Will Seahawks have Lynch in Week 1?

It's melodramatic to suggest the 2012 NFC West race hinges on Marshawn Lynch's availability to the Seattle Seahawks early in the season.

It's more reasonable to frame Lynch's availability for the Seahawks' opening-week matchup against Arizona as potentially pivotal, at least.

The Cardinals finished one game ahead of the Seahawks in the standings last season, claiming an overtime home victory against Seattle in Week 17. The teams appear evenly matched pending unanswered questions at quarterback. We've invested time this offseason debating whether Seattle or Arizona appears better positioned to challenge San Francisco for the division title this season.

The Seahawks, having built their offense around Lynch, scored only three points in their lone game without him last season.

So, if the NFL does suspend Lynch following the running back's recent DUI arrest, the Seahawks' chances for victory at Arizona in Week 1 would take a significant hit. Fantasy football general managers also have strong interest in the matter, as do the Seahawks' division rivals beyond Arizona.

"Sando, the questions all of us have for you are, 'Will Lynch be suspended if he is not convicted for his DUI? Will he be suspended if convicted of DUI, but no jail time?' " 4949Centennial asked.

I would expect no suspension in the absence of a DUI conviction. Jail time would not be a key variable, in my view.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can fine or suspend Lynch either way. The NFL Players Association might disagree, but that is my interpretation based on precedent. However, a suspension in the absence of a conviction or plea agreement would surprise me quite a bit. Lynch has no previous alcohol-related incidents on his record. He has shown remorse and taken responsibility for his actions through a public statement.

In general, the NFL issues only fines for first-time violators of its alcohol policy.

"If the commissioner finds that there were aggravating circumstances, including but not limited to felonious conduct or serious injury or death of third parties, and/or if the player has had prior drug or alcohol-related misconduct, increased discipline up to and including suspension may be imposed," the policy states. "Discipline for a second or subsequent offense is likely to be a suspension, the duration of which may escalate for repeat offenses."

At worst, Lynch would be a first-time offender of the policy regarding alcohol. However, the NFL's policy on personal conduct says "persons who have had previous violations of law or of this policy may be considered repeat offenders."

Lynch was suspended in 2009 for a weapons violation. That incident could increase the likelihood of a suspension for Lynch in the DUI case, depending upon the outcome. The relatively significant gap in time between the weapons case and the DUI arrest, coupled with Lynch's public statement taking responsibility, would seem to work in Lynch's favor.

Skilled attorneys can often help first-time DUI offenders emerge with something less than a full-fledged conviction. Lynch should be in good position to avoid a suspension, in my view. His biggest worry should rest on whether Goodell wants to make an example of him.