A talented-but-not-that-talented team with an MVP-caliber quarterback who must do everything to make up for coaching staff and roster flaws will play on Sunday at Lambeau Field. For once, it’s not the Green Bay Packers. In a week full of symmetry with Mike McCarthy headed to Dallas, the Packers playing a team that evokes memories of recent Green Bay squads cannot go unmentioned. In order to move forward, the Packers must vanquish a mirror image of their former selves.
The Seahawks won games this season because Russell Wilson made it so, bringing them back from half a dozen halftime deficits and making plays late in games to either seal or secure victories. But the offense is an anachronism, a dinosaur by NFL standards, one that doesn’t use motion or give the quarterback layup throws to get the offense in rhythm. It’s “run around and chuck it deep” after two handoffs on first and second down.
Aside from the running part, this might sound familiar to Packers fans.
From a talent standpoint, the Seahawks resemble so many of the deeply flawed Green Bay teams McCarthy and Rodgers attempted to drag to the playoffs, right down to pulling a former star off the street to try and salvage a position group. Seattle’s defense, once an all-time strength, comes in a middling group, finishing 18th in defensive DVOA — 15th against the pass and 26th against the run. They’re also last in pressure rate and aside from Jadeveon Clowney and Bobby Wagner, they’re relying on the aging K.J. Wright and a slew of unproven young players to come through for them defensively.
This season, it’s worked about as well as it did for much of the Dom Capers era in Green Bay, which is to say, not great.
The Seahawks come to Lambeau as the Wild Card, winning on the road in the first round, another parallel to ghosts of Packers past. And like so many of those teams, Seattle comes in undermanned. Aside from off-ball linebacker, there’s no clear talent advantage for the Seahawks anywhere, though Wilson has been the more consistent quarterback over the last two or three seasons.
While plenty of Packers playoff games ended in heartbreaking and bizarre fashion, games the Packers had chances to win late, they almost always came against better teams with the lone exception coming in 2011. Even that loss came to a Giants squad who went on to win the Super Bowl. Conversations every offseason centered around how the front office could improve the roster to compete with San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and even Arizona for a brief stretch. The Packers fell behind, but could always compete because Rodgers could, by prestidigitation, conjure a win.
That example becomes instructive for Sunday. The 13-3 Packers come in off rest, with a more balanced, talented team, a clear vision of who they are and what they want to do, with a coach who understands modern football and #math. None of that assures victory because the Seahawks still have Wilson and he’s capable of putting the team squarely on his shoulders and beating a more talented squad.
He did it against the 49ers in San Francisco despite an extremely ugly performance overall. Wilson made the plays late to win and nearly did it twice. Wilson again came through against the Vikings, also a more talented team. But they need it from him, much like the Packers did for years from Rodgers. If Wilson isn’t superman, the Seahawks can’t win, an ironic evolution of this team that used to win with defense and Marshawn Lynch and Wilson getting the QB Winz for 100-yard games.
The Packers evolved as well, but in the other direction. This team no longer requires Rodgers to be magical and pull the rabbit out of the hat by the end of the game. Aaron Jones can handle it. So can Za’Darius Smith. They don’t have to win the way they used to, the way the Seahawks do.
They still have to play well to win, precisely because Wilson is Wilson, but this time, if Rodgers is Rodgers, the Packers can have faith that’s more than enough because of what he has around him. No one in Cheesehead Nation has to be reminded how many times Rodgers being Rodgers wasn’t enough.
If the real-life metaphor were a movie script, we’d roll our collective eyes: after building a team that no longer relies on the quarterback, the Packers must beat a team who does—one with a quarterback more than capable of accomplishing the task— and in doing so truly kill the past. And after years of Wilson enjoying the benefits of the QB Winz crowd, a great defense, and explosive run game, Rodgers has the task of just making a handful of plays to seal or secure the win.
Depending on your perspective of the liquid in the glass, the way this matchup plays out based on history can be viewed as either reassuring or terrifying. And either way you look at it, you’re probably right. A win or a loss would, in its own way, put a fitting coda on the redesign of the Packers. It’s up to Green Bay to decide which one it will be.