Season-opening foes will reconvene Sunday afternoon with much more on the line when the Green Bay Packers face the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on FOX. All that stands between the Seahawks (13-4) becoming the first team in 10 seasons to make it to back-to-back Super Bowls are the Packers (13-4), the team they beat 36-16 more than four months ago.
Green Bay is looking for its first Super Bowl berth since winning the Lombardi Trophy four seasons ago and enters having won 12 of its last 14 games. All eyes will be on the health of Aaron Rodgers, the likely MVP who is dealing with a torn calf muscle.
Seattle has won seven games in a row and 10 of its last 11, and also is riding an eight-game home playoff winning streak at CenturyLink Field. The “12th Man” will no doubt be in full force, as the Seahawks hope to get one step closer to become the first repeat Super Bowl champion since New England (2003-04 seasons).
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawkss
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 18 at 3:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Aaron Rodgers’ Left Calf
May as well get the obvious one out of the way, no? Rodgers’ torn calf muscle is going to take some time to heal completely, so he will continue to be limited by it. However, as we saw last week against Dallas, a “limited” Rodgers is still an extremely dangerous one, as he torched the Cowboys for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers’ mobility was clearly compromised, as he lost a fumble on a sack and was pretty much relegated to staying in the pocket. However, Dallas only brought Rodgers down twice and was unable to generate any sort of consistent pressure. With plenty of time to scan the field for an open receiver, Rodgers spent most of the second half throwing frozen ropes against a helpless Dallas secondary. A repeat performance figures to be much tougher against Seattle’s defense, which limited Rodgers to just 23-of-33 passing for 189 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. The Seahawks also picked him off once and sacked him three times. The Packers’ offensive line made great strides in pass protection as the season went on, but this unit will have its work cut out for it against the Seahawks’ relentless pass rush. Seattle won’t take anything, even a less-than-100-percent Rodgers, for granted, so it will be interesting to see how the likely MVP fares against the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense (on the road no less) on one good leg.
2. Eddie Lacy vs. Marshawn Lynch
While the head-to-head battle between a pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson will no doubt be fascinating to watch and one of the keys to this game, it’s not the only offensive positional pairing to keep an eye on. Both teams like to run the ball, especially Seattle, and each has a punishing ball carrier in Lacy and Lynch. Seventh and fourth, respectively, in rushing this season, Lacy and Lynch also share one other thing in common – each is hard to bring down. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Lynch and Lacy are first and second in yards after contact over the past two seasons. In the first meeting between their teams, Lynch had the upper hand, finishing with 110 yards rushing and two scores. Lacy meanwhile was limited to 34 yards on 12 carries and had to leave the game early in the fourth quarter due to an apparent concussion. Lacy was back on the field the next week and after hitting a lull in the middle of the season, he appears to have hit his stride. Lacy has averaged 99 yards rushing per game over his last seven contests, including 101 in the Divisional Round win against Dallas. Lynch managed just 59 yards on 14 carries against Carolina, but to be fair the Panthers’ rush defense is much stingier than the Cowboys’ and the Seahawks were pretty much in control of their Divisional Round affair from the start. For this contest, there’s little argument that Lacy has the tougher challenge as it relates to the defenses, but Green Bay still needs production from him given Rodgers’ limited mobility. On the other side, Seattle fans have seen Lynch’s “Beast Mode” in the playoffs before (vs. Saints in 2010 and ’13 seasons) and would no doubt love an excuse to pelt CenturyLink Field with even more Skittles showers Sunday afternoon.
3. Packers’ Pass-Catchers vs. Legion of Boom
As much attention as Aaron Rodgers’ calf is getting, another popular storyline has been the matchup between Green Bay’s wide receivers and Seattle’s secondary. Headlined by three All-Pros, the back end of the Seahawks’ defense is the best in the NFL, while the Packers have one of the more feared one-two punches at wide receiver in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. In the season opener, it’s fair to say the Legion of Boom won the battle, as Rodgers threw for 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Nelson and Cobb combined for 15 catches that went for 141 yards and the lone score (Cobb). After the game much was made of the fact that Rodgers didn’t throw a single pass in the direction of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, basically using just one side of the field. Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy have already come out and said that won’t happen this time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Sherman will be busier than usual either. Instead, look for the Packers to move Nelson and Cobb around to get the matchups they want, while rookie Davante Adams will more than likely see most of his snaps lined up on Sherman’s side of the field. Adams came up big last week with a team-high 117 yards and a touchdown against Dallas, but the Cowboys have zero Pro Bowlers in their secondary while the Seahawks have three All-Pros. Thanks to Adams’ emergence as well as the effectiveness of tight ends Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers, it’s fair to say Rodgers has more targets at his disposal now than he did in the season opener. However, Seattle’s defense is whole and healthy and still features the best secondary in the league. Even if Rodgers’ calf and the offensive line hold up long enough to give him time to throw, will the results be any different than they were four months ago?
For just the second time ever, a conference championship game pits the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense vs. the top scoring defense (1980 NFC, DAL vs. PHI). There’s no mystery which team fits each bill nor is there any surrounding the overarching storyline headed into this contest. Aaron Rodgers fared pretty well last week with a torn calf muscle, but Dallas’ defense and Seattle’s are two entirely different units. It sounds rather simplistic, but in the classic offense vs. defense matchup, I tend to side with the latter. Especially when that defense is playing at home, is on a pretty good roll and is one win away from getting back to the Super Bowl. And oh yeah, the last postseason game in any round that featured the No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense was none other than the most recent Super Bowl. And we all remember how that game turned out.