Before the regular season started, I’m sure plenty of people predicted that the Packers and Seahawks would meet in the NFC title game. After the two teams met in Week 1, I definitely remember people changing their tune, but here we are! The Packers were embarrassed in the first matchup, 36-16 on the season's opening night. The Seattle defense was able to shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, and the Packers’ defense had a hard time containing Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin.
Fortunately for the Packers (and all of us watching), things have changed since then and I don’t think we’ll see another blowout this weekend. That being said, it will be tough for the Packers to go up to Seattle with a banged up Aaron Rodgers and knock off the defending Super Bowl champs.
First of all, the Seahawks parted ways with Harvin. The 26-year-old speedster carved up the Packers defense in their Week 1 matchup. He had seven receptions for 59 yards and he also added four carries for 41 yards. Harvin also had 60 yards on kick-off returns. He may have been a cancer in the Seattle locker room, but Harvin certainly made a huge difference in Week 1.
Secondly, Packers’ running back Eddie Lacy has found his legs since the first matchup between these two teams. The Packers’ running back was held to 34 yards on 12 carries, and he suffered a concussion in the loss. Lacy played against the Jets the following week, but he had just 43 yards on the ground. He followed that performance up with 36 yards against Detroit in Week 3, and 48 yards against Chicago in Week 4. After those four tough performances, Lacy started rolling and he’s made the Green Bay offense a lot more dangerous.
It’s not all positive for the Packers. One thing they didn’t have to deal with in Week 1 was a banged up Aaron Rodgers. Sure, Green Bay was still able to beat Dallas with a gimpy Rodgers last week, but playing the Seahawks in Seattle is a different animal. It's a challenge only two teams have overcome in the past three years; Dallas earlier this season and the Cardinals late in 2013.
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3 Why Green Bay Can Win:
In my mind, I can’t see the Packers winning this game without a balanced attack. As I mentioned before, Eddie Lacy came out of the gate slowly in 2014, but his numbers have improved dramatically since the opening week loss to Seattle. In the first four games of the season, Lacy carried the ball 53 times and totalled just 161 yards rushing (3.04 yards per carry). In the last 12 games of the regular season, the Packers’ tail back rushed for 978 yards on 193 carries, which averages out to a healthy 5.07 yards per attempt.
Aaron Rodgers may be the best quarterback in the game, but playing against Seattle’s ferocious defense and being on one leg won’t be easy for him. Sure, Rodgers looked better in the second half of last week’s win against Dallas, but his mobility is clearly limited. He isn’t as comfortable in the pocket and escaping the rush.
The Packers may have a potent passing attack, but if last year’s Super Bowl taught us anything, it’s that Seattle’s defense isn’t afraid of any quarterback in the NFL. Coming out and being a one-dimensional offense plays right into Seattle’s hands. The Seattle defense, led by the Legion of Boom, are the only team in the NFL this season to average less than 200 yards passing against (185.6).
Of course, running the ball on Seattle’s defense is also easier said than done. The Seahawks have the third best run-defense in the NFL, surrendering just 81.5 yards on the ground per game, but Green Bay’s offensive line has also improved throughout the season. Corey Linsley, the Packers’ rookie center, struggled in his first start. Of course, playing in Seattle with the raucous crowd is no easy task, but Linsley has come a long way. The 23-year-old out of Ohio State graded out as one of the better centers in the game according to Pro Football Focus.
“I will say this,” Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy said of Linsley in October. “If things keep going the way they’re going, I think we’ll look back on this start as probably one of the most impressive situations that a young player has stepped up and performed in my time here.”
That’s some high praise from McCarthy, who’s seen his fair share of talented rookies. Linsley’s performance was dissected thoroughly by broadcasters and media types alike, but we have reason to believe he won’t have as much of a negative impact on this game. The Packers offensive line as a whole is very underrated. They are tied for ninth in quarterback sacks allowed, with 30 and they rank 11th in total rushing yards with 1,917.
If the Seahawks shut down Eddie Lacy, and force the Packers into obvious passing situations, Rodgers could be in for a long day. If Green Bay becomes predictable, Seattle’s pass rushers will be able to tee off on Rodgers, which won’t be easy for him or his calf. Giving A-Rod a solid running game will give him more time to throw, especially off the play action pass.
We all know about Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as playmakers, but guys like Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers have all proven that they can step up if need be. If Rodgers is able to attack the Legion of Boom, and his weapons can get open, the Packers could be on their way to another Super Bowl appearance.
If the Packers win this game, I don’t expect it to be high scoring. They will have to grind out a win in a way they aren’t accustomed to.
2 Why Seattle Can Win:
For Seattle, the keys to the game are simple. Losing at home to Dallas earlier this season is the best thing that could have happened to this team. After dominating Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl and shutting down Aaron Rodgers in Week 1, they were humbled by the Cowboys. That loss taught them that they weren’t invincible in front of their home fans.
As I mentioned before, a big reason why the Seahawks defeated the Packers on opening night was because of Percy Harvin. Not only did he create offense as a receiver, but he was dynamic out of the backfield as well. Harvin also impacted the game as a decoy, opening things up for Seattle’s other players on offense.
Since Harvin is now a member of the New York Jets, he’s one less player the Packers have to worry about. Two guys they do have to concentrate on are running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russel Wilson.
Lynch gashed the Packers defense for 110 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, while Wilson was limited to 191 yards passing, but he still made plays all over the field. Not many teams are able to shut down both Wilson and Lynch, but stopping one would greatly improve the Packers’ chances of winning this game.
Stopping Lynch will be tricky. Sure the Packers could load up the box, but that will leave their corners without much help in the secondary. Wilson uses the run to open up the pass a little more than Aaron Rodgers does. Rodgers is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league and he is in a pass-first offense, which suits him well. That doesn’t mean Wilson isn’t a good passer, it just means that he operates differently.
Wilson becomes even more dangerous when he uses his legs to make plays. He’s able to scramble and flat out run, or he uses the read-option with Lynch to see what the opposing defense gives him.
As good as he is in the regular season, Wilson has had a knack for stepping up in crucial moments as well. The young veteran has the highest career quarterback rating in the playoffs at 109.6 (Aaron Rodgers is second with 105.3). Combine that with his 5-1 postseason record, and you can see why the Packers are in tough on Sunday. Wilson's only playoff loss came in a 30-28 heart breaker against Atlanta in his rookie season. The Falcons kicked a winning field goal in the dying moments right after Wilson had engineered a 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter. He's constantly risen to the occasion in big moments.
“When you’re in those moments, you either live for them or you fall off,” said Wilson. “For me, I look forward to those moments. I visualize myself, ever since I was a little kid, to be in these moments.”
I don’t think the Packers’ offense will be as much of a train wreck as it was in Week 1, but I have a hard time seeing an injured Aaron Rodgers lead the Packers to victory in Seattle. I realize that the Packers have more weapons on offense, but the two defenses don’t compare.
Even when he’s injured, Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the world, but there’s something about Russell Wilson in the playoffs at CenturyLink Field. The crowd will be a factor as it usually is in Seattle, and I’m confident the Seahawks will keep on rolling this weekend.
Sorry Packer fans, but this is the end of the line.
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