Our long national nightmare is almost over. In a matter of hours, not days or weeks, the Green Bay Packers will suit up against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks to kick off the 2014 NFL regular season.
Here's a look at some of the key matchups that could sway the outcome.
David Bakhtiari vs. Seattle pass rushers
The Seahawks defense features a bevy of fearsome pass rushers. Michael Bennett creates pressure from the Leo position while Cliff Avril penetrates from right end. Behind them, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has a knack for sacking the quarterback, and Bruce Irvin could step into his own in 2014.
All of which is why Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari must be on top of his game. The Packers' best chance of taking down the defending champs involves spreading their defense our with four or more pass catchers. In many cases, that will result in Bakhtiari being left on an island against one of Seattle's pass rushers. He'll need to keep them neutralized most of the night to give the Packers a chance.
Corey Linsley vs. The 12th Man
Even had starting center JC Tretter been healthy for Thursday's opener, the Packers' center versus the 12th Man would have been one of the game's key matchup. That's because no matter how well Tretter or Linsley performed during the preseason, each lacks regular season experience. Perhaps just as importantly, neither has dealt with the deafening crowd of Seattle's CenturyLink Field before.
Whether Linsley can handle the line calls and effective run the no huddle offense will directly affect the number of points Green Bay's offense can put on the board. The coaching staff thinks he's ready, but nothing substitutes for first-hand exposure.
Letroy Guion vs. Marshawn Lynch and Seattle's ground game
While the magnitude of losing nose tackle B.J. Raji for the season has been hotly debated over the past week, it's indisputable how important new starter Letroy Guion is to containing the Seahawks great rushing attack. Guion was a sieve for much of his time with Minnesota, but how much of that was due to playing with inferior talent remains to be seen.
If Guion can clog gaps and allow Mike Daniels to get into the backfield, it'll stymie the Marshawn Lynch led ground game. If, however, Guion gets pushed around, it'll be a long day of watching A.J. Hawk chase down Seahawks running backs five or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Micah Hyde vs. Percy Harvin
Other than in certain dime and sub packages, Micah Hyde won't be asked to cover Percy Harvin directly. However, Harvin has the spectacular ability to take the top off a defense when healthy. Outside of Russell Wilson's development, he represents perhaps the biggest difference between the Seattle team the Packers met in 2012 and the one it'll see on Thursday.
With Micah Hyde likely playing deep when the Packers go Cover 1 or Cover 3, it'll be his responsibility to make sure Harvin doesn't get behind him. If Hyde manages to stick around the speedy receiver, it'll allow Green Bay's other defensive backs to work closer to the line of scrimmage and force Wilson to make shorter throws through smaller passing windows.