Sunday, 3:05 p.m. EST, CenturyLink Field
IN A WEEK 1 win against Green Bay, Seattle occasionally assigned a player to spy Aaron Rodgers, one of the most dangerous QBs in the league when it comes to extending the play. But now Rodgers's mobility is compromised by a left-calf injury, rendering him a nonthreat outside the pocket.
Inside the pocket, though, he remains proficient, and from there he grew markedly more comfortable as the Packers' divisional-round game against the Cowboys progressed. But that was against a very average Dallas pass rush. The Seahawks are much more explosive, with Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin outside in nickel and defensive end Michael Bennett inside. It's a pass rush aided by the cornerbacks' press techniques, which can delay route timing and force opposing QBs to hold the ball.
The Packers' O-line is much improved from the last time these teams met. In that game Rodgers showed Richard Sherman unwavering respect, not throwing his way once. That effectively sliced the field in half, which is anathema to success against a D as fast as Seattle's. The Packers must be willing to challenge Sherman, which doesn't have to mean targeting him one-on-one. With Randall Cobb in the slot, they can attack Sherman's vertical zone responsibilities with two-receiver route combinations. Cobb would be most dangerous on a wheel route (looping toward the sideline and then working upfield) underneath a Jordy Nelson deep route. This would put Sherman in a bind, or even compel a linebacker to run with Cobb. Advantage: Green Bay.
Expect the Packers to employ plenty of spread sets that widen the defense and force Seattle's dynamic zone defenders to make plays in space. Green Bay has the weapons to capitalize here.
THE PICK: Packers 23, Seahawks 16
JEFF HAYNES FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (RODGERS)
AARON RODGERS Packers QB
KIRBY LEE/USA TODAY SPORTS (AVRIL)
CLIFF AVRIL Seahawks DE