Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers
In the second of two high-stakes home games, the Packers have to compete with their recent nemesis, the Seahawks.
In the past few years, we’ve had some painful battles against this team. It began with the Fail Mary in 2012, tearing out our hearts and getting the replacement refs (thankfully) replaced with the full-time regulars.
Then came the 2014 opener, where the offense played into Seattle’s hands, playing with half a field in an eventual 36-16 rout.
The worst came in the playoffs that year however, with Green Bay going up 16-0 before falling apart in the final five minutes behind a litany of comically unlikely events all happening in a short period of time (to recount: Morgan Burnett sliding down after an interception, botching an onside kick recovery, allowing a scrambling Hail Mary-esque toss on a two-point conversion, blowing the coverage on the game-sealing TD pass in overtime from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse) to end what had looked for most of the day to be a surefire Super Bowl berth.
Last year finally brought some good news in this matchup however, with Green Bay finding a way to beat Seattle 27-17 despite not having Nelson in tow.
Much has changed on both sides since this became a game to circle each year on the calendar though. With Marshawn Lynch deciding to retire, the team now doesn’t have the motor the ground down the defense in most of those previous meetings; now, Wilson is the man with no competitor, and he has already proven excellent in that role.
While Lynch missed time to injury last season, the offense leaned more on the pass, and Wilson became scarier than ever; starting against San Francisco in Week 11, he put up 1,906 yards to go with a 24:1 TD:INT ratio, and he even managed to pull Seattle from a 31-0 hole to a last grasp at victory against the Panthers in the playoffs.
Put that with the still-stellar star-studded defense (#4 in Defensive DVOA, #1 DVOA vs #1 receivers) and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this team is arguably yet again the NFC’s best bet to win the Super Bowl.
Despite the way some of these recent games have gone for them though, Green Bay has shown themselves more and more capable of doing what is necessary to break through and beat this team.
Prior to the collapse in the playoffs two years ago, the defense found its way to have one of their more memorable performances in recent years, forcing Wilson into 4 interceptions and picking up 5 sacks in what should have been a winning effort.
Then last season the offense sans Nelson put up 27 points behind strong work from Randall Cobb and James Starks, and the defense finally slowed Lynch for a full game while garnering 2 sacks and forcing a couple turnovers (including a game-sealing INT of Wilson by Jayrone Elliott).
Though the new pass-leaning offensive attack of Seattle should be a new kind of threat to worry about, that lines up better with the strength of what should be the best Packers defense Wilson has had to face to date.
The back four will be heavily tested (particularly because Wilson can still utilize his legs to extend plays), but the Shields/Randall/Hyde/Burnett/Clinton-Dix group should be able to hold up pretty well against the receiving options Wilson has at his disposal (though if utilized better this year, Jimmy Graham could make that a tougher proposition).
More than that, this is where the pass rush will have the chance to really earn their collective paycheck. Matthews should be back to the constant pass-rush menace he was before having to take over at ILB the past 1.5 years, and the Julius Peppers/Nick Perry/Datone Jones triumvirate should be able to sub in and keep the pressure coming.
Should young defensive linemen like Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry manage to step up and muck things up along with powerhouse Mike Daniels and veteran Letroy Guion, this could be an absolute bloodbath against a Seattle offensive line that looks to be one of the weakest in the league (per PFF, not a single projected starter graded out as average for 2015).
If the Packers offense can attack the Seattle defense much like they did in the 2015 meeting (attack with Cobb exploiting holes in the passing game, making decent gashes with the running game) they should be able to put up enough points to survive the frustratingly inevitable Wilson theatrics and pull out a win, likely putting themselves firmly in the driver’s seat for a top-2 seed in the playoffs.
Green Bay 20
Green Bay Record: 11-2
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