Seahawks, Packers clash in Lambeau Field for spot in the NFC Championship Game
These two teams have had some fun playoff battles over the years as they last met in the postseason in the 2015 NFC Championship Game when the Seahawks knocked off Green Bay 28-22 in overtime. Thus, with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers at the controls, the executives at FOX have to be salivating at the ratings potential of this matchup.
Seattle (12-5) went back east to Lincoln Financial Field last Sunday and took care of the Eagles 17-9 in the NFC Wild Card game. The Seahawks were without the entire left side of their offensive line as Duane Brown and Mike Iupati did not play. Joey Hunt was overmatched against Fletcher Cox all afternoon long, which is a problem that won't go away this week against the Packers. However, the offensive line did just enough to give Wilson time to make plays, holding the Eagles to one sack.
DK Metcalf set the rookie playoff record for most receiving yards in the Super Bowl era with 160 yards on seven catches plus a touchdown. The defensive line got after Carson Wentz, who had to leave the game in the first half after a controversial helmet-to-helmet hit by Jadeveon Clowney. Additionally, the Seahawks collected seven sacks among five players, which should give them a huge confidence boost moving forward into the showdown with Green Bay.
The Packers (13-3) entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the NFC after winning the NFC North. They closed the regular season up at Ford Field in Detroit and had to scratch and claw their way to a 23-20 win over the Lions to earn the first-round bye. It was a mix of clutch production on offense and timely defensive plays that propelled Green Bay to the ever-so-critical victory.
Running back Aaron Jones took a short pass over the middle from Rodgers and scampered for 31 yards to set the Packers up on the Detroit 20-yard line. Three plays later, Mason Crosby hit a walk-off, 33-yard field goal to seal the victory. Getting off the field on third down was a huge reason why the Green Bay defense was able to secure the win and stay fresh for four quarters; they only had to be on the field for 56 plays by holding the Lions to 3-of-12 third-down conversions.
NFC Divisional Playoff: Seattle at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 12 at 6:40 p.m. ET
Spread: Packers -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Line of scrimmage battle
The battle to see which defensive line could take over this game is going to be utterly fascinating to watch on Sunday. Seattle will need to come out and play like their hair is on fire and get the Packers offense off schedule right away. Jadeveon Clowney played well against the Eagles but is definitely not 100 percent. Poona Ford and Jarran Reed have a great opportunity to clog up the middle and force the Packers run game outside, which will set up Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright to have a big day tackle wise.
Za'Darius Smith has proven to be one of the best free-agent pickups of the offseason after the Packers stepped up and gave him a four-year, $66 million-dollar contract. Green Bay will be going up against a Seattle offensive line that finished 27th in Pro Football Focus' offensive line rankings at the end of the regular season. The Packers also have a big advantage in adjusted sack rate; they rank 12th in the NFL, and the Seahawks rank 24th. Nose tackle Kenny Clark also has the potential to be a big problem for Seattle to deal with as he should be able to dominate Seattle's beat-up line. Expect Green Bay to also turn edge rusher Preston Smith loose to try and generate extra pressure on Wilson to keep him hemmed in the pocket all night long.
2. Seahawks' wide receivers vs. Packers' secondary
When the Seattle offense has struggled through the air, it's been in large part due to the wide receivers' inability to create consistent separation. Moreover, when the passing game has clicked on all cylinders for the Seahawks, they have been tough for most defenses to stop. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf will have the task of battling Green Bay's 14th-ranked pass defense on Sunday.
The forecast is going to be cold with a chance of snow showers which will challenge Seattle's receivers, as they don't play in the snow very often. Lockett will most likely be matched up with Jaire Alexander, and Metcalf should draw Kevin King most of the time. Even if the conditions won't be ideal, look for offensive coordinator to try and take advantage of Lockett's and Metcalf's speed by way of a couple of deep shots early. Wilson needs to make sure he puts the ball in the right place, however, as Alexander and King have combined for seven interceptions and 32 passes defended. Both finished in the top 10 in the league in the latter category and King's five picks tied him for fourth.
3. Playing complementary football
The Packers will need to stay patient with the running game on Sunday, especially if the snow starts to fall. Running backs have the advantage of knowing where they are going in snowy conditions, so Aaron Jones could become a very important weapon this week. Jones has had an outstanding season to date with more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. The Seahawks have struggled a little bit against elite-level runners, most notably when Christian McCaffrey went off for 175 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in December. If Jones can get 20 quality touches, it'll set up Rodgers to go work in the passing game and keep the Seattle defense on its heels.
Generating a running game won't be easy for the Seahawks, but they need to try and get a little of one by giving more carries to Marshawn Lynch in this game to create a 50-50 balance between him and Travis Homer. A good target for the running game Sunday is to get to around 75 rushing yards from the duo. Creating a couple of turnovers on defense will be a huge piece of the puzzle for the Seahawks, as they will need to steal a possession or two early on in the game to keep the frenzied Lambeau faithful at bay. Winning the turnover battle will also take some pressure off the offense to have to consistently drive the football 75-80 yards for four quarters.
Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers will battle each other like heavyweight championship-caliber boxers for four quarters, which should provide for pretty good theater for fans tuning into Fox for this game. Field position will also be an underrated key to this game for both teams. JK Scott (44.0 average, 29 punts inside the 20) and Michael Dickson (45.1, 34) have the ability to tilt the field quickly to give their teams valuable hidden yardage. Bottom line, the turnover battle will decide this one, and the Packers will create one extra takeaway to punch their ticket to the NFC Championship Game.
Prediction: Packers 20, Seahawks 16
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.