NFC Championship preview & prediction
Ok, so the bottom line is that I’d be lying if I said I was impartial. I want Green Bay to win this game, desperately. However, like I said this week on the Gridiron Gentleman podcast, and will re-iterate now for those who haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, I really do have a huge amount of respect for the Seattle Seahawks. They are the first team since the legendary ’85-’86 Bears to lead the NFL in both fewest points per game and yards per game for two consecutive years, and their desire they clearly show to become only the 7th team to repeat as Super Bowl champions (the Steelers have achieved this feat twice) is inspiring.
Russell Wilson has an insanely impressive 9-0 record when facing Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, and with their win last week over the Carolina Panthers stretched his overall record, including playoff games, to 41-13. Wilson’s style as a quarterback, and the fact that his passing yards stats are lower than many others, (he ranked 15th in the league this season) combined with the fact that this Seattle team so clearly defines itself by its defence and running game (they are the only team over the last 2 seasons to have more running plays than passing) is a major reason why he is seen as an efficient and responsible game manager with the athletic ability to create when the play breaks down, but not an elite quarterback in the same way that his contemporaries, namely, Andrew Luck, are.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Russell Wilson is an elite quarterback, and I believe that in a team without such a dominant running game and arguably the best defence in a generation, he would not have the superlative win/loss ratio he does and certainly wouldn’t be on the cusp of back-to-back Super Bowls. I think he is a cool headed and athletically gifted player who fits his team and the game-plan they employ like a glove, and he certainly deserves respect for the job he’s done, and indeed continues to do. However, in my opinion, the truly great quarterbacks carry their teams, and can’t just be passengers on a vessel being guided by many others. As much as I like Wilson, he is not the face of the Seattle franchise, and he is not the captain of their Super Bowl bound ship. I hate to hold that against him, after all, football is a team game and the quarterback is just one cog in the overall machine, but elite or not, no matter what I, or anyone else thinks, Russell Wilson wins football games, and it’s pretty much impossible to argue against that being the most important thing of all.
In contrast to Wilson, Aaron Rodgers has now surely dispelled any fleeting notions that he can be considered anything other than one of the true greats. His statistics (which only tell part of the story) are astounding, but it was his stoic and skilful vanquishing of Dallas on only 1 leg last weekend that should have sealed the deal in every football fan’s mind that he must now be ranked among the greats of the game. Rodgers will have to be at his absolute best this Sunday to pick apart the vaunted Legion of Boom, and my worry is that for all the confident talk we’ve heard this week, that calf could go at any second, and the Seahawks are a very different prospect to the Cowboys for a crippled QB. One thing is for certain in my mind; if Rodgers, injury and all, can lead this team through CenturyLink and on to Super Bowl glory, he may have a strong case to be mentioned in the same breath as the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
I see the run being paramount for both teams this week, with Eddie Lacy absolutely key to any success Green Bay may have on offence. He is averaging 100 yards per game over his last 7 outings, and will be keen to avenge his poor showing (albeit cut short with a concussion) against the Seahawks back in week 1. Marshawn Lynch didn’t have a monster game last week against the Panthers, but he will be more confident against a Packers D who gave up 123 yards to DeMarco Murray last weekend.
In week 1, the Packers D came out of the blocks incredibly sluggishly, and missed a season high 18 tackles. This was the catalyst and a major contributing factor to Seattle’s comfortable win. Green Bay’s defence has certainly improved since then, and missed tackles against the likes of Marshawn Lynch cannot be tolerated. If they can bottle up ‘Beast Mode’, they can unravel Seattle’s entire game-plan on offence. In the passing game, I expect Rodgers to look to find his less obvious targets often, with Jordy Nelson most likely being matched up with the domineering Richard Sherman. The Seahawks have not been the best at covering tight ends this season, so Andrew Quarless and/or Richard Rodgers could be a surprise star in this one.
I wrote in my previous article about the idea of ‘fate’ or the artistic narrative of sport leaning me towards a Green Bay victory; however, as much as my heart loves this idea, my head is resolutely backing the Seahawks. The Packers have been wonderful to watch this season, no doubt, but they have struggled when faced with strong, physical defences on the road. They lost at Seattle in week 1, and also at Buffalo and Detroit. This worries me, along with the fact that traditionally, and most notably highlighted in last year’s Super Bowl, the battle of the league’s best offence vs the league’s best defence favours the defence. Combine this with home field advantage and the 12th man, and I just can’t see past Seattle making a repeat trip to the big dance.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
Green Bay 27 – 31 Seattle