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2022 NFL season kickoff: Four things to watch for in Broncos-Seahawks prime-time game

Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season concludes in Seattle, where the table is set for a juicy plotline that for many will take precedence over the actual matchup between the Broncos and Seahawks. 

Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle should make for a great Monday night opener, and the 33-year-old has a chance to enter rare territory with a victory.

With a win over the Seahawks on MNF, Wilson will be one step closer to becoming just the fifth quarterback in NFL history to notch a win over all 32 teams in the NFL. The Broncos QB will have two chances to beat the Los Angeles Chargers (Week 6, 18) in order to officially join Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Brett Favre, but that won’t happen unless he beats his former team in Week 1. 

Wilson joins Brady, Manning, Favre and Joe Montana as the only QBs to win 100-plus games with a team and later face that team, and only Manning lost his homecoming (2013 at Indianapolis). Wilson also joins Brady and Favre as the only QBs to win 50-plus games in a stadium and then return to face their old team in that stadium.

Here are four things to watch when the Seahawks play host to the Broncos:

  1. Russell Wilson's homecoming. The schedule-makers really did themselves in with Wilson’s first game as a Bronco taking place in Seattle on Monday Night Football, and it's a worthy setting for the occasion. Following a blockbuster trade this offseason, Wilson, the Seahawks’ all-time leading quarterback in just about every passing stat imaginable (save for interceptions), returns to face the franchise he helped lead to its first Super Bowl. With consistent success over the course of Wilson’s 10-season run with the Seahawks came a yearly national spotlight on Seattle throughout the 2010s. Wilson rarely let the Hawks down by generating a 29-11-1 record and six fourth-quarter comebacks in prime-time games, which both rank first among the 18 QBs with 20-plus prime-time starts since 2012, per NFL Research. Seahawks fans enjoyed a 19-5 home record in such games, and the 12s often did their part by disorienting opposing QBs and outright starting the decibel-measuring craze at NFL stadiums. Wilson will now be subject to that adversity in his first road tilt in Seattle, and although what led to the mutual breakup remains ambiguous, his reception at Lumen Stadium is sure to reach both sides of the fanatical spectrum over the course of an emotional night
  2. What will Nathaniel Hackett have Russ cooking? Mystery surrounds the rookie head coach’s offense with Wilson at the helm because it has yet to be revealed. Hackett decided to sit Wilson along with most of the starters throughout the preseason despite the Broncos offense learning a new system with a new quarterback over the summer. The Hackett-Wilson connection is an important one for the Broncos, a team that’s seemingly been one quality QB away from success ever since Peyton Manning retired (last playoff game was Super Bowl 50). Hackett has had some stellar working relationships with his QBs as an offensive coordinator, from Aaron Rodgers’ recent back-to-back MVP-winning campaigns to helping get Blake Bortles one win away from a Super Bowl. Wilson takes over a well-rounded Broncos offense that consists of a stout rushing duo (Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon) and a talented receiving corps (Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler) that has really gone untapped considering the recent QBs in Denver. Hackett, who will be calling the offensive plays, is expected to maintain his balanced philosophy in Denver, but Wilson’s talent for throwing the deep ball must be an enticing option, especially considering it's been a missing element in Denver for years.
  3. Geno Smith’s second chance. Following a preseason QB battle with Drew Lock, Smith finds himself as a full-fledged starter during Kickoff Weekend for the first time since 2014, and the 31-year-old will look to change the established practices Wilson left behind. According to NFL Research, Smith will be the first Seahawks QB not named Wilson to start a season opener since the late Tarvaris Jackson in 2011, and aims to become the first to get Seattle to 1-0 since Matt Hasselback the year prior. Smith, who’s never lost a season opener in his career (2-0), takes over a relatively unchanged Seahawks offense that he’s digested over the past two years and got some considerable experience in it last season, compiling 702 yards and five touchdowns to one interception in four games (three starts). Although he won’t be asked of much in Seattle’s run-heavy offense, Smith developed a pretty good rapport with DK Metcalf last season, completing 17 of 21 pass attempts to the star wideout for 251 yards, four TDs and zero INTs (156.1 passer rating). New tight end Noah Fant (acquired from Denver in Wilson trade) should also play a major role for Smith, who can quickly turn into a Seattle darling with a win on opening night.  
  4. Where does the Seahawks defense stand? First-year defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt takes over a unit that needed a new voice after four years under Ken Norton Jr. Seattle played to its strengths in promoting their defensive line coach. Led by Al Woods, Poona Ford and Darrell Taylor, Hurtt’s group was the bright spot of a defense that finished 28th in the league in yards allowed last season. Acquiring defensive lineman Shelby Harris (via the Wilson trade) and pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu (free agency) should only boost the Seahawks’ deep set of disruptors that offer a stout run defense and solid pass rush. Jordyn Brooks, who takes over at middle linebacker following the exit of Bobby Wagner, has been waiting in the wings the past two seasons, and star safety Jamal Adams is itching to return to form assuming he’s been reading the middling reviews since his arrival. The Seahawks aren’t short of defensive talent entering 2022, and should there be any success in Seattle this upcoming season, it will be spurred on by Hurtt’s squad. We will see how it all comes together on Monday night. 

Follow Michael Baca on Twitter @mikebaca2.

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