2014 NFC Championship (2) Green Bay Packers (13-4) at (1) Seattle Seahawks (13-4) Preview and Predictions

NFL fans, Conference Championship weekend is here! And each matchup is a dandy, sort of.

Each game features a rematch of a 20-point blowout game from earlier in the season, and it’s entirely possible that history could repeat itself. Whether that happens or not will be found out later today, but allow me to dissect each matchup first. To kick things off, I will address the NFC Championship matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Without further ado, in the immortal words of the Joker, here we go.

Basic game information:

(2) Green Bay Packers (13-4) at Seattle Seahawks (13-4)

Kickoff: 3:05/2:05c, FOX.

Line: Seattle by 7.5. O/U: 46.5

 

Green Bay Packers; Jekyll vs. Hyde.

For the Green Bay Packers, the story has clearly been two things: Aaron Rodgers’ spectacular season (4,381 38 touchdowns, five interceptions), as well as the team’s home dominance. And yes, the two go hand in hand.

No team was more dominant at home than the Green Bay Packers. They averaged nearly 40 points a game in Lambeau Field, and aside from the 26-21 win over the New England Patriots in Week 13, put up at least 30 points in every home game, including 40 or more in four games, and over 50 in a pair of games. Aside from their Week 2 31-24 nail-biter comeback over the Jets, and the season finale against the Detroit Lions, the Packers outscored opponents 182-30 in their other six home games. Of those 30 points allowed, the Patriots put up 14 of them. I could go into detail, but the story has been routine for the Packers. Any team that was not from the AFC East got stomped.

But this game’s not taking place in Lambeau. Instead, the Packers will be playing in another city, where they have been about average, going 4-4. They put up 168 combined points in those eight games, averaging just 21 points per game away from home. That’s not bad, by any means. However, it is a full stratosphere or two lower than what the team is capable of at home.

Two of their road wins, at Chicago and Green Bay, saw them win by a combined score of 58-20. The other two wins? Well, they were three-point wins at Miami and Minnesota. The Miami game saw the Packers either lead or tie for most of the game, until the fourth quarter came around. The Dolphins took a 24-17 lead with 9:13 to go, and the Packers answered with a  field goal. They trailed in the final minute, getting the win on a four-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to tight end Andrew Quarless, with just three seconds remaining. It was keyed by an 18-yard pass to Jordy Nelson on fourth-and-ten from the Miami 48-yard line, with just 67 seconds remaining.

In the Minnesota game in week 12, the Packers simply could not pull away. They never trailed, but were tied with the Vikings after a quarter of play, led 14-10 at halftime, and were up by the same margin after three quarters, leading 17-13. They scored a touchdown with 8:34 remaining in the game, when Rodgers threw a 10-yard pass to running back Eddie Lacy. The Vikings answered with a Teddy Bridgewater touchdown pass to former Packer Greg Jennings from five yards, out, got the two-point conversion, and cut the deficit to 24-21 with 3:23 to go. The Packers held on for the win, but it was much closer than expected, in contrast to their 42-10 blowout win at home over the Vikings earlier in the season.

In their four road losses, the Packers have looked nothing like their usual selves. They put up just 59 points in those four losses, looking like a six-win team along the way. The lone game in which the offense looked competent came against the beleaguered disappointment that was the 2014 New Orleans Saints. In what turned out to be the final home win for the Saints on the season, the teams were tied at 16 at halftime. However, Rodgers injured a hamstring injury in the third quarter, and the game took a sharp turn for the worst for the Packers.

Rodgers threw a goal line interception on the team’s opening drive of the second half, and Drew Brees answered with a 50-yard bomb to Brandin Cooks to take the lead. The Packers went for it on fourth-and-one from their own 40 on the next drive, but Eddie Lacy was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. A few plays later, Brees threw another touchdown pass, this time to Jimmy Graham fro 22 yards out, and just 86 seconds after the Packers gave it back, the score was 30-16 Saints. In the fourth, Rodgers did score from 14 yards out, but the team lost 44-23.

In the other three road losses, the Packers have put up just 36 points, each against an elite pass rush/defense. They lost 19-7 in Week 3 at Detroit, 21-13 at Buffalo in Week 14, and in the first NFL game of the 2014 NFL Regular Season, fell short in Seattle by a score of 36-16.

In the three games combined, Rodgers has completed 56 of 102 pass attempts (17 of 42 at Buffalo) for 536 yards and two touchdowns, as well s three interceptions. He threw for 418 yards at New Orleans, by threw just one touchdown pass, as opposed to two interceptions. SImply put, he has not been MVP-caliber away from home.

 

2014 Season kickoff recap

Simply put, the first game of the season turned into a washout. The Packers actually led after a quarter, but afterwards, it was all Seattle. Here’s a recap of that opening game:

https://shanpsports.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/seahawks-dominate-late-demolish-packers-36-16-in-nfl-opener/

 

Green Bay Statistics: 

The Packers are eight in the nation in passing offense, and eleventh in rushing offense. Their passing attack is as lethal as it gets, highlighted by high-flying receivers Jordy Nelson 98 catches, 1,519 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Randall Cobb (91 catches, 1,287 yards, 12 touchdowns). They are arguably the best receiving duo in the NFL, even moreso than Atlanta’s, and have been key to Aaron Rodgers (4,381 passing yards, 38 passing touchdowns, five interceptions, 269 rushing yards) having an MPV-caliber season. Eddie Lacy has done a tremendous job reversing his early season struggles, rushing for over 90 yards in five of the last six games.

Defensively, Clay Matthews has returned to prime form with 11 sacks, and when he has played as an inside linebacker, the rush defense has vastly improved. Meanwhile potential hall of famer Julius Peppers has chipped in seven sacks of his own. The team has garnered 41 sacks on the year, and has forced 27 turnovers.

In last week’s divisional round win over the Dallas Cowboys, the offense got off to a hot start, cooled off significantly, but got going late in the third quarter. A gimpy Aaron Rodgers wound up completing 24 of 35 pass attempts for 316 yards, three touchdowns, and one turnover. Eddie Lacy ran for 101 yards on 19 carries, and rookie Davante Adams had a breakout performance, catching seven passes for 117 yards and a 46-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. Randall Cobb was excellent per usual, catching eight passes for 116 yards, including the one that sealed the deal. Jordy Nelson only caught two passes for 22 yards. THe defense garnered four sacks, and did enough to hold on. Oh, and Dez Bryant’s fiasco put a damper on the game, but oh well, right?

 

Karma?

For anyone who believes in karma, this game will either be all Seattle, or will end in heartbreaking fashion for the Packers. The Cowboys saw last week’s game in Lambeau end in devastating fashion after some controversial calls in their Wild Card victory over the Detroit Lions. So, will the Packers be dealt a similarly cruel hand, or will they get blown out again? Or, is there a chance that they may pull this one out? Let’s delve into Seattle’s journey first.

 

Seahawks season recap, part 1: the first ten games.

The Seahawks’ season can best be described by cutting it in two parts: the first ten games, and the next seven games. The first ten games for the Seattle Seahawks yielded mixed results. They won 36-16 at home over the Packers on opening night, but fell 30-21 in San Diego the next week. They trailed 20-7 in the first half, and never got within six points again. Marshawn Lynch ran just six times in the game for 36 yards, while the team only executed 38 total plays. In contrast, the Chargers rallied off 37 passing and rushing attempts, taking up a whopping 42 minutes of possession! The Seahawks failed to force a turnover, only sacked Philip Rivers once, and seemed uninterested.

The ‘Hawks blew a 20-3 lead over the Denver Broncos in Week 3, and needed overtime to escape with a 26-20 win. After a bye week in Week 4, the participate in Week 5’s edition of  Monday Night Football at the Washington Redskins, they saw three Percy Harvin touchdowns get suspiciously called back in a 27-17 victory.

In Week 6, the Seahawks faced the surprising 4-1 Dallas Cowboys at home. THey got off on a great foot, scoring a   field goal on the game’s opening drive, and blocking a punt on the next Cowboys’ possession. Mike Morgan returned the kick  25 yards for a Seahawks touchdown, and the home team was up 10-0 in the first quarter. Just midway through the opening quarter, the Cowboys ship looked like it had begun sinking. However, they scored a touchdown on a two-yard pass from Romo to Gavin Escobar, and cut it to 10-7.

The Cowboys carried the momentum into the second quarter, scoring a field goal on a 15-play drive that took up almost ten minutes, and closed out the first half with a touchdown pass to Jason Witten with just 16 seconds left.

Midway through the third quarter, Cowboys’ kick returner Dwayne Harris muffed a punt, and Mike Morgan recovered for the Seahawks. Just two plays later, Russell Wilson ran into the endzone from nine yards out, and the Seahawks tied the game up at 17. A few plays later, Tony Romo fumbled the ball, and the Seahawks got it back. With 3:20 remaining in the quarter, Steven Hauschka kicked a field goal, and gave the Seahawks a 20-17 lead. Surely, the game was over now, right? There was no way the Cowboys would regain their senses.

Well, the Cowboys kicked a field goal of their own on the next drive, from 56-yards out, and went into the final quarter tied with the defending at 20 apiece. Both teams punted in their first possessions of the final quarter, before the Seahawks kicked a field goal with 8:16 remaining.

On their next drive, the Cowboys converted a third-and-20 from their own 31-yard line with a Tony Romo pass to Terrance Williams, and followed up with a pair of Demarco Murray rushed for 25 and six yards. On the next play, Murray ran 15 yards into the endzone for a touchdown, and with 3:23 remaining in the game, led 27-23.

After the Seahawks turned the ball over on downs, the Cowboys added another field goal, extending their lead to 30-23. Two plays later, Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted by Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain, and the Cowboys stunned the world in Seattle.

In Week 7 at St. Louis, the Seahawks laid an egg. They found themselves trailing 21-3 just past the midway point of the second quarter, and were down 21-6 at halftime. They cut the deficit to 21-19 with 9:44 left in the game, but failed to tie things up on the ensuing two-point conversion. The decision cost them, as they allowed Austin Davis to throw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lance Kendricks on the next possession, and were down 28-19 with just 5:36 remaining. Quarterback Russell Wilson led the team down the field in just over two minutes, cutting the deficit to 28-26 with 3:18 remaining. They nearly got the ball back with 1:45 remaining, but due to a very controversial fumble ruling, the Rams held on, and put the Seahawks down to a 3-3 record.

At this point, it seemed as if things could not possibly get worse for the Seahawks. However, the defending champions picked themselves up, and got some much ended victories. They started by playing in Carolina. The game was a defensive slugfest, in which the Panthers led 4-0 after one quarter, 6-3 at the half, and the game was tied at six entering the fourth quarter. For offense lovers, it was an absolute nightmare. After Graham Gano made his third field goal of the game with 4:37 remaining in the game, it was now or never time for the Seahawks.

The champions responded with a clutch fourth-quarter drive, in which Wilson led the team 80 yards on nine plays, in under four minutes. He capped it off with a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Luke Wilson, and the team took a 13-9 lead with 47 seconds left to play. The defense shut the Panthers down in the final drive, and the team held on.

In Week Nine, the Seahawks played the winless Oakland Raiders. They looked to be in control, leading 24-3 at the half. However, the Raiders outscored the champs 14-0 in the third quarter, and the score was suddenly 24-17. The Seahawks responded with a pair of field goals, and led 30-17 with under ten minutes left to play. The Raiders scored a touchdown with 1:52 remaining, and almost recovered the onside kick. However, the Seahawks recovered, won the game 30-24, and got to 5-3 at the midway point of the season.

In Week 10 against the Giants, the game was a tale of two halves. The Giants actually led 17-14 at the half, in what was a game of inches to that point. However, in the second half, the Seahawks outscored the Giants 24-0, and won 38-17. Marshawn Lynch ran for 140 of the team’s 350 rushing yards, and scored four touchdowns. Russell WIlson struggled through the air, but ran for 107 yards and a score. The Seahawks were back on track. Or, were they?

Week 11 of the season proved to be a turning point for the Seahawks. Visiting Arrowhead for the first time in eight years, the Seahawks were facing a tough Kansas City Chiefs squad on the road. They trailed 7-0 after one, but cut the deficit to 14-13 at the half. They scored the only points of the third quarter with 27 seconds remaining in the frame, when Wilson threw a one-yard touchdown pass to former Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki, and the team led 20-17 going into the fourth quarter.

The lead was short-lived, however, as the Chiefs reclaimed the lead just 1:14 into the fourth quarter. The Seahawks went 75 yards in six-and-a-half minutes to follow up, but instead of kicking a field goal, they went for it on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line. Russell Wilson’s pass fell short, and the Chiefs took over on downs. They never got a better chance, failing to convert on two other occasions. The following drive saw them get to the Chiefs 36-yard line, and had they gotten the first down, would have gotten in position to get a game-leading field goal. Instead, they lost, and their postseason hopes were in sever jeopardy with a 6-4 record. The rest of the season, however, was magical.

 

Seahawks season recap, part 2: the last seven games.

If the Seahawks were bad early on, they are otherworldly at this point, from a defensive perspective.

They started 3-3, and the vaunted defense was ranked just 19th in defensive scoring allowing allowing 23.5 points per game 324.5 yards per game. It seemed as if the pressure was just too much for the Seahawks, who seemed like they were overwhelmed.

But since Week 7, the team has gone 9-1, with the lone loss coming at Kansas City, in a 24-20 thriller. Since that loss to the Chiefs, the Seahawks have fully returned to form. In their last six regular season games, they allowed just 39 total points, limiting five of their opponents to less than seven points.  They did not allow a single fourth quarter point in that stretch, permitted just over 200 yards of offense per game, and recaptured the top defensive ranking in the NFL. They won each of those games, and wound up the top seed in the NFC yet again.

In those six games, they had outscored opponents 45-0 in the fourth quarter. Last week, they extended that margin t0 62-0, prior to Kelvin Benjamin’s 15-yard touchdown catch with 2:34 remaining in the game. The score was 14-10 after three quarters, but the fourth quarter allowed the Seahawks to separate from the recently surging Carolina Panthers. They allowed Cam Newton to play a decent game, and allowed over 360 yards of total offense. However, they forced three turnovers, including a 90-yard interception from safety Kam Chancellor that kept the score from being 24-17, and instead made it 31-10 in their favor. Marshawn Lynch ran for just 59 yards on 14 carries, but Russell Wilson threw for 268 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers, with each touchdown going to a different target (Kearse for 63 yards, Luke Wilson for 25 yards, Baldwin for 16 yards).

 

Seahawks statistics.

The Seahawks boast the league’s top pass defense and third-ranked rush defense. Michael Bennett leads the team with seven sacks, while Bruce Irvin has 6.5 of his own, while returning two interceptions for touchdowns. Linebacker Bobby Wagner has done a terrific job anchoring the defense, while the secondary, which consists of All-Pro caliber players such as Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

Offensively, the Seahawks have one of the league’s top dual-threat quarterbacks in Russell Wilson. He has thrown for nearly 3,500 yards, rushed for 849 yards, and scored 26 rushing touchdowns. Running back Marshawn Lynch is a bruiser, amassing 1,306 rushing yards, 367 receiving yards, and eleven total touchdowns. The team does not have any truly notable receivers, but Doug Baldwin lead the team in receptions and yards, catching 66 passes for 825 yards, as well as three touchdowns. The team is red hot, and looking to roll.

 

Prediction:

Many people see this game being a blowout, due to two reasons: the season opening result, as well as the health of Aaron Rodgers. He still looked hampered from his calf injury last week, despite throwing for 316 yards on 24 of 35 pass attempts, for three touchdowns, and one turnover. That performance came against a bipolar Cowboys defense. The Seahawks, however, boast the league’s best defense. So, this could be a blowout.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to think. A blowout is definitely possible, but I’ll play devil’s advocate for a second. What if the Packers are hot? WHat if they do something they have not done on the road against any great defense all year: put up more than 16 points? WHat if they get off to a hot start?

Well, I’m not sure if they’ll do that or not. So, I’ll roll with this scenario. The Packers will score a touchdown with either Lacy running it in, or via an Adams/Quarless reception. They will lead 7-0 going into the second quarter, and will lead 13-10 at the half. In the third quarter, the Seahawks will put up 14, and lead 24-13 going into the fourth quarter. The Packers will score a touchdown via touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson, making the score 24-19. They will fail to get the two-point conversion with about six or nine minutes to go, and the Seahawks will add a field goal. Green bay will get one more chance, and will take the ball near the redzone. However, Rodgers’ fourth-down pas will get tipped, land in Randall Cobb’s hands, get bobbled by Cobb, and he’ll secure the ball.

However, just before the pass is fully controlled, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will collide into Cobb from three different angles, causing the receiver to lurch over. The lass will slither out from Cobb’s mitts, and the ruling will be incomplete. The Seahawks will win, advance to the Super Bowl, and the conspiracy theorists, as well as karma believers, will have a field day. Prediction: Packers 19, Seahawks 27.

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