It’s kind if crazy when you think about it, but when the Packers take the field Sunday night against the Seahawks, they will be one of just five teams left fighting for the Vince Lombardi trophy. Whether they punch the final ticket and join the other three conference finalists will depend on a whole bunch of factors. So let’s dive into it.
The Vikings’ surprising win over the Saints removed the most daunting potential opponent this weekend. And I actually feared a rematch with the Eagles more than a date with the Seahawks, with their prolific tight ends, pass receiving backs and elite defensive front. The Seahawks present their own problems for the Pack to solve, but I think it’s the most favorable matchup they could have drawn in this round.
To start with, there’s the history. As great as Russell Wilson is, he’s struggled mightily at Lambeau, winless in three tries, with six interceptions to go along with three touchdown passes. The Seahawks haven’t won at Lambeau since 1999, when their coach was some dude named Mike Holmgren, and Pete Carroll was about to get fired by the Patriots. Word is, they found a suitable replacement.
Wilson comes in leading a team that in many ways has mirrored the Packers this year. They win close games, they win ugly and they are maddeningly inconsistent. The real difference has been that Seattle is 8-1 on the road this year and just 4-4 at home, while the Pack have tasted defeat just once at Lambeau this season.
Wilson remains an MVP-type talent, even though his offense is shaky. They’ve lost their top three running backs and are relying on the resurrection of Beast Mode and rookie Travis Homer to carry the load. It’s hard to see the Seahawks accomplishing much on the ground. Wilson remains the singular threat and the Pack will need to keep a spy on him to prevent him from gaining chunks of yards with his legs. He’s been great on third down of late, converting 16 times in his last two games. How the Packers handle those third downs will go a long way in determining the winner.
The Packers match up well with the two recieving threats on the outside. I expect Jaire Alexander to cover the speedy Tyler Lockett, with Kevin King tasked with dealing with emerging rookie star DK Metcalf, who at 6’4″ 230 is becoming a matchup nightmare. He broke out against the Eagles, but their secondary is trash. King should be able to be physical with him at the line. The danger is the weird angles King sometimes takes–he can get torched. The Seahawks have been a big play offense and the Packers’ D has given up more than their share of explosive plays. But with a limited amount of playmakers, you’d think Pettine will keep a safety around Metcalf to provide assistance when needed. They’ll bust a couple of big plays. Can the Pack stiffen in the red zone, as they have all season? I think they can and will.
The other factor worth watching on this side of the ball is the advantage the Pack has up front. The Seahawks’ offensive line is average at best, and they’re dealing with injuries all across the line. Left tackle Duane Brown has not practiced (through Thursday) and neither has his backup, George Fant. Left guard Mike Iupati also missed the game last week and has yet to practice this week. Center Joey Hunt has also missed practice all week and even if he plays, he’ll be no match for Kenny Clark (provided he plays–more on that in a bit). It should add up to a big advantage to the #4 pressure defense in the league. The Smiths figure to be a problem for Wilson all night. If the Pack can keep him under 40 yards rushing, they should be in good shape.
On the other side of the ball, this needs to be a night where Aaron Jones gets at least 20 touches and Jamaal Williams gets at least 10-15. The Legion of Boom is a thing of the past, but they still have All Pro Bobby Wagner manning the middle of the field and KJ Wright gobbling up tackles. But the Pack’s offensive line has the edge over the ‘Hawks’ front and there should be lanes for Jones and Williams to find.
A productive running game will open everything up for Rodgers, who faces a defense that ranks near the bottom of the league in pass rush. Yes, they notched seven sacks against the Eagles, but they were without the right side of their offensive line and were facing a 40 year old backup quarterback. Rodgers will have time: the question is whether he will find open receivers. Davante Adams and Allen Lazard figure to be his favorite targets, and the Pack sure could use a big night from former Seahawk Jimmy Graham–Seattle has been one of the worst defenses against tight ends this season. Maybe Bob Tonyan has a big night–like he did last year in Seattle.
If you’re looking for wild card players who could stand out: I’ve got Tyler Ervin, either on a return or on a gadget play out of the backfield. Kyler Fackrell could also be a key cog on the defense helping to chase down Wilson. We may also see the return of safety Raven Greene, who’s been out since week 2, but has been practicing all week and may be activated for the game. He and/or Ibrahim Campbell should get plenty of snaps as the Pack figures to be in the nickel a lot, without a strong running attack to worry about.
The biggest edge Seattle has is coaching, where Carroll is old enough to be Matt LaFleur’s dad. He’s an old hand at this, while LaFleur makes his maiden voyage coaching a playoff team. Half of the Packers roster is in the same boat, but with Rodgers, a pair of solid veteran tackles and a defense that is rested and healthy, the team appears ready and able to handle this familiar playoff opponent. The only big concern is the health of Kenny Clark, whose back kept him out of practice on Wednesday and ‘very limited’ on Thursday. The defense looks entirely different when he’s not on the field.
I like the matchup. I like the fact that the Packers are being called by many a fraudulent 13-3 team. I think they feed off of that. This won’t be a night where the Seahawks party like it’s 1999. It’s 2020 and the Packers can see their future clearly and won’t let this opportunity slip through their hands. I say they leave the field one win away from the Super Bowl.
Packers 24 Seahawks 17