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NFC Championship Game Preview
It seems that the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks are meant to play each other.
Three years ago, the Packers lost a Monday night game to the Seahawks 14-12 due to the now-infamous call on a Hail Mary pass by the replacement officials.
In Week 1 of the 2014 NFL Season, the Seattle Seahawks opened their season against the Green Bay Packers as they celebrated their Super Bowl victory, and hung their championship banner in the rafters of CenturyLink Field. They picked up where they left off with the Championship form that beat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl by demolishing the Packers 36-16. They looked like they were going to roll to the best record in the league again and repeat as Super Bowl Champs. But, early in the season, they struggled only winning two of their first five games, winding up 3-3 and being behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. But, thanks to a six-game winning streak in November and December, the Seahawks overtook the Cardinals for the NFC West crown.
Meanwhile, following the loss to the Seahawks, the Packers would lose their first two out of three games of the season to start 1-2. But, they got went on a roll, and won 4 out of 5 games heading into their bye week. That would set up to a battle for the NFC North crown with the Detroit Lions down the stretch, which would come down to the final game of the regular season. The Packers defeated the Lions 20-30 at Lambeau Field in the final regular season game to win the NFC North crown. Both teams finished with a 12-4 record, but Seattle won the #1 seed in the NFC due to winning the head-to-head tiebreaker due to the Seahawks the Packers in Week 1.
Now, these two teams will meet again in the NFC Championship Game this weekend in Seattle for a chance to play in the Super Bowl in Arizona on February 1, and the winner of this game has an opportunity to win their second Super Bowl title within the last two to four years.
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Russell Wilson hasn't put up the numbers like Aaron Rodgers has, but he still had a very good year with 20 TDs, 7 INTs, 3,475 with a 95.5 QB Rating. I think he is slowly changing the perception of how game managers are viewed because when he has to make a play, he can make it with his arm or his legs as he had 53 rushing yards along with 6 rushing TDs during the regular season.
Aaron Rodgers had another great year with 38 TDs (2 rushing TDs), 5 INTs, 4,381 yds. with a 112.1 QB Rating. Although, Rodgers has been hobbling with the calf injury, you still can't count him out of a game. Even though, he can't cut around and make plays with his leg due to his injury, he can still make plays with his arm.
The QB that takes care of the ball the most will determine the outcome.
Marshawn Lynch (aka Beast Mode) is putting the NFL on notice once again that he's one of the best running backs in the NFL as he finished 8th in the NFL in rushing with 1,306 rushing yards, 13 TDs, averaging 4.7 yds.
Eddie Lacy isn't slouch either as he's making a name for himself in his second season. He is becoming a rising star in the league. He finished 5th in the NFL in rushing with 1,139 rushing yards, 9 TDs, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
The running game will play a huge factor in this game due to the cool, rainy weather that's expected to his Seattle this weekend.
With the dynamic power running game that the Seahawks have, the wide receiving core tends to suffer a little bit.
Doug Baldwin is their go-to wide receiver, although he finished #42 in the league in the regular season with 825 yds., 66 receptions and 3 TDs, but he had a big 49-yard reception against the Panthers in the Seahawks' Divisional Playoff victory.
Jermaine Kearse may not wow you on the stat sheet as he only had 537 yds., 38 rec. and 1 TD in the regular season, but he is a pretty solid receiver as he's ranked 5th in this year's playoffs with 129 yds. including a 63-yard TD pass in Seahawks' Divisional Playoff victory.
On the flip side, the Packers have one of the best receiving cores in the NFL in receiving tandem Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.
Jordy Nelson finished 4th in the NFL, and finished the regular with 1,519 yds., 98 rec. and 13 TDs. Nelson is Rodgers go-to target on offense and Rodger's biggest play maker.
On the other side, there's Randall Cobb, who finished the 2014 regular season ranked 11th in the NFL with 1,287 yds., 91 rec. and 12 TDs. Not only is Cobb is another receiver that Rodgers can target for big plays down the field, but he can also return the ball as a punt/kick returner.
The receivers will have a say in this game, especially if it's a close game and a big play is needs to be converted to move the chains.
Both teams don't use their tight ends as much, but they both have solid tight ends, who came on as the regular season was winding down.
Seahawks tight end Luke Wilson was pretty solid down the stretch with tight end Copper Helfet being injured for most of the regular season. Wilson had 362 yds., 22 rec. and 3 TDs and caught a TD pass in last weekend's Divisional Playoff victory against the Panthers.
Packers tight Andrew Quarless had similar stats as Wilson in the regular season with 323 yds., 29 rec. and 3 TDs, and he caught a TD pass in last weekend's Divisional Playoff victory against the Cowboys.
Special teams play a huge part in a football game because it determines field position. And it won't be any different in this game, in fact, it will be more heightened in this game because the field position will play a huge factor in this game. The team with the best possible field position will have the best chance to score and win. Both teams have good, kick/punt returners in Paul Richardson, DuJun Harris and Randall Cobb. They also pretty good kickers in Steve Hauscka and Mason Crosby, who's leg you can count on to either tie a game or win a game.
Seahawks have a quick and athletic shutdown defense loaded with talent such as defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, linebackers Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and last year's Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith. Plus, you can't forget safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, and last but not least cornerback Richard Sherman. The Seahawks were ranked #1, for the second year in a row, in the NFL in overall defense. They were #1 against the pass, leading the league with total yards allowed (268.6) and #3 against the run. They will apply pressure to Rodgers early, and often also the Seahawks defense will be stacking the box against Lacy and the corners will be in close coverage on Nelson and Cobb.
Packers have a physical, smash-mouth, hard-nosed defense thanks to defensive coordinator Dom Capers influence that he implemented from his days as the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the '90s. The Packers finished 18th in the NFL in overall defense, they were #23 against the pass, #10 against the run, and 18th in total yards allowed (346.4). But, don't let those rankings deceive you, this is a defense loaded with some talent. They have linebackers in Clay Matthews, Jr., A.J. Hawk and the ageless wonder Julius Peppers as well as cornerbacks Sam Shields (who broke up the big pass play against Dez Bryant in the Packers' Divisional Playoff victory over the Cowboys) and Tramon Williams. They will stack the box to against Lynch and take away Wilson's rushing ability for big plays.
Players play the game to win, but the coaches have to put the players in the best position to win. Coaching is a game of chess, not checkers. This NFC Championship Game has two of the best coaches in the NFC that are coaching in this game in Pete Carroll and Mike McCarthy, and both are in the Top 10 of NFL head coaches today. Both coaches have very impressive resumes in their tenures with the Seahawks and Packers. They have both won a Super Bowl within the last four years. Now, they are trying to lead their team for an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl again and win their 2nd Super Bowl title. It will be an interesting chess match between these two coaches.
This will be a very good, competitive game. Both teams come in hot at the right time. The Packers will score points, but the Seahawks defense and the 12th Man will be too much for the Packers to overcome. And, the Seahawks will go back to the Super Bowl for the 2nd straight year. My prediction: Seahawks 30, Packers 24.
Next year, I think the Seahawks comes out of the NFC for the 3rd straight year in a row, and they have a great chance of redeeming themselves for the heartbreak ending in last year's Super Bowl.