It's finally time. With just over 48 hours to go until the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks kick off the NFC Championship Game, it's time for the staff of Acme Packing Company to announce our picks for the teams that will advance to Super Bowl XLIX.
By and large, We think Packers fans are going to be disappointed with Sunday's result. However, unlike our picks for the AFC Championship, our pick for the NFC champion is not a unanimous decision.
Let's get to the explanations first, followed by a recap of this week's picks.
Jason B. Hirschhorn - Seahawks
In the time since their 36-16 loss to Seattle in the season opener, the Packers have evolved in many areas. The offensive line, a group that struggled with injuries and performed inconsistently in the early season, has gelled into one of the league's best units. Partially as a result, Eddie Lacy has come into his own as a multi-purpose tailback. In the passing game, rookies Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers have stepped into major roles and played well in big games. On defense, the Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has improved the secondary while Letroy Guion has carved out his niche at nose tackle.
But Aaron Rodgers' injured calf remains a question mark. Though he can still move around somewhat within the pocket, his ability to extend plays and force opposing defenses to spy him has been greatly diminished. Against a lightning fast defense such as the Seahawks, the threat of Rodgers' legs will be sorely missed. CenturyLink Field is a difficult place to play in any circumstance, but it's even harder to see the Packers coming in and earning a victory.
Josh VanDyke - Packers
So much has changed since these teams met in the season opener. The offensive line is more cohesive, Eddie Lacy and Bryan Bulaga (hopefully) won't be knocked out of the game early, and the defense has established itself. I believe that if the offense can hit the 20-point mark, Green Bay wins this game. If the team falls behind early and can't establish the run, it could get ugly.
The key will be patience on offense, and a bend-but-don't-break attitude on defense. There will be chunk plays for Marshawn Lynch in the run game, and Russell Wilson might break containment for a few scrambles, but the defense can't allow the role players like Like Willson and Jermaine Kearse to make momentum-changing plays like they did last week. That game against Carolina was close for three quarters against a pretty average Panthers team. That gives me some confidence that the Packers can keep it close for three quarters and then make some plays down the stretch to force a mediocre Seahawks passing game to play from behind late in a game.
Packers 24, Seahawks 20.
Aron Yohannes - Seahawks
It's pretty obvious that both teams are a lot different compared Week 1. The offensive line for the Packers is much healthier and in-sync, plus they won't have Derek Sherrod attempting to make a block on the right side. Seattle was the second best running team in the regular season, and even though the Packers struggled during the early portion of the year, they played much better down the stretch of the season. Besides bursts of 26 and 30, the Packers held DeMarco Murray to just 67 yards on his other 23 carries last Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers barely left the game against Dallas in decent shape. Rodgers, being in even worse condition, is supposed to travel to hostile Seattle and lead his team past arguably the best defense in the league? If he does, that will only exemplify his greatness, but it won't surprise me if this game is a complete blowout. The Packers will have to rely on Eddie Lacy a lot in this one, too, and it should help that the Seahawks don't have Brandon Mebane this time around.
The Seahawks will likely blitz and hit Rodgers (they had the fifth best adjusted sack-rate in the regular season, per FootballOutsiders) more than the Cowboys did, and I'm afraid that won't end well for the Packers. I believe Seattle will move on to a second-straight Super Bowl by winning 28-14. In my best Dan LeBatard impersonation, "give it to me again!"
Hey, when I picked the Packers to lose last week, they won, so take this as a positive.
Brendan Kennedy - Seahawks
If the Packers hadn't so recently struggled against a great defense with a limited offense (remember that Buffalo game?) I'd be more inclined to go with them. But they did, and that's exactly what they'll face this Sunday yet again. And while there's been plenty of crap heaped on Dom Capers over the years, the bottom line is that it's the offense that has struggled in two of the last three Packers playoff losses (2011, 2013). I'd like to believe this is the year they get back over the hump, but I just don't see it. Between Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and, Earl Thomas, Seattle has three players all of whom are top 5 at their positions. I think ultimately, that defense will just be too much for the Packers to overcome.
Harsha Sridhar - Packers
We know the storyline as pertains to Green Bay and (insert physical team here). But the Packers faced their toughest offensive challenge of the year last week and passed it, though perhaps not with flying colors. At the end of the day, the real X-factor is not Seattle's crowd but Eddie Lacy's performance. He got off to a nice start in Week 1 but fizzled out and left the game with concussion-like symptoms. If he can take pressure off a limited Rodgers and the defense, the Pack can pull this one off. Packers win 24-20.
Vermont Cubs Fan - Seahawks
While the Packers are certainly a better team than they were in Week 1, Seattle is still one of the toughest places to play. The crowd there creates a lot of noise for opposing teams' offenses, and the Packers might have trouble even despite their improvements in that regard. The defense, meanwhile, isn't as porous as the Dallas Cowboys' defense the Packers faced last week, and Richard Sherman, for all the noise he makes, does create terrible problems for receivers on the visiting teams.
Worse yet, the Seahawks run the kind of offense that gives the Packers' defense fits, especially over the last few years. Despite their improvements since Week 1, I unfortunately can not see the Packers improving enough to take the game in Seattle. I think, however, it will be close throughout the game, and within one score at the end, with the Packers just falling short.
Paul Noonan - Seahawks
I've covered the Seahawks here recently. The fact of the matter is that even with a completely healthy Aaron Rodgers the Packers would be substantial underdogs in this game. Seattle is just a horrible matchup for the Packers. The Packers are, per DVOA, the 24th best team at stopping the run. Seattle had by far the best rushing attack in the league. Moreover, the Packers are often able to neutralize a team's running attack by getting ahead and forcing them to pass. If you CAN do this against Seattle you're in business as their wide receivers are awful and Russell Wilson as a pure passer is merely average, but Seattle is SO good at running that you have to be up by a lot of points to get them to abandon the run, and as everyone knows, scoring a lot of points against the Seattle defense is very difficult.
Compounding everything is the fact that Seattle's defense excels at taking away wide receivers while, relatively speaking, struggling with tight ends and receiving running backs. The Packers are very reliant on Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb for offense, with Davante Adams occasionally stepping up as he did last week, but their tight ends are basically a black hole. Eddie Lacy and James Starks will probably do some damage, but I doubt it will be enough.
Topping off everything else, the Packers always seems to struggle with mobile quarterbacks. Even terrible mobile quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick. Russell Wilson was the most productive mobile quarterback in the NFL this season BY FAR. According to Football Outsiders he had 284 defense-adjusted yards above replacement. The next highest total was Cam Newton, with 146. Aaron was third with 104 (and actually led the category in DVOA, meaning he was the most efficient running quarterback), but since he can't move, this is just another advantage for Seattle. Getting through the playoffs is almost as much about luck as skill. Seattle is capable of beating almost any team, but if you were putting together a team to take out what is a very good Packer team, this is what it would look like.
Evan "Tex" Western - Packers
Full disclosure: I don't have a logical reason for picking the Packers this week. With a hobbled Aaron Rodgers, they very nearly lost a week ago at home to a team with a mediocre defense and a great running game. This week, Rodgers appears to be just as limited but faces a far more ferocious pass rush which could put him on the turf on any play and an elite secondary. The last time the Packers ran into a team constructed this way, they lost an ugly battle in Buffalo, in which Rodgers played by far his worst game of the season.
With that said, I certainly see reasons to think that the Packers will keep this game closer than they did in week one. For example, Percy Harvin and the threat of the jet sweep are gone. Bryan Bulaga, who is healthy, missed most of the previous game, forcing Derek Sherrod into action, and that's unlikely to happen again. Davante Adams has emerged as a third receiver with game-changing ability. Green Bay's other key rookies, Corey Linsley and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, have full seasons under their belt and are better prepared to face the challenges that await them in CenturyLink Field.
Balancing out all the Xs and Os, my head still tells me that the Seahawks are the better team and should advance to a second straight Super Bowl by winning on their home field. So why am I picking the Packers? Because I'm a stupid fan and I believe that this team is special. I believe that someone is going to make a play reminiscent of Julius Peppers' strip of DeMarco Murray or Clay Matthews' forced fumble in the Super Bowl. I believe that Eddie Lacy will lay the lumber on Kam Chancellor instead of the other way around. I believe that a hobbled Aaron Rodgers will play one of the games of his life.
In short, I believe.
Tex - Patriots
I thought last week that the only way the Colts would beat the Broncos was if Andrew Luck had a transcendent game - something like 450 yards, five touchdowns and no picks. I didn't expect the Colts' defense to be so effective rushing the passer, and I certainly didn't expect the kind of game Dan Herron put up running the football.
This week, I'm back to my previous stance. I think once again that Luck needs a career-best football game to win, especially because I think that Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots' power running game will shred the Colts' defense. I don't see it happening.
Aron - Patriots
It took the Colts until last week to win a game against a legitimate football team, and even then, it was a damaged Peyton-Manning-led Broncos unit. I don't think that defense will be able to slip by Tom Brady, and I don't know who Andrew Luck is going to throw the ball to against the Patriots' secondary. Plus, they can't run the ball effectively, either. Give me New England at, 31-17.
Josh - Patriots
As hard as I'll be rooting for the Colts to pull off another upset, I have a hard time seeing a pedestrian Colts defense slow down the Patriots offense. Former stand-up comedian Jonas Gray rushed for over 200 yards against this defense earlier this season, so I expect a heavy dose of LaGarrett Blount in the ground game and lots of receptions for Gronk "The Robot Polar Bear" in the red zone. Andrew Luck will have a hard time getting the ball to T.Y. Hilton with Darrelle Revis draped all over him, and I don't trust the supporting cast after that.
Brendan - Patriots
The Patriots are the more well rounded team which is why I'm taking them, but I'll say this - I don't feel good about it. I hate the saying, but if there's one team that qualifies as the, "team that got hot at the right time", Indy is it. They're not afraid of anyone and while Andrew Luck still makes 1-2 boneheaded throws per game, he's got a bit of that 2001 Tom Brady scent to him. I don't think this is the year he gets coronated, but I think they're going to make it really interesting.
Paul - Patriots
My pick of Indy last week was more a pick against Denver. Peyton Manning was the 2nd best quarterback in that game and with a dinged up Julius Thomas (who was instrumental in an early season Bronco victory over Indy) and Boom Herron replacing the NFL's worst player in Trent Richardson, I was actually pretty confident on that one. I think they have no better than a puncher's chance at New England. The Pats are healthy, well coached, at home, and Indy is 27th in the league at defending tight ends. It'll be a Gronking to remember.
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