The Seahawks head to Atlanta this weekend where they'll open their 2020 season against the Falcons, a familiar opponent both because these teams have played each other four times over the past four seasons, and also because Atlanta is coached by Dan Quinn, who spent four seasons as an assistant in Seattle before becoming a head coach, three of them working under Pete Carroll.
The Seahawks beat the Falcons 27-20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in part of their best road season in franchises history (7-1), and if they're going to start this season out on the right note, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:
1. Jamal Adams vs. … We're not really sure yet?
And that element of mystery could be a big advantage for Seattle's defense.
Adams, a two-time Pro-Bowler and a first-team All-Pro last season, will undoubtedly be a big part of Seattle's defense, but because he's new to the team, and because there were no preseason games, it's a bit of a mystery how he'll be used.
Adams, who had 6.5 sacks last season with the Jets, could be a matchup problem for a running back having to pick up a blitz, but he could just as easily be matching up with a tight end or receiver in coverage, or with a player trying to block him in the running game.
Whatever the Seahawks do with Adams, expect it to be exciting.
"The first thing you'll notice is energy is passion," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "He's really, really smart, loves the game. It's been really fun to be out here and practice with him and grow and learn and play with him, so I'm excited to get their first game and actually get to run around and make plays and feed off each other's energy, so it's going to be cool. He's just another playmaker constantly making plays, whether it's in the pass game, run game, sacks, I'm looking forward to seeing that full speed Sunday."
2. Todd Gurley vs. Bobby Wagner and the Seahawks run defense.
No, Gurley wasn't as productive last season as he has been in years past, but he's still only 26, and if he's healthy—and all indications out of Atlanta suggest that he is—then he still presents a big challenge for a run defense looking to improve upon last year's performance.
"When you add Todd Gurley to your team, that can really affect the complexion and style of your play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He has been a dominant football player."
After back-to-back All-Pro seasons, Gurley's numbers dipped a bit last year, but he still scored 14 touchdowns and accounted for 1,064 yards of offense, so the Seahawks know they'll have to pay attention to him, especially if they're going to want to break a negative trend from the past two seasons.
After holding opponents to 4.0 yards per carry or less for five straight seasons from 2013-2017, the Seahawks allowed opponents to average 4.9 yards per carry each of the past two seasons, the highest averages of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era, and while the Falcons present plenty of challenges in the passing game, the offense will be much more difficult to handle if they're also picking up easy yards on the ground.
"We know what to expect from him, it doesn't matter what jerseys where he's wearing," Wagner said. "He's a great back. Whether it's in the passing game or the run game, they're going to use him all over the field, just because he's that talented. So we just have to be ready as far as tackling. That's our job, so no matter what happens we'll be ready.
3. Tyler Lockett & DK Metcalf vs. a revamped Falcons secondary.
When these teams met last fall, Tyler Lockett caught six passes for 100 yards, DK Metcalf had two touchdowns, and Russell Wilson completed 70 percent of his passes with two touchdowns, no interceptions and an efficient 131.7 passer rating.
The Falcons have made some changes, however, looking to upgrade that secondary. First-round pick A.J. Terrell has earned a starting job and has been earning a lot of praise from coaches in training camp and Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal is back after missing almost all of the past two seasons with ACL and Achilles injuries.
With those two added to the mix, and what the Falcons hope will be in improved pass rush thanks in part to the addition of Dante Fowler Jr., Wilson and company might have a tougher challenge on their hands this time around. Oh, and you probably can't count on the Falcons forgetting to cover Metcalf in the endzone on two different occasions.