There is so much that the Packers have going for them in this game: they have a better offensive line, they have a better defensive line, they have a better running game, and they have a better defense.
It’s a recipe for success, but things are rarely so simple in football.
The Packers have the best record in the league in one score games at 8-1, while the Seahawks have the most wins in one score games, with an 11-2 record. Both of these teams are scrappy units that find ways to win.
I expect another close game.
Here’s the big things I’ll be watching for:
Always the great equalizer. The Packers had a number of players pop up on the injury report with an “Illness” designation this week. I’m not worried about guys being declared out, I’m worried about guys fighting off a bug and playing sluggish in the cold (game time kickoff is expected to be around 21 degrees), especially in the second half. This was a huge issue in the 2016 NFCCG in Atlanta and I hope it’s not an issue tomorrow.
My biggest physical injury concern is Kenny Clark’s back. He avoided the media all week, which isn’t a good sign. Even if he plays, it’s worth wondering what a sore back does when a 320 pound guys tries to push up against two other 300 pound guys. Clark is starting point for everything the Packers do on defense and if he’s not able to play at at least 90% strength, things could get ugly.
In-game injuries are also a concern here. The refs and the NFL somehow concluded there was nothing wrong with Jadeveon Clowney’s dirty, intentional helmet-to-helmet spearing cheap shot to a guy on the ground that knocked Carson Wentz out of the game last week, but for everyone with a functional IQ over 50 can see that the Packers need to work hard on protecting Aaron Rodgers.
Bye Week Scouting
One of the big advantages of having a bye is the extra time to scout your opponent. It’s tough to get a read on Seattle’s defense based on last week other than two things: the Seahawks will take cheap shots on QBs if they get them and they will commit pass interference. These factors will surely play into this week’s offensive game plan.
I suppose it’s also worth noting that the Seahawks defense almost let a 40 year-old backup with a torn hamstring beat them, which should give an inconsistent offense some hope.
On offense, the Seahawks have struggled mightily to run the ball, even with Marshawn Lynch back (and looking like a guy who already retired twice). That’s good news for the Packers, who like to run dime sets. But with Russell Wilson, the Packers won’t be able to sit back in coverage without a spy. I’m excited to see what Mike Pettine dials up.
I believe Matt LaFleur has some tricks up his sleeve after an extra week to gameplan. Maybe we see more Tyler Ervin on offense, maybe we get a couple plays for MVS, who has become a forgotten man with 4.3 speed, or maybe Jace Sternberger gets his shot (I’m not confident that Jimmy Graham looks great in the cold).
What I’d Like To See
I’d like to see Mike Pettine rotate guys like Keke Kinglsey and Montravious Adams in to limit the wear on guys like Kenny Clark (back) and Ty Lancaster (illness). Dean Lowry will also play a big role and Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary can see snaps on the inside. This will keep everyone fresh and wear down an absolutely battered Seahawks offensive line. Kyler Fackrell isn’t the most gifted of this bunch, but he’s played Russell Wilson before and is a great role player for situations like this when the edge guys need to move around.
On offense, I like the comments Aaron Rodgers made about honing in on what has been successful. The Packers have tried a lot of different things this year, some have worked, some haven’t – that’s how new offenses go. The Packers offense has the talent to matchup with this Seahawks defense. Take a half-dozen concepts that worked well this year and run them to death. That’s right, it’s the McCarthy plan! Lot’s of running and use play action to open up easy passing lanes – no need to force anything.
The Packers have also kept Rodgers in the pocket most of the year. He’s always been at his best on the move, so I think rolling him a few times this game could open up some holes in a defense that might not be expecting it. Yes, I said earlier that the Seahawks are out for cheap shots, so be extra careful, but try it a few times and see what happens. If nothing else, let Seattle know you aren’t playing scared.
On special teams, I want to see Tyler Ervin return every kick out there. It’s going to be a cold, slow track, which means gunners shouldn’t be on top of him. The runner has the advantage when footing is poor, so let ‘er rip!
I think this game will be exciting throughout and the home field will be the difference. The Seahawks have to travel across two time zones and play in much colder temperatures than they’re used to. That’s not easy. If the Packers have held off the flu, they can hold off the Seahawks.
Packers 26, Seahawks 20