The Seahawks played the Falcons just last season, and have played four times, postseason included, in the past four seasons. And the two teams' head coaches know each other very well, as Dan Quinn was an assistant under Pete Carroll for three seasons, including two as the defensive coordinator for back-to-back Super Bowl teams, before becoming a head coach.
But for all of that familiarity, this opener, like every other around the NFL, is shrouded in a bit of mystery, because in a year that has been unlike any other, for so many reasons, there were no preseason games.
And yes, teams tend to be pretty vanilla in the preseason, so there's always a feeling-out process that takes place, but there's still always something to be learned from the preseason, if nothing else when it comes to getting a look at rookies or at players who have changed teams. This time, the Seahawks have zero tape on how the Falcons might use new running back Todd Gurley, just as the Falcons don't know how Jamal Adams might be deployed in Seattle's defense.
"There's always concern about going into the first game, because you see stuff in preseason and you kind of don't trust it, because you don't ever know," Carroll said. "This is just amplifying that. We've just got to wait and see. We have all of last year, we've seen Matt Ryan for a long time. We know Todd Gurley, we know about Julio (Jones), we know the guys. It's wait-and-see, and they've got to wait and see on us, too. We have to be ready to adapt and have to have really good communication to get that done, and hopefully we'll be able to stay ahead of it."
When it comes to preparing for a Week 1 opponent without a preseason, as well as the whole process of getting players ready from a physical standpoint without those games, Carroll has been able to lean on his experience of coaching at USC for nine seasons, heading into many of those years with such high expectations that a season-opening loss to any opponent would have significant ramifications when it came to title hopes.
"There's no question," Carroll said when asked if his college experience helps this year. "As I've said from the start, OK, we just flick into the college prep and how we did that. What was unique about the SC thing is that every single game mattered at the end of the year in terms of, you had to try to win every game. So that first game when you didn't know and you had to figure out where you were, did you have a good club or not? There was a lot going on. It really did prepare us for this, because every game for us is a championship game here, and we look at it the same way, so I'm glad to have that experience."
One adjustment the Seahawks had to make in this year's camp to make up for a lack of preseason games was working in more tackling into the mock games they held, particularly the second one that was the most physical of the three scrimmages. The Seahawks also incorporated more sessions of starters going against starters this year to help get players game-ready.
"I don't know what coach and what level isn't concerned about tackling on the first game, wherever you're playing," Carroll said. "Are the guys going to hit them or are they not? It's a concern. That's why we played game-like in the second mock game we had, just to make sure our guys did have a chance to go full speed and tackle and all that. It worked out fine. This is what we've done in the past, and just watching our guys—as a matter of fact, I went back and watched it again last night. I just wanted to see the tempo again just to see if it matched up to what's going to be necessary, and I felt fine about it. This is what we've got to do. I don't know what other clubs—everybody had their own way of doing it and had their own opportunity to figure out how much they were going to hit. We try to practice at such a good tempo and so much ones against ones during this whole camp that our guys are used to the best speed that we can generate, so hopefully we'll be fine."
Added linebacker Bobby Wagner, "I'm excited to get out there and hit something and actually kind of be live. It's going to be fun. It's unknown, you know you don't know how it's going to be. You've got to provide your own energy, but we're going on a road anyway, so we didn't expect the crowd to be on our side anyway. It's going to be fun, and I'm excited for what this year is going to bring."
And while there are some differences this year when it comes to the build-up towards Sunday's game, what remains is the excitement for the season-opener.
"It's really fun," Carroll said. "You can feel the energy in everybody, the coaches, everybody in the building, the players for sure. And for a lot of guys, it's their first NFL game ever, so they're all pumped up about it. It's really important to us to watch those guys and see that they don't get too hyped or whatever; they need to stay in the kind of pocket that we need to stay in. But there's a lot of excitement about it, and there is I think even more anticipation in a sense, because we've had so little football over the course of the offseason and all. There's big buildup, we're looking forward to it, and it's going to be a much different experience than we normally see on the road. It's going to be interesting."
Carroll doesn't know exactly what his team will look like in Sunday's game—only game action can really show what kind of team this is—but he is excited to see it unfold.
"I'm really excited about this team going out and finally getting a chance to show it," Carroll said. "It really wouldn't matter who we were playing or where we're playing right now, we've just got to go play a football game and see what we need to adjust. But the leadership has been really formidable in keeping the pace and keeping the tempo and keeping the focus, and that's all we can hope for, so let's go see. That's why we play the game, just got to find out what's going to happen. We'll have a good story for you afterward."
Photos from Wednesday's Seahawks practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's Week 1 game against the Atlanta Falcons.