After examining the Seahawks’ upcoming season schedule in detail, I took a look at the schedules of their divisional opponents. The schedules of all four teams in the NFC West are generally deemed not that difficult because they play six intra-divisional games, but there were some startling differences. I found one team had one of the easiest schedules I’ve ever seen, one had a favorable schedule that may allow them to take control of the division early, but may not be so favorable at the end, and one with incredibly difficult stretches that may be too much to overcome. The Seahawks’ schedule is tough, but it isn’t as tough as one of their division rivals.
Arizona had the benefit of playing the schedule of a fourth place team, and it turned out to be as soft as anyone in that organization could have hoped. Three of their first five games are against teams that also finished last in their division last season. If they have any playoff aspirations, they should be at least 3-2 after this stretch. After their bye in Week 6, they host the Steelers and play at Baltimore. They play three consecutive road games in November, including two within the division. The Cardinals finish the season with four of their final five games at home, and none of their final SEVEN opponents had a .500 or better record last season (four of those being within the division). They couldn’t have asked for a better schedule.
San Francisco begins the season with two home games, and their schedule is set up for them to have a fast start. For their first eleven games, they don’t appear to have any overly difficult stretches or even tough back-to-back games. The 49ers could well have a stranglehold on the division title by Thanksgiving weekend. An 8-3 record is well within their capability, and a three game lead in the division is a distinct possibility. (This is yet another reason why the Seahawks’ season opener in San Francisco is a must-win game for Seattle.)
Should the 49ers falter, they still have an opportunity to make up for it in their final five games. Four are within the division. However, the last three are on the road. San Francisco’s schedule down the stretch is at Arizona, hosting Pittsburgh, at Seattle and at St. Louis. It will be a daunting task if the 49ers need to win three of those games, but at least they’ll have some control over their own destiny.
St. Louis’ schedule is horrendous; there is no other way to describe it. If anyone had any misgivings about whether beating the Rams at the end of the regular season to win the NFC West last year was worth it or not, this schedule should erase them. If the Seahawks had this schedule, I’d be seriously depressed, and I think Seattle has a hard schedule anyway. The Rams’ first seven games are against Philadelphia, at New York Giants, Baltimore, Washington, at Green Bay, at Dallas, and New Orleans. Ouch. If the Rams emerge from this stretch with a 3-4 record, they should feel very good about themselves. However, it’s the next stretch of games which will likely determine the Rams’ playoff fortunes. The Rams play five of their next six games within the division, and anything less than a 4-2 mark during this time would signal the end of St. Louis’ playoff aspirations.
Nine victories should win the NFC West this season, and San Francisco is the likeliest team to reach that mark based on scheduling and talent. Arizona’s schedule is ridiculously easy, but I just don’t think they have enough talent to get to nine wins. If the Seahawks and the Rams can survive the early part of their schedules and be in contention in December, they may well be the division favorites. However, San Francisco may have built too big of a lead in the division to overcome. We’ll have to wait and see.