroll and 0-2 in their last two road openers. The last time Seattle won an opener on the road was in 2013 when a comeback 12-7 victory at Carolina sparked the Super Bowl season. Seattle begins with three of the first four on the road and five of the first seven. It could be a curse if the Seahawks get buried in the standings early. But win even a couple of the road games and hold serve in the games at CenturyLink and then the back-loaded home schedule — Seattle has four of its last five at home with only a trip to San Francisco in between — could be a real bonus.
THE FINAL WORD
The Seahawks enter a season with the most unknowns and most uncertainty since Wilson’s rookie year in 2012, evidenced by the wide variance in preseason predictions, if most usually lean to the skeptical side. For this one game, though, the Seattle could have a fairly big advantage at the most important position — quarterback — with Case Keenum in his first game with the Broncos. So let’s call it 23-21 Seahawks, with maybe a few well-timed and well-positioned punts helping Seattle out.