Kelly’s right. The symmetry is almost perfect. The Packers rolled into Seattle in week 1 expecting to be a favorite in the NFC. The team expected to have one of the top offenses in the league. The Seahawks were the defending world champions. The last time they played they undressed (as underdogs) the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl by a score of 43-8. Yes, Manning has a history of coming up small in big games but this was an onslaught that no one could have predicted. The Seahawks brought back most of that roster and figured to be a favorite in the NFC and one of the top defenses in the league.
Seattle won the opening game by 20, though the game wasn’t as much of a blowout as the score would tell you. 1100 yard rusher Eddie Lacy left the game early with a concussion. Green Bay led after the first quarter and was driving to tie the game in the 3rd quarter when all hell broke loose. Aaron Rodgers threw a quick slant off of Jordy Nelson’s hands that was intercepted. RT Bryan Bulaga was injured on the same play. His replacement, Derek Sherrod, gave up two sacks that completely changed the game. One was on a 4th and medium in Seahawks territory with the Packers driving and the other allowed a sack/strip/safety that effectively ended the game.
All season long Green Bay and Seattle were not only the top two teams in the conference, but in the league. The Seahawks took care of the Broncos in a rematch of the Super Bowl and the Packers defeated New England. The Broncos and Pats were the best the AFC had to offer all season long. Both the Packers and Seahawks were exceptional at home. Green Bay finished a perfect 9-0 at Lambeau Field and the Seahawks a very impressive 8-1 at the Link.
The Seahawks, however, aren’t as good as they were in week 1. Gone are speedsters Percy Harvin and Paul Richardson. Gone is run stuffing nose tackle Brandon Mebane. Gone are starting FB Derrick Coleman and TE Zach Miller. Seattle has gone on quite a run of late and has people scared, but they haven’t played anyone in over 2 months, especially not any competent QBs. They might be closer to the 6-4 team they were after 10 games than the juggernaut they appear to be now. Carolina is a team that should be incinerated at home in a playoff game, and the Seahawks just didn’t.
Green Bay is markedly better than they were in week 1. Amazingly enough, no starters were lost to injury this season. Where was once AJ Hawk and Brad Jones are Sam Barrington and Clay Matthews. Where was once Jarrett Boykin is Davante Adams, making plays. 1st round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix is now the full time starting safety and Micah Hyde has been returned to his role as a slot playmaker. Where once there was a gimmicky “secret” 4-3 defense there is the defense that Dom Capers knows how to run and finally has playmakers in the middle of it.
Have the two teams come close enough together that the Packers have a shot on Sunday? Can Aaron Rodgers beat the Legion of Boom on one leg? Can Dom Capers slow down Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch? We’ll find out Sunday.
Why the Packers Will Win: they have the best player in the game. I kinda wish this was basketball on Sunday cause that might mean a little bit more. Being 1 of 22 isn’t as significant as being 1 of 10. Aaron Rodgers is this league’s MVP and even without his mobility is light years ahead of any quarterback the Seahawks have faced SINCE WEEK 6. Green Bay will almost assuredly set up in the pistol, a formation that has been very successful running the football.
While the Seahawks are a very good run defense, they are not as good as Detroit’s and the Packers put 152 rushing yards on the Lions out of the pistol. As with the first game, Nelson and Cobb remain a matchup issue for Seattle’s #2 and #3 corners. Richard Sherman will not be ignored this game, and will have to deal with a much more talented receiver in Davante Adams. If the offensive line can control the game it will give the Packers offense a better chance.
Defensively is where people are underrating the Packers and overrating the Seahawks. The Seahawks certainly have a better offense than some previous Super Bowl teams that have “won with defense”. These aren’t the Trent Dilfer Ravens or the Brad Johnson Buccaneers but they’re also not an elite unit. They aren’t as good as the Dallas offense that scored 21 points against Green Bay. They aren’t as good as the Patriots offense that scored 21 points against the Packers either. They run the ball well, but not like Dallas. They throw it well too, but not like Tom Brady and the Pats. Unlike the last two teams the Packers have faced, the Seahawks don’t have a receiver that requires a double team.
The other truly underrated factor is the Julius Peppers effect. The only question about Julius Peppers over the last few seasons has been his consitency and his effort. Well, this might be Julius’ last shot at a ring and we saw what a consistent 110% effort Julius Peppers could do last week. He can completely control a game defensively and against a player like Justin Britt, expect him to have a huge impact on the outcome. If Peppers makes one or two splash plays it could be the difference.
Why the Seahawks Will Win: they are at home. They are favored by a touchdown. They have the healthier QB. They have a very loud stadium. They are better defensively. There’s a lot of reasons that Seattle can win this game. Offensively they run the ball well. The Packers are not the ghastly unit against the run that they were in the beginning of the season but they’re not elite either. Worse than that, they have a mobile QB which has been the bane of Green Bay’s existence for about the past dozen years. The passing game doesn’t feature a lot of star players, but Wilson is so good at extending plays it sometimes doesn’t matter. DBs can’t cover forever.
Defensively is where Seattle scares everyone. They are still a tough defense against the run. Seattle’s effective cover 3 scheme allows
freak safety Kam Chancellor to support the run, and support the run he does. Even without Mebane they were a top 3 run D. If they can shut down the run and focus on Rodgers and the passing game it could create very serious issues.
Without his mobility Rodgers has to get the ball out in his progressions. The Seahawks defense might be good enough to rush with 4 and cover the progressions with 7. If Rodgers can’t extend plays with his legs and hit guys on their secondary breaks there might not be anywhere to go for the Packers on offense. It’s likely that Green Bay is going to have to score 4 or 5 times to win the game so the Seahawks D must be better than that to move on to Arizona.
Bottom Line: I mean what I said. These two teams have approached each other this season. The gap has closed. The Seahawks have come down a little bit, despite their current 7 game winning streak, and Green Bay is better than when they started. I think if Aaron Rodgers was healthy this would actually be an easy selection for me. Funny thing is, if Green Bay had beaten Buffalo and this game was at Lambeau Field and Green Bay had a better record I think the national narrative would be different. The result of the Buffalo game doesn’t really change what I think, though. The Seahawks aren’t as good as Dallas offensively, they’re just not. I’ll give the respect to the Seahawks at home that they deserve and give them 3 more points than the Cowboys scored at Lambeau Field. That’s 24 points. Can the Packers put up more than 24 points on the Seahawks defense on the road and punch their ticket to the second Super Bowl of the Thompson-McCarthy-Rodgers era? Hell yes. Packers 27 Seahawks 24 (15-2 picking games this season).