6:40 PM EST, FOX – Line: Packers -4, Over/Under: 46.5
The final matchup of the Divisional Round of these Playoffs is a familiar one, as the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks renew acquaintances once more from Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Though the figurative wheels fell off the wagon down the stretch, it really should be noted just how remarkable this season was for the Seahawks (11-5, 2nd in NFC West), who have now advanced to the Playoffs for the eighth time in the last decade. It’s been said for ages that the game of football is very much a game of inches, with the margin between victory and defeat oftentimes being razor-thin. There is no team that that particular notion applies to better than Seattle, who in 2019 became the first team in NFL History to win ten or more games by a margin of one score; twelve of their outings this season were decided by eight points or less, in which they went a remarkable 10-2, outscoring their opponents on the campaign by a narrow 0.4 Points per Game. In fact, that is easily the smallest Point Differential for a team to qualify for the Playoffs with eleven wins or more, as Pete Carroll’s charges made quite a habit out of living dangerously this term. However, that’s not the only peculiar thing about this team, for they also went 7-1 on the road, which runs counter to their profile in the past where they’ve been so dominant at home. Indeed, the Twelfth Man carries quite a bit of weight in the Pacific Northwest, but this season it’s denizens were only a mediocre 4-4 at CenturyLink Field, a ground in which they had previously gone a staggering 53-19 (.736) during the Carroll Era (2010-2019), with this season marking just the third time that they failed to register a winning record there. If you’re wondering where we’re going with these two themes, we promise that it will make sense shortly. Though they came so close to capturing a precious First Round Bye, Seattle instead made the long trip east to the City of Brotherly Love, where they would meet the Philadelphia Eagles, who just barely qualified for the Playoffs, winning the mediocre NFC East by virtue of a 9-7 ledger. In all honesty, this was about the most favorable matchup that they could have hoped for, with the Eagles dealing with a rash of injuries all their own, and as a result rarely looking like the team that they were expected to be in 2019. And it’s with that said, that the Seahawks flew into Lincoln Financial Field and left with a 17-9 victory, winning their first Playoff Game in three years. With both teams having to dig deep into their benches for support, the affair swung squarely in the visitors’ favor when Defensive End, Jadeveon Clowney (31 TKL, 7 TFL, 13 QBH, 3.0 SK, 4 FF, 2 FR, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 TD, 3 PD), who himself was battling through a lingering core injury, dove down on a sliding Carson Wentz, forcing the hosts’ Quarterback to leave the field of play with a concussion. Already without the right side of their Offensive Line and the majority of their Receiving Corps it was rather academic as to what would happen after losing their Starting Quarterback midway through the First Quarter. Filling the void would be the 40-Year old Josh McCown, who despite only joining the team following a stint coaching high school football, kept his side in it despite Seattle’s efforts to embattle him. This is one that the Seahawks had to suffer, for they struggled to pull away from their decimated adversaries, thanks in large part to a rather listless ground game (64 Yards on 26 Carries) and Eleven Penalties for a whopping 114 Yards. McCown completed an efficient 18-of-24 Attempts for 174 Yards, and had an opportunity late in the affair to perhaps draw even with a 4th &10 at the Seattle 10-Yard Line. The veteran Signal-Caller moved out to his left noticing a hole in the trenches, but when he attempted to run through it, he was met by none other than Clowney, who promptly drilled him into the ground, ending the threat. Carroll’s Defense was solid throughout, limiting the home side to just 282 Yards, registering a whopping Seven Sacks, which was a major bump for a team that finished the season with just twenty-eight, tied for the second-fewest overall. Russell Wilson (66.1%, 4,110 YDS, 6.72 YNY/A, 31 TD, 5 INT, 69.4 QBR), who had carried the Seahawks throughout the term, was excellent in completing 18-of-30 Passes for 325 Yards and a Touchdown, while rushing for another Forty-Five Yards on Nine Carries. With Philadelphia attempting to regain possession inside two minutes, the 31-Year Old Quarterback iced the game with a deep, 36-Yard strike to Rookie Receiver, D.K. Metcalf (58 REC, 900 YDS, 15.5 Y/R, 7 TD), down the right sideline, ending the contest altogether. The ninth Receiver selected in a loaded Draft Class, the 64th Overall Pick was dominant in his first Postseason Appearance, hauling in a career-high 160 Yards including an impressive 53-Yard Touchdown, on Seven Catches. There was also a familiar face that contributed to the game’s outcome, and that was veteran Tailback, Marshawn Lynch (12 CAR, 34 YDS, 2.8 Y/C, 1 TD), who despite only rushing for Seven Yards on Six Carries, barreled into the End Zone to give his side the lead late in the First Half. Previously enjoying his retirement, the 33-Year Old jumped at the opportunity to rejoin the franchise where he spent just over five years with, rushing for 6,381 Yards and Seventy-Nine Touchdowns, helping lead them to Super Bowl glory in 2013. With four Tailbacks languishing on Injured Reserve, including the tandem of Chris Carson (278 CAR, 1,230 YDS, 4.4 Y/C, 7 TD) and Rashad Penny (65 CAR, 370 YDS, 5.7 Y/C, 3 TD), Seattle reached out to Lynch in an attempt to bolster their dangerously shallow Backfield before the Playoffs. All things considered, Carroll’s preference is to pound the rock and control the flow of the game, while limiting mistakes, and they’ll need to be more productive on the ground against Green Bay, for they can’t count on exploiting an Offense utterly decimated by injury for another week.
Meanwhile, after missing the Playoffs in back-to-back seasons for just the third time since 1993, the Packers (13-3, 1st in NFC North) have returned in triumphant fashion, winning thirteen games for just the fifth time in the last twenty-four years. Of course, 2019 was ultimately defined by the changing of the guard in Green Bay, with the Mike McCarthy Era coming to an end late in the previous season, ending a largely successful thirteen-year period in which the club won their fourth Lombardi Trophy in 2010. However, the team eventually grew stagnant towards the end of his tenure, prompting the franchise to find his successor, ultimately landing on the young, Matt LaFleur, with hopes that the 40-Year Old would overhaul the Offense, and reinvigorate perennial MVP candidate, Aaron Rodgers (62.0%, 4,002 YDS, 6.15 NY/A, 26 TD, 4 INT, 53.5 QBR), who had begun to show signs of erosion during the final days of McCarthy’s watch. LaFleur, a product of both the Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan Coaching Trees, was initially viewed as an unknown commodity upon his hiring, particularly due to his lone season as an Offensive Playcaller, which was less than stellar as a member of the Titans’ Coaching Staff in 2018. With that said, on the surface the Packers’ Offense looks eerily similar to that of it’s predecessor, averaging exactly as many points as it did under McCarthy in 2018 (23.5, 15th Overall). However, the devil is always in the details, and where LaFleur has left his mark is in it’s balanced approach. The Running Game had long been an afterthought for years under McCarthy, but LaFleur has resurrected this dormant facet of the attack, with Green Bay ranking in the middle of the pack in Rushing Attempts (25.7), Rushing Yards (112.2), and Yards per Carry (4.4), with that first figure carrying the most weight; in the previous three seasons, this was a unit that ranked Twenty-Ninth, Twenty-Seventh, and Thirty-Second in Rushing Attempts, leaving Rodgers to carry a very one-dimensional attack on his own. Lacking a feature Tailback for years, it was nothing short of a pleasant surprise to see Aaron Jones (236 CAR, 1,084 YDS, 4.6 Y/C, 16 TD) assert himself as a prolific weapon out of the Backfield, leading the league in Rushing Touchdowns (16), while also proving to be a versatile threat in the Passing Game with 474 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Forty-Nine Receptions. As for Rodgers, his numbers were very comparable to those he posted in 2018, and while he at times looked liked he was still trying to adjust to LaFleur’s system, he benefitted greatly from the balance that the Running Game provided, suffering Thirty-Six Sacks this season, or in other words, on 6.0% of his Dropbacks, a steep decline over the figures from the previous season (49 Sacks, 7.6%). As the Offense continued to find it’s identity, the unit that ultimately carried the Packers this season was their Defense, which really took the next step after showing glimpses of their potential last year. Arguably the smartest thing that LaFleur did upon his hiring was retaining the services of Defensive Coordinator, Mike Pettine, for that continuity allowed the veteran playcaller to keep building upon the solid foundation he put in place in 2018. On the season, this unit allowed just 19.6 Points per Game (9th Overall) largely on the strength of forcing Twenty-Five Turnovers (7th Overall). Green Bay was third in the league with Seventeen Interceptions, with a promising young nucleus leading the way. Sophomore Cornerbacks, Jaire Alexander (58 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT, 17 PD) and Kevin King (66 TKL, 3 TFL, 1 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 5 INT, 15 PD ), alongside Free Agent acquisition, Adrian Amos (81 TKL, 4 TFL, 2 QBH, 1.0 SK, 2 INT, 8 PD), have been bonafide ballhawks in the Secondary, while veteran Linebacker, Blake Martinez (155 TKL, 5 TFL, 3 QBH, 3.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 INT, 2 PD), has been a tackling machine in the middle of the unit. And then there are Preston (56 TKL, 11 TFL, 23 QBH, 12.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 INT, 4 PD) and Za’Darius (55 TKL, 17 TFL, 37 QBH, 13.5 SK, 1 FF) Smith, who both arrived via Free Agency and have done nothing but create havoc in the trenches, combining for a total of Twenty-Eight Tackles for Loss, a whopping SIXTY Quarterback Hits, and 25.5 Sacks. Pettine has done an excellent job of moving these two all over the Defensive Front, with their ability to pressure the Quarterback whether their hand is in the dirt or if their standing as a free Rusher bringing a wealth of versatility to the Defense. One would figure them to be in Wilson’s face throughout today’s affair, particularly given that no player in the league over the past seven seasons has been sacked more frequently (314 Sacks, 8.5%), including a league-high forty-eight times in 2019. Though these sides did not meet in the Regular Season, Wilson has quite a bit of history with the Packers, going 4-3 against them in seven career meetings, completing 58.0% of his Attempts for an average of 194.1 Yards per Game, with as many Touchdowns as he has Interceptions (10). However, the two meetings that will forever live on in infamy in the annals of Lambeau Field is the notorious Fail Mary game back in 2012, in which a Rookie Wilson launched a 24-Yard Touchdown to his Receiver, Golden Tate, as time expired, with the Replacement Referees (remember them?) controversially overturning what was in most opinions an Incompletion into a walk-off Touchdown, with the other being the 2014 NFC Championship Game. This one really stings the faithful in Green Bay as the Packers wasted a 16-0 Halftime Lead on the road, allowing Wilson, who had been sacked five times and threw Four Interceptions, to lead the rally as the hosts forced Overtime, where the Quarterback nailed Receiver, Jermaine Kearse, for a 35-Yard Touchdown to end the affair altogether and book passage to Super Bowl IL. Many point to this game to being the beginning of the end of the relationship between Rodgers and the aforementioned McCarthy, as the visitors were very conservative in the First Half, settling for a quartet of Field Goals despite twice advancing to Seattle’s 1-Yard Line. And that’s to say nothing of the infamous 2003 Wild Card meeting in which former Seahawks’ Quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck (who had previously played for the Packers), pronounced after the coin toss in Overtime that “We want the ball, and we’re going to score” before promptly throwing the walk-off Pick-6 to Packers’ Cornerback, Al Harris, or that Mike Holmgren, who led Green Bay to their third Super Bowl Title in 1996, controversially left the franchise in 1999 in order to become Seattle’s Head Coach. So yes, you could say that these teams have quite a bit of history with one another, with the opportunity to add yet another juicy chapter to their rivalry.