The Seattle Seahawks open defense of their Super Bowl crown at home against the Green Bay Packers tonight on NBC to kick off the 2014 NFL regular season. All eyes will be on CenturyLink Field, as the Seahawks take the first step in their attempt to become the first repeat Super Bowl champions since New England in 2003-04. The Packers have won the NFC North each of the past three seasons and enter this season with Super Bowl aspirations of their own.
Pete Carroll’s Seahawks have won 19 of their last 20 games at CenturyLink Field, a stretch that goes back to the last time these two teams met. Seattle defeated Green Bay 14-12 back in Week 3 of the 2012 regular season. Fortunately for Aaron Rodgers and company, there will not be a replacement referee anywhere in sight tonight.
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Seattle -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Seattle’s Super Bowl Hangover?
The Seahawks thoroughly dominated the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII in February and are a legitimate contender to get back to the big game this season. It’s been more than a decade since a team went back-to-back and only seven teams have ever accomplished the feat (Pittsburgh’s done it twice). Besides history, Seattle also will have to deal with the fac that this is not the same team that won the Lombardi Trophy seven months ago. Five starters and a couple of key reserves from the roster that manhandled the Broncos are gone, including the leading receiver and half of the defensive line. There’s still plenty of talent remaining and some “new” faces who should be immediate contributors, but depth, especially on defense, was one of Seattle’s hallmarks last season. With so much roster turnover and the added expectations of being the defending champions, one can’t help but wonder if it will take a game or two for this team to find its stride. Residing in the NFC West, the toughest division in the NFL, a game or two could be the difference between playing a playoff game at home or on the road. So if Seattle wants to increase its chances of playing in front of its “12th Man,” it can ill afford a flat performance out of the gates, especially against a quality opponent like Green Bay.
2. Green Bay’s re-Packaged Defense
While Green Bay’s offense was statistically superior to Seattle’s last season; there was no contest on the other side of the ball. The Seahawks were No. 1 in the NFL in total, scoring and passing defense, as well as interceptions and turnover differential. Everyone knows about the “Legion of Boom” secondary, but Seattle also was just as effective in rushing the passer and stopping the run. Contrast that to the Packers, who were 25th in the league in total yards allowed and rushing defense and not much better when it came to points and passing yards allowed. Green Bay won a third straight NFC North division title despite going just 8-7-1. Aaron Rodgers’ mid-season collarbone injury had a lot to do with this, but it’s no secret that the defense needs to a better job if the Packers want to be legitimate NFC contenders, let alone beat the Seahawks on the road tonight. The team addressed its defensive deficiencies in the offseason, signing free-agent pass-rush specialist Julius Peppers and using four of its seven draft picks on defenders, highlighted by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the No. 21 overall pick out of Alabama. Green Bay also is hoping for a full season from linebacker Clay Matthews and bounce-back campaigns from other key personnel. A strong statement from this beleaguered unit tonight would not only help the offense, which figures to have a tough assignment trying to move the ball against the NFL’s No. 1 defense on its own turf, but also help set the tone moving forward.
3. Dueling All-Purpose Wideouts
When healthy, Randall Cobb and Percy Harvin are among the most dangerous players in the NFL. Not only are both reliable targets in the passing game, they are both explosive return specialists capable of scoring any time they touch the ball. The problem is that both missed more games than they played last season. Cobb broke his leg against Baltimore in Week 6 and didn’t return until the final game of the regular season, while Harvin underwent offseason hip surgery and didn’t appear in a game until Week 17. His biggest contribution came in Seattle’s Super Bowl victory, when he led all rushers with 45 yards (on just two carries) and also took the second half kickoff back 87 yards for a touchdown. The impact Harvin had with those three touches underscores his importance to the Seahawks’ offense, especially now that fellow wide receiver Golden Tate, who was Russell Wilson’s favorite target the past two seasons, is now in Detroit. Meanwhile, a healthy Cobb gives Aaron Rodgers another target with which to attack Seattle’s vaunted secondary. With Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin and rookie Davante Adams at wide receiver and running back Eddie Lacy a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield, Rodgers has quality options to throw to, provided his offensive line gives him enough time in the pocket. Whether Cobb or Havin end up returning kickoffs or punts in this game remains to be seen, but the simple fact that they are options in the return game is yet another indicator why both will be a welcome sight on the field tonight for their respective teams.
Seattle is the defending Super Bowl champions playing at home, where it has been basically unbeatable (17-1, including playoffs) the past two seasons. Green Bay is certainly no slouch of an opponent, having won its division the past three seasons and nearly beating the Seahawks on their home turf the last time these two teams met. While Seattle has a distinct advantage on defense, Aaron Rodgers will show why he’s a perennial MVP candidate by keeping his team in this one. However, Seattle has its own Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in Russell Wilson, and in the end the young signal-caller will make enough plays to lead the reigning world champions to victory. I expect there to be plenty of penalty calls due to the crackdown on illegal contact and the physical nature of the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom.” But at least we can take comfort in the fact that tonight, the flags will be thrown by “real” referees.