Clayton: How Seahawks’ schedule gives them the edge over Cardinals to win the NFC West in 2017

Apr 22, 2017, 6:00 AM

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Seahawks DE Frank Clark enters his fourth season as a pro. (AP)


Rank has its privileges.

By winning the NFC West last season and being a draw for television networks, the Seahawks garnered a schedule that gives them an even better chance of repeating as division champions in 2017.

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To promote better ratings, the NFL tried to put more of the best teams in prime time. The plan is simple: The NFL maximizes ratings in prime time with good teams and great quarterbacks. It wants to make sure great matchups are set for the late afternoon Sunday games on Fox and CBS. Kansas City drew six prime time games, while nine teams will play in those slots five times each. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have four, including three at home.

Former NFL coach Dick Vermeil taught me years ago that schedule means everything. The easier the schedule, the better a franchise has a chance to win. Other coaches tell you it’s who you play and when you play them. That’s where the Seahawks have a distinct advantage in the NFC West in 2017. The Seahawks’ popularity gave them a very favorable schedule. That didn’t happen to the Arizona Cardinals, who had an offseason last year.

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Let’s break down where Seattle has the advantage.

1. Early 10 a.m. start times.

One of the many things Pete Carroll fixed was the difficulty of winning games when the team had to travel east and play early games on Sunday, which are 10 a.m. Pacific starts. West Coast teams usually have difficulty adjusting their body clocks to playing games three hours earlier than normal, leading to slow starts in the first half. This schedule revealed the only early start for the Seahawks is against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14. The Cardinals, which landed only two prime time games, have five early games. Last season, they were 0-5 in games that started in that time slot. By midseason, it seemed the networks turned on them as a television draw even though they have a top defense and a fiery coach in Bruce Arians. The NFL changed the starting time of a Arizona at Carolina game from 4:25 p.m. to 1 p.m, and the Cardinals lost 30-20. That came a year after the Cardinals won the division.

2. Two road games to open the season.

Last year, four teams opened the season with two road games. Three of them – the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – went 1-1. The Miami Dolphins went 0-2 but scrambled back to make the playoffs. The Cardinals are among three teams to open with two games on the road in 2017. Even worse, they open with two early starts in Detroit and in Indianapolis. If you remember in 2015, the Seahawks opened with two roads. They lost those two games and gave the Cardinals the opening to win the division. With the Cardinals being an older team, having five early games compared to the Seahawks one can be a disadvantage.

3. Struggles on the road.

The Seahawks got a break in the sense they don’t have any back-to-back road games in the traditional sense (a bye week breaks up trips to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in Week 5 and New Jersey to play the Giants in Week 7). The Cardinals didn’t get too bad of a deal in that regard, getting back-to-back road games only in the first two weeks of the season. Further bogging them down, though, is a trip to London, so the Cardinals didn’t get a victory in that regard. The Rams, their London opponent, requested an East Coast game prior to their trip, so the league gave them an early Sunday game at Jacksonville. The Cardinals will have to play a home game Oct. 15 against Tampa Bay, though, then eventually make the long flight to London. That won’t help.

4. Cold weather games.

This one isn’t so bad. The Cardinals only have one potential cold-weather day, Dec. 17 at the Washington Redskins. The Seahawks don’t have any. Their late November/December road games are in San Francisco, Jacksonville and Dallas. Still, the Seahawks have the edge in that category.

We’ll see how the schedule goes but the Seahawks scored a victory over the Cardinals with the schedule.

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Clayton: How Seahawks’ schedule gives them the edge over Cardinals to win the NFC West in 2017