The Fine Art of Scheduling, NFL Style

Steve Utz takes a look at the good, bad and the ugly aspects of the 2004 schedule.

"The new schedule is here! The new schedule is here!" -- apologies to Steve Martin.

The Good

1. Home Games Late.

The Seahawks will play 5 of their final 7 at home this year. One has to believe that the weather pattern of recent seasons cannot hold forever. That means weather, and the particular brand of cold, wet, windy weather that Seattle is noted for. This may not affect teams like Buffalo, but indoor teams like Atlanta (Jan 2), and warm weather teams like Miami (Nov 21) and Arizona (Dec 26) may not like it much.

2. Multi-Game Home Stands.
One facet of last season’s schedule that probably affected the team adversely was how the schedule was structured. Much was made of our 6-game road losing streak. What was left out of the discussion was that the schedule was a nightmare series of home-road, home-road games. We had one 2 game home stand (San Francisco and Chicago). Preceding that, we played 6 games, alternating home and away. Following that, the team alternated home and away for the next 6 games, followed by a 2 game road trip. That made it that much more difficult for the team to build any momentum. This year we will have two 2 game and one 3 game home stand. Given our recent success at home, that should help the team develop the kind of winning streaks that get teams into the playoffs, by building momentum at home and carrying it with them on the road.

3. Tampa Bay.
We actually caught a break here. The current schedule calls for this to be played at 4:00 pm eastern time, avoiding the dreaded 10:00 am curse. Hopefully, it will be cooling off a bit by game time, too. September in Florida can be difficult, to say the least.

4. The Big Finish.
We finish the season with two consecutive home games (Arizona and Atlanta). We should be playing for a playoff berth at the time, so consecutive home games should be a real plus. Arizona looks to be an improved team this year, but it seems unlikely they will have playoff aspirations. Atlanta could be a bit of a wild card here. They should be improved, and if Vick is healthy they will certainly be dangerous, and may be playing for a playoff berth themselves. A bit of home town weather would help.

5. Division Foes.
I wonder if the NFC West might not be one of the weaker divisions in the league this year, other than the Seahawks. Seattle has improved its defense and held its offense together. Arizona has also improved, with a new coach and some intriguing player acquisitions, but they had the farthest to go to achieve respectability in the division. San Francisco is enigmatic, but it doesn’t look good from the outside. They have shed a bunch of talent, and it remains to be seen if they can overcome that. They haven’t added much. The Rams are, arguably, worse than last season, after losing much of their defensive line. We went 5-1 in the division last season, and it seems we should do equally well this year, if not better.

The Bad

1. Road Woes, Part 1.

In counterpoint to our home schedule above, our road games are all in 2 game sets. This could be good or bad, but given the difficulty of playing on the road in the NFL, winning streaks will be difficult to maintain over 2 consecutive road outings. This would be a great season to end that old East coast/10:00 am jinx. Two of the road trips , though, contain West Coast games. Geography pretty much dictates that Seattle will always have one of the highest mileage ratings of any team in the league.

2. Road Woes, Part 2.
Opening with consecutive road games (at New Orleans and at Tampa Bay) is a difficult way to start the season. On paper, it would appear that we can beat both teams. Certainly, Tampa Bay might struggle this year, having suffered some significant roster turnover. However, they are only one year removed from a Super Bowl win, and many of the players they have lost were not that productive lately anyway. They are certainly dangerous. New Orleans is harder to read. Are they better than last season? Perhaps, but so are we.

3. Strength of Schedule.
This is always a difficult thing to evaluate. With the high degree of roster turnover in the league in the modern era, it is problematic to just point to last season’s records and say, “This is a tough team.” In truth, all teams in the NFL must be respected Looking past any opponent in this league is a recipe for disaster. For the sake of argument, though, we do play 5 games against playoff teams from last season(St Louis x 2, New England, Carolina, and Dallas) , including both Super Bowl teams. We play a 6th game (Miami) against a team coming off of a 10-6 record. It appears daunting, but the team would be better served by worrying less about who they will play, and worrying more about how they themselves are going to play. If we play our game, we will definitely win more games than we lose.

The Ugly

1. Location, Location, Location.

It is unfortunate that we have to play New England on the road. Playing there in October is better than in December, of course. But still, that is becoming one of the harder venues to win at in the NFL. Playing Tampa in Florida in September is another difficult proposition. We did beat Arizona last September, and played fairly well in that game, so perhaps we can repeat that feat. We play 4 games within 200 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately, 3 of them will be behind us by Halloween.

2. Timing Is Everything.
While it was nice of ABC to select us for a Monday night game against the Cowboys, and it was nice of them to pick the 3rd game of a home stand, it could have been better scheduled by the League. The Cowboys will be coming off of their annual free bye week, as it follows their Thanksgiving Day game. I suspect the ‘Boys will be somewhat off this year, as they still have questions at QB and RB among other things, but Parcells is a dangerous coach, the kind that tends to get his players to play “better than they are,” as the cliché goes.

3. Bye-Bye.
Once again, we have an early bye week. One would think that the bye would rotate a bit more than it seems to for us. If things do go well early, we could have a decent record by then, say 2-1 at least. Scheduling a home game the week after is better than a road game, but that has not seemed to matter much in the past. Again, it continues to be one of those things where the team “needs improvement.” Having the division rival Rams in town that week is dangerous, although we should be able to beat them.

Overall, this is not a bad schedule. Yes, it is challenging, but when isn’t an NFL season challenging? The Seahawks have done significant work to improve the team this off season, particularly on defense. They have managed to keep that high powered offense intact. Attendance at the recent mini camp was good, sparking hope that the team is really beginning to gel. Players appear to be realizing how important the off season workouts and mini camps are. Hopefully, the WR corps has been working out with Hasselbeck to cure the annoying dropsies of last season.

We are developing a definite home field advantage, and if the team continues to play well sellouts may become more of the norm, rather than the exception. The synergy between home crowd and team is becoming reminiscent of the old Kingdome days. Hopefully, that continues to grow.

Tough schedule? Yep. But the Seahawks are a good team. They can handle it. There is a definite sense that the team need only reach out and take the Division Crown this year. It should be well within their grasp.

Steve Utz writes a column for every Sunday. Send your feedback to Steve at Top Stories