What better way to kick off the regular season than with a NFC playoff preview?
The Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks host Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the always rowdy CenturyLink Field Thursday night on NBC. Kickoff is set for 8:30 PM ET.
The Packers struggled their way to an 8-7-1 record last year, but a bunch of their struggles were because of Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury that sidelined him during the meat of the year. His return prompted a tiebreaker win at Chicago to send the Pack to the playoffs as the NFC North champ. Their postseason stint was ended abruptly when the San Francisco 49ers won in Lambeau by a field goal.
This year, Aaron Rodgers is fully healthy and ready to go, and he’ll have emerging star Eddie Lacy in the backfield to support his offensive efforts. Lacy, last season’s NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year, is a tough-nosed back similar to Marshawn Lynch, in that he isn’t afraid to initiate contact and he will shed plenty of tackles.
Rodgers’ receiving corps is a talented one, led by Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Nelson is Rodgers’ go-to guy, and his recent four-year, $38 million extension will keep it that way for a while. Nelson grabbed 85 passes for 1,314 yards and 8 scores, so Richard Sherman will have to shut him down early. Meanwhile, Byron Maxwell will have to work on the athletic Cobb, who is a speedster and downfield threat. Maxwell will have to be step-for-step with Cobb all night, because a little room is all Rodgers needs to hit Cobb in stride.
Rodgers might normally put up a lot of points on opponents, but the Seahawks’ defense has a few advantages upon lining up on Thursday. First, elite safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have a great football IQ and aren’t going to be taken out of plays easily. Thomas will especially be watching Rodgers like a…well, a hawk all night. Last season, Thomas knew where Drew Brees was going with the ball, and he was always in time to help make a play. Rodgers will find some success through the air, but Thomas and the rest of the secondary will have studied up and will not make it easy for the quarterback out of Cal.
Second, the Packers haven’t had a decent offensive line in a while, and I know that because I’m from Wisconsin and I’ve seen the level of mediocrity. Injuries always plague Green Bay’s offensive line, and that’s true again this season. Starting center J.C. Tretter is out indefinitely, and he was really starting to click with Rodgers in the crucial quarterback-center relationship. Now, rookie Cory Linsley has to fill in for him, and the rookie, who is already trying to establish a relationship with his quarterback, will also have to contend with the incredible noise of CenturyLink Field. I expect a few miscues from this Packer offensive line that will help the Seahawks defense dominate.
Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and the rest of the offense shouldn’t have much trouble putting up points. B.J. Raji is out, which makes things easier for Justin Britt and J.R. Sweezy. Clay Matthews is the main problem to worry about, with Julius Peppers behind him. Russell Okung should handle Peppers just fine, as Peppers has lost a step or two recently with age. I expect Matthews to test Seattle’s right tackle early. If Britt and perhaps Zach Miller can neutralize Matthews, the main pass rushing threat is gone.
The Packers gave up around 250 passing yards a game last season, and the secondary is still a big question mark, especially at safety. Green Bay is using a carousel of Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to man the middle of the secondary, and they aren’t ready to handle the multitude of Seattle wideouts. As for the running game, Marshawn Lynch could definitely eclipse the century mark. Without Raji, there isn’t a great nose to hold the line. Lynch will get to the second level and bulldoze his way to a great night.
The potent Packers offense will put up some points, but not enough to contend with the balanced Seahawks attack. The Seahawks, with the 12th Man behind them and the eagerness to defend their title, should send Green Bay packing on Thursday Night Football.