Matchup: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)
There are a lot of perks to winning the Super Bowl. You get expanded coverage on all the major sports television networks, you get to meet the President, and you get to host the football circus that is NFL Kickoff; the first regular season game of the year. That is what is on deck for the defending world champion Seattle Seahawks as they host the Green Bay Packers in NFL Kickoff 2014. The Packers lead the all-time series with the Seahawks 10-6 but the last matchup between these teams was by far the most memorable. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate “caught” a 24-yard Hail Mary pass from Russell Wilson and the Seahawks defeated the Packers 14-12. The controversial ending ended the referee holdout and the difference that one game made in the final 2012 standings had a potential impact in the playoffs as the Packers eventually lost to the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in a game that could have instead been played at Lambeau Field had the Packers defeated the Seahawks. With the entire city of Seattle watching, emotions will be high as the 2013 Super Bowl championship team will be honored before the game. After that it is all business. Here is what I will be focusing on this week.
The Green Bay offense versus the Seahawks defense will be the primary intriguing matchup this week but I am very interested in how the Seahawks offense plays against a talented Packers defense that to me has question marks. I believe the Seahawks will give the Packers a heavy dose of running back Marshawn Lynch early in the game in order to establish the running game, the tempo of the game, and to chew some time off the clock while trying to come up with points. Lynch will have a big impact in this ballgame and he will no doubt get the grand majority of the total carries. The passing game intrigues me with this matchup against the Packers for two big reasons. First, this is the first time since the Super Bowl that we go into a game with Percy Harvin in the offensive game plan. Harvin will not be used as just a wide receiver but as an “offensive weapon.” Do not be surprised to see Harvin lined up all over the field including out wide, in the slot, and even in the backfield. Secondly, I want to see Russell Wilson challenge the Packers secondary, specifically rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix may not start but he will see playing time whether he starts or not. In games against New Orleans and San Francisco last season, Wilson aired the ball out to challenge rookie safeties Kenny Vaccaro of the Saints and Eric Reid of the 49ers. This week could be no different. If he likes the matchup, do not be surprised to see Wilson go to vertical threats Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse to challenge Clinton-Dix.
In their last meeting the Seahawks defense sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers 8 times in the first half. This week it will be just as crucial to pressure Rodgers and force him into sacks and mistakes. The Seahawks will use a pass rush rotation including Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin, and O’Brien Schofield. These four players will need to play a significant role but keep an eye specifically on Bennett. Although he will start at defensive end, I expect Bennett to be lined up as a pass rushing defensive tackle due to the uncertainty of the Green Bay offensive line. The Packers offensive line includes two players who have never played at CenturyLink Field. Left tackle David Bakhtiari has earned the starting job after being an injury fill-in in 2013. Green Bay will also start rookie Corey Linsley at center. Linsley will be my main focus among the Packers offensive line as he will have the difficult challenge of attempting to handle the 12th Man in his first career NFL game as well as handling a fierce interior pass rush. If the Packers cannot show they can protect Rodgers early it may be a long night for the Packers offense.
Despite the uncertainty on the line, the Green Bay Packers offense is one of the most talented and dangerous units in the league. The offense plays a very large part in why many experts believe the Packers can make a deep playoff run in 2014 and are serious contenders to win Super Bowl XLIX. By now you know the Packers are led by All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers and this year he sports a more balanced attack. In addition to his dangerous downfield weapons Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Rodgers also one of the best up-and-coming running backs in second-year man Eddie Lacy who can be used to run the ball as well as catch passes out of the backfield. All three should see their share of targets but the Packers still have a big mystery to solve on offense. With the departure of tight end Jermichael Finley the Packers seem to have a void at the position. According to the Packers official depth chart, the starting tight end is listed as rookie Richard Rodgers but my X-Factor player to watch this week is veteran tight end Andrew Quarless. Quarless led all Packers tight ends in receiving with 6 catches, 70 yards, and a touchdown during the preseason. I believe he will be a more relied on target than Rodgers, especially deep in Seattle territory. If Green Bay can move the ball into scoring range, look for the Packers to potentially use a two tight end package with Quarless and Rodgers as well as Nelson and Cobb on the outside.
In the 9 NFL Kickoff games hosted by the defending Super Bowl champion, only the 2012 New York Giants have lost in front of their hometown fans. Hosting the first game of the NFL season provides an interesting emotional challenge. During pregame, the team is introduced in front of the entire country watching on television and shortly afterwards, the world championship banner is unveiled to a stirring emotional roar from the crowd. Almost immediately following these special festivities however, it is time to shift the mind to play a football game. Against a quality opponent such as the Green Bay Packers and with no prior experience playing in this game, I wonder if the Seahawks will be able to handle all of the pregame distractions adequately in order to win the football game. It would not surprise me to see the Seahawks get off to a slow start but then pick up the pace later in the game; I mean it is week 1 after all. If the Seahawks can show they can put the pregame emotions behind them and score quickly we will be in very good shape for the rest of the game.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear blue jerseys and blue pants this week with the Packers wearing white jerseys and yellow pants… Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have the call for NBC this week with Michele Tafoya patrolling the sidelines. In addition, the entire “Football Night in America” crew will be in Seattle this week for pregame and halftime coverage. That will be neat… This may have deserved its own little paragraph because I feel it is of great importance but here it goes. If you are attending the game PLEASE skip the Pharrell Williams/Soundgarden concert. The concert takes place at 4:30pm and immediately following the concert at 5:30pm CenturyLink Field goes live to the nation on NBC to start pregame festivities. I want to see everybody with a ticket in their seats by 5pm to be a part of a truly special series of ceremonies. That and we need everyone ready for the start of the game… If you are attending the game the Seahawks are strongly advising fans to enter the stadium through the southwest gate and touchdown city. All areas north of the stadium are going to be a nightmare due to concert traffic and people who do not have tickets to the game. It may be best just to stay and tailgate south of the stadium to avoid any congestion… Hawks Nest Bar at 12pm on gameday. Be there… I think it would be really cool if instead of unveiling a world championship banner in the rafters, the Seahawks raise a special championship “banner flag” instead of the normal 12th Man flag. That probably won’t happen though as there are now 3 covered banners already hanging in the rafters at CenturyLink… I wonder if the Seahawks will mix alumni day with the Kickoff festivities. Traditionally the Seahawks honor past players at the home opener… The question must be asked: who will raise the 12th Man flag this week? It is confirmed that former head coach Mike Holmgren will be in attendance this week and he is more than a viable option to raise the flag but his potential participation in the tradition has not been confirmed. Traditionally because the home opener is alumni day the Seahawks let a prominent member of the franchise’s past raise the flag. If I got to choose who gets to raise the flag, my vote would go to the two retired members of the 2013 world championship team, wide receiver Sidney Rice and fullback Michael Robinson. How cool would it be to see those guys wearing their Super Bowl rings raise the flag with the presence of the Vince Lombardi trophy? That would be very special.
Prediction: I am going to be bold. This game will NOT end in a Hail Mary touchdown. Yep, I went there. Instead I believe this will not be the offensive shootout people may think will happen. The Seahawks defense will do a decent job putting pressure on Aaron Rodgers but Rodgers will still manage to throw for a pair of touchdowns. Russell Wilson will throw a touchdown to Doug Baldwin and Marshawn Lynch will add a touchdown on the ground. The Seahawks will take advantage of Green Bay turnovers and turn them into additional points. The game will be close for the majority of the night, but a couple of late Seattle field goals will doom the Packers. The Seahawks will go to 1-0 and take a couple of days off before preparing for their week 2 game against the San Diego Chargers.
Seahawks 23, Packers 14
Check back late Thursday night/early Friday morning for me Packers/Seahawks review. To everyone attending have a great time. For everyone watching on television, enjoy the game! Go Seahawks!