Sherman Gets the Headlines, but Wilson Will be the Difference on Sunday

Let's face it, the Packers will need to be pitch perfect to advance to their second Super Bowl in the McCarthy-Rodgers era. A hobbled Aaron Rodgers is the only reason I don't think the Pack will be able to spring the upset at Century Link Field.

We may spend a long time replaying that Buffalo game and the close calls that almost went Green Bay's way, that might have meant a victory and home field advantage. But the NFC Title game is in Seattle and for that reason the Pack is a 7 1/2 point underdog.

So let's start with a few statistics to give you a little hope: the Packers are 2-0 in the playoffs against the Seahawks (including the infamous 'We want the ball and we're gonna score' wildcard game in '03). They're 3-2 in NFC title games, including 2-0 on the road (winning in Chicago en route to SB XLV). Then there's this little nugget: the last four times when both conference championship favorites were favored by 7 or more, one team lost the game outright.

OK, feel a little better? Here's the flip side: the Packers have lost seven straight games to winning teams on the road and they've lost the last seven times they were an underdog.

So, back to reality. We've never seen a more dominant home team than the Seahawks. They're 25-2 at home since '12, winning by an average of 15 points per game. And their defense is on an historic pace, giving up just 6.5 points per game over their last six regular season games.

So here come the Packers, looking a lot different than they did in the opener, when they were unprepared for the noise, the atmosphere and the speed of the 'Hawks' defense, not to mention stopping the run--giving up 207 on the ground. That game featured three rookies on offense for the Pack, most notably Corey Linsley, who was snapping the ball to Rodgers for the first time ever in a game of any kind. Richard Rodgers and Davante Adams were also brand new to this NFL thing--all three have become key, dependable parts of the offense.

Defensively, the Pack has come a long way since the opener as well. The run defense has tightened up significantly and is expected to do a much better job corralling Marshawn Lynch. Keeping tabs on Russell Wilson is an entirely different story. The league's best running QB this season will likely give the Packers fits. He has an uncanny ability to make the proper read, knows when to run, when to slide and when to take his losses and move on to the next play. He has the fewest weapons around him in the league but it doesn't matter because he is so, so good.

Of course he doesn't have Percy Harvin this time around. Harvin put up more than 100 yards on the Pack in the opener. He is also without emerging rookie receiver Paul Richardson, the team's kickoff returner, who injured his knee last week. Wilson's top three receivers are underrated guys and his tight end Luke Willson was a late draft pick. He was Wilson's top target in the win over the Panthers.

The Pack will try to ruffle Wilson by forcing him into rare mistakes and their best chance is with Sunday's birthday boy, Julius Peppers. He was the Pack's defensive star of the game last week and he has a favorable matchup on Sunday against rookie right tackle Justin Britt, who appears in over his head and is dealing with a knee injury.

Like the Packers, the Seahawks rarely give the ball away so the Packers will likely have to rely on the offense to complete long drives and execute in the red zone--which has been a dicey proposition of late. A gimpy Rodgers and a sore-kneed Eddie Lacy makes things a lot tougher, but there are ways to move the ball on the Seahawks.

It starts with running the ball between the tackles. In Seattle's four losses this season, they gave up 132 yards per game on the ground. Green Bay was held to 80 in the opener, but Lacy is a better player and the offensive line is firing much more effectively than they were in the opener. I expect McCarthy to come out throwing and challenge that secondary. Let them know there's no fear and no intimidation this time around.

Much has been made about the Pack's strategy to ignore Richard Sherman's side of the field in the opener. Expect things to change this time around. I wouldn't be surprised to see Davante Adams lined up against Sherman for most of the game (instead of Boykin in week one) and for Rodgers to take some shots. That should also create some favorable opportunities for Nelson and Cobb against corners Byron Maxwell and the shaky Harald Simon (who Cam Newton picked on last week).

If the Pack can mov the ball through the air early, it should open things up for Lacy, who needs to put up at least 125 total yards if the Packers hope to spring the upset. With Rodgers' limited mobility, they need to use Lacy in the screen game and continue to use Cobb as a Harvin-type threat all over the field.

I think this game will be closer than many believe and the Pack will have a chance to spring the upset late. But ultimately, Wilson is the difference. He was perfect on third downs last week (8-8 for 199 with three TDs and no picks) and is just so smart, poised and dangerous that I think he will make a play or two that a limited Rodgers can't match.

Seahawks 27 Packers 24

"Packer Preview" gets two hours on Championship Sunday. We'll be on KFAN and from 8am to 10am.


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