Friday, January 16, 2015

NFC Championship Preview: Packers at Seahawks

I'll be honest and say that I'm pessimistic about the Packers' chances in the NFC Championship game in Seattle on Sunday. Of course they can win, but everything I've looked at leads me back to major problems. The biggest one is that they've been much worse on the road this season. I wrote about it last week that Aaron Rodgers's best road game of 2014 (at Dolphins) is statistically worse than his lowest rated home game of the season. That's not all on him, but it does show in one stat how they've struggled on the road.

So instead of predicting a score, if I'm honest I'd give more points to the Seahawks, or spending too much time on their road woes, I'll focus on how they can win the championship.
Aaron Rodgers has to play like it's a home game. For most of this season, Eddie Lacy has ran well at every venue he's played in. Despite a poor first half against the Cowboys, Rodgers did something at halftime to stretch his calf into a second gear and he was lethal down the stretch. It also helped that WR Davante Adams also started making big plays. In Rodgers's worst statistical game of the season, at Buffalo in Week 15, he wasn't the one dropping every pass in sight. He's only going shine if his teammates play their best. Maybe it's better said that the entire offense has to play like it's a home game, but as their field general, Rodgers is going to be front and center in that effort.

It's Mike Daniels time. The Packer defense got some big plays last week from Julius Peppers, but the coaches are being careful with his snap count and he's just as likely to be lined up outside as Mike Neal (who stinks). Clay Matthews has to be careful about committing a personal foul, but he's capable of making a big play too. When the defense came to life in the second half against Dallas and held them to 7 points, it was in large part because of Mike Daniels. No defensive lineman plays more snaps then him and he's twice the playmaker of anyone else on the line, against the run or the pass. The defense has been at it's best this season when Daniels is wrecking havoc at the line of scrimmage.

While the special teams have gotten burned at times this season, the good news is that Seattle's special teams aren't anything special either. A big punt return from Micah Hyde isn't absolutely necessary for them to win, but a return touchdown would have a bigger impact then usual because the Packers's offense might struggle to score over 20 points on it's own. I never expect too much from this unit, but they can't be on the wrong end of a big play on Sunday.

This isn't the best set of circumstances, a hobbled Aaron Rodgers facing the defending champs on the road, but the most important thing is that they've made it this far and given themselves a chance. Seattle's a great team, but the Packers have the ability to out play them. Now they've got to get it done.

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