What Time Is It? It's Prediction Time, for Opener and SeasonPosted:Sep 3rd, 2014 4:18 pm
Normally on the week leading up to the opener, I write a blog with my season predictions and then one on the Pack's opener. Since we've got the Thursday night start, I'll combine them here.
I'll begin with the Seahawks game. Let's be honest, when the schedule came out and we saw road games in Seattle and New Orleans, most of us marked "Ls" for those two games. Those two teams boast the two best home field advantages in the NFL and the defending champs will be ready to show the world there's no Super Bowl fatigue at work in the Pacific Northwest.
I was prepared to pick the upset. I was ready to explain why the Packers were ready to send some early shock waves across the NFC. And then Tretter and Raji got hurt. All eyes will be on rookie center Corey Linsley in what's got to be the toughest debut you could ask a kid to make. He's never taken a snap from Aaron Rodgers in a game and now he gets the big bad Seahawks defense across the line and the 12th man providing decibels all around him.
Mike McCarthy's desire to run no huddle most of the time will be challenged by Linsley's ability to handle the speed of the game and to handle line assignments in the blink of an eye. Bruce Irvin has said he'll be praying for Linsley. We all will be too.
The loss of Raji will be felt most early on and against teams that like to run the ball. Obviously the Seahawks love to pound the ball and will test the Pack's revamped defensive line early and often. Vikings castoff Letroy Guion gets the first shot at anchoring the line in Raji's place, with young up and comers Mike Daniels and Datone Jones on either side. The Seahawks offensive line is only mediocre, and they'll be starting a rookie at right tackle. Look for Dom Capers to apply the heat by showing the rookie a lot of different looks.
As average as their line is, Russell Wilson bails them out with his quick feet and amazing poise and presence under pressure. The Packers will do well to keep him from beating them with his legs and hoping their physical secondary handles its business when Russell looks for a receiver.
Speaking of which, Percy Harvin remains the team's top threat in the passing game, and the Pack has done a good job keeping him under wraps when they've played him in the past. Expect the 'Hawks to roll out some plays for Harvin that we haven't seen--we all know how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands (more on that in a moment). After Harvin, Doug Baldwin is the next best receiver and he's a good one--I expect him to have a chance at a 1,000 yard season. But after him, it's pretty average and unproven in the Seahawks passing game.
The big question in this game is how will the Pack's offense fare against the game's best defense. Expect a healthy dose of Eddie Lacy early and often to test that run defense and keep the safeties honest. They boast the best safety duo in the game, but their corners are questionable after Richard Sherman and they'll rely on safety help to cover the Pack's receiving corps.
We'll also get a first good glimpse at the Pack's revamped special teams, which will rely more on veterans this year. Sounds good in theory, until a starter suffers a serious injury on special teams. They'll need all the veteran help they can muster against the dangerous return duo of Harvin (kick returns) and safety Earl Thomas (punt returns). This game could very easily swing on a big special teams play. Look for DuJuan Harris (KR) and Randall Cobb (PR) to get the first shot at returns for the Pack.
I say the Packers hang close, and maybe lead for a good chunk of the game, but the Seahawks prevail, minus a devastating officiating mistake, 21-17.
As for the season, I've got the Pack on 12 wins (losses are at Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans and Tampa Bay). That will be good enough for one of the top two seeds in the NFC and a first round bye.
My other playoff teams in the NFC: division winners are Philadelphia, Seattle and New Orleans. Wildcards: Chicago and Tampa Bay. Yep, I think the 49ers are in for a tumble, in light of the injuries and suspensions to their defense.
In the AFC, my division winners are New England, Baltimore, Indy and Denver, with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh claiming the wildcards.
Last year I picked Seattle to beat Denver in the Super Bowl, first time in forever I got it exactly right. Let's hope lightning strikes twice: I've got the Packers over the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLIX, in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXI.