A Preview of the NFC Title Game?Posted:Sep 8th, 2017 2:34 pm
Finally. The 2017 season is finally here and the Pack gets its most heated non-NFC North rival and fellow favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Is it Sunday yet?
There are enough storylines to fill Lambeau Field: the return of Eddie Lacy, the debut of Marcellus Bennett--who faces his brother, Michael, the Pack's pass rush against the 'Hawks weak OL, Russell Wilson looking to put last year's five interception performance behind him, not to mention that whenever these teams meet, something wild seems to happen.
But season openers don't get any bigger than this for the obvious reason: the Packers have had to play on the road the last three times they reached the NFC title game. The winner in this one will get the tiebreaker edge, should it come down to that. I know, that's a long way off, but does anyone out there like the Pack's chances in an NFC title game at Qwest Field? We are all trying to forget what happened the last time...
The Packers and Seahawks are NFC favorites by most experts. Of ESPN's 33 NFL talking heads who made their Super Bowl predictions, 27 picked one of these two teams to make it to Minneapolis (16 picked the Pack). The Falcons were next with 3--nobody else got more than one vote.
Nothing has changed in Seattle. They're still led by Russell Wilson and an all-world defense and they're all healthy. The Legion of Boom was neutered last season when Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas got hurt. They're back and they just added one of the best D-linemen in the game in Sheldon Richardson, who may need a few games to get comfortable in the scheme--that should benefit the Pack a bit. Their weak link is at corner, where Richard Sherman and Jeremy Lane are solid, but there's not much behind them. Look for Aaron Rodgers to identify the weak link and take advantage.
It looks like Bryan Bulaga will be able to go--the idea of Kyle Murphy dealing with Michael Bennett and KJ Wright is frightening. If he's close to 100%, the Pack's topnotch pass blocking unit should be able to hold up. History is on Green Bay's side here: Rodgers is 3-0 at home against Seattle, with 100+ passer ratings in all three six TDs and zero picks.
Unlike in recent years, we don't exactly know what this offense will look like. We didn't get much of a preseason look at Ty Montgomery after a full offseason turning himself into a running back. I have a feeling he will have a productive day as Mike McCarthy finds creative ways to use him. Also, will we see a lot of two tight end looks to get the two free agents on the field? If so, does that put Randall Cobb on the sidelines?
But it's on the other side of the ball where most of the important questions lie. Have they done enough to improve from last year's miserable pass defense? Have the two third year guys put 2016 behind them? Is Davon House capable of being a #1 corner, at least until Kevin King gets his feet under him? Will Clay Matthews and Nick Perry get to Russell Wilson? If they can't beat this set of tackles, it may be a long season. Will Dom Capers get exciting rookie Josh Jones on the field? If so, at whose expense? Joe Thomas (he asked, hopefully)?
The summer injuries to rookies Vince Biegel and Montravius Adams caused Ted Thompson to look outside the organization for replacements and I love the additions of Ahmad Brooks and Quinton Dial. How long have we been frustrated to watch late round picks and undrafted free agents be asked to step up? When your team has an MVP caliber QB, you need to be in 'win now' mode and the Packers front office has finally changed their MO.
The Pack's depth at outside linebacker was frightening; Brooks' arrival gives them a third proven veteran to rotate in, and serve as protection when one of the two starters gets hurt, which is bound to happen. Dial replaces Leroy Guion and will allow Adams to catch up since he hasn't been in pads since the Senior Bowl.
It will be interesting to see how the special teams fare. The Packers will have their hands full with Tyler Lockette, who's been nursing a knee injury but was a full participant in Thursday's practice. On the flip side, we'll see if Jeff Janis (KR) and Trevor Davis (PR) can show they deserve the return jobs. And punter Justin Vogel has looked solid over the summer, but everything changes when the games count and he is a rookie--there rebound to be butterflies.
The Packers understand the importance of this one. For my money, it's the most important game on the schedule. The Pack opens with three of four at home, but with tough road games in Atlanta and Dallas in the first five, taking care of business at home is an absolute must if they want to prevent the slow starts that have doomed their home playoff hope in recent years.
I think these teams will open and close the season against each other. I see them meeting again in the NFC title game--this time at Lambeau. The Packers will slow Eddie Lacy and the running game, pay extra attention to Doug Baldwin, and of course keep a spy to prevent Wilson from running wild. They won't be perfect, but the defense will do enough to allow the offense to do its thing.
Rodgers is the difference, as usual. The Pack has won its last four home openers and seven straight at home against the 'Hawks. Here comes number eight.
Packers 27 Seahawks 23
Reminder: "Packer Preview" returns for a 22nd season on KFAN this Sunday morning at 7am. If you want to sleep in, listen later on iHeart Radio or iTunes. And I'll debut my "Packer Review" podcast, available on Monday morning.