Looking forward to a Seahawks-Packers showdown Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field?
You’re not alone.
The national media and major newspapers are also looking ahead – sizing up the matchup. Some are already even making predictions.
Oddsmakers quickly made the Seahawks seven-point favorites to beat Green Bay. Ridiculous? Maybe, but then the odds moved to 7.5.
There are all sorts of storylines, the best of which may be Aaron Rodgers, the injured Packers quarterback and pIrobable NFL MVP vs. Russell Wilson.
Here’s a roundup looking at Sunday’s Packers victory and the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Also, here’s another roundup with some great links from Tuesday morning, including a story comparing Kam Chancellor to a android and a great read on Richard Sherman at home.
Here are links to our Seahawks coverage Tuesday.
I didn’t see a lot of the Seattle-Carolina game, but what seemed to be the most impressive thing about it was the play of strong safety Kam Chancellor. The breadth of his talent was on display throughout, and it’s easy to see why the Seahawks feel they have the best pair of safeties in football and no other team is close for second place. (Earl Thomas being the other, of course.)
“I’ve had front row tickets to the Kam Chancellor Show for a while now,” Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith told The MMQB’s Robert Klemko after a game that was tougher than the 14-point margin indicated. “Even if you don’t see it, you definitely hear it and feel it when he’s out there smacking fools. Sometimes I’m so in awe I don’t even celebrate. I’m like, is he alright?”
In this game, Chancellor covered, he hurdled the line trying to block kicks (twice), he tackled, he dove for fumbles. And the most impressive play may have been his not-so-chance meeting with a 250-pound bowling ball for Carolina, running back Mike Tolbert. With Seattle leading 14-7 but Carolina driving in the second quarter, Chancellor, at 6-3 and 230, met Tolbert with violence, full-speed with a shoulder to the ribs, a yard short of the first down. A guttural scream followed, as it often does. Said Smith: “He was just screaming after that. No real words.”
Klemko made a great point to me: “That Chancellor is the third-biggest name in the Seattle secondary behind Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas says more about Seattle’s roster than it does about the fourth-year safety, who turned in perhaps the game of his career here. Eleven tackles and an interception returned 90 yards for a touchdown were enough to fill a stat sheet, but he also did things that don’t show up in the boxscore that make you go wow. Chancellor hurdled the Carolina line twice on field goal block attempts, and he somehow made Mike Tolbert go backwards.’’
One of the members of the Chancellor fan club, cornerback Richard Sherman, said: “I think every year he gets snubbed more than anybody else. I think this year he should have been first team All-Pro, and it should have been easy.”
Chancellor is a mild-mannered guy who is good buddies with Sherman but will never be confused with him in the press conference standings. In his postgame interview, he calmly assigned “all glory to God” … and to his defensive line. He’ll be a tough assignment, along with his defensive mates, for Aaron Rodgers Sunday at noon Pacific Time in Seattle.
The Fine Fifteen (NFL power rankings)
1. Seattle (13-4). Seattle safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor had 22 tackles, a pick, a forced fumbled and three passes defensed Saturday night. They dominated, particularly Chancellor. The Packers will want to watch tape of Seattle’s Oct. 12 meeting with the Cowboys for a clue as to how to limit the impact of the safeties. In a combined 150 defensive snaps three months ago, Thomas and Chancellor had a combined 12 tackles with no sacks, picks, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries.
2. New England (13-4). Smart coaching and a great quarterback are pretty tough to beat in the playoffs. (See number 7.)
3. Green Bay (13-4). One-legged Aaron Rodgers. Pretty good.
4. Dallas (13-5). Just a guess, but I’m thinking Dean Blandino won’t be getting any more rides on the Dallas party bus.
5. Indianapolis (12-6). Andrew Luck in the Final Four. It was a matter of time, and Year 3 seems just right.
6. Baltimore (11-7). Smart coaching and a great quarterback are pretty tough to beat in the playoffs … and Baltimore almost did. I know January Joe Flacco threw the late pick to quash Raven hopes, but he is one great postseason quarterback.
7. Denver (12-5). One month ago today, who would have thought we’d be talking about a total reconstruction job of the team that John Elway so masterfully built? …
Offensive Players of the Week
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay. When the Green Bay passer inflicted some Rodgers-on-Rodgers crime on the Cowboys—Richard Rodgers caught the winning touchdown pass, a 13-yarder from Aaron Rodgers, and both are from Cal—it capped a fairly amazing performance by a quarterback playing on one healthy leg. “Aaron Rodgers is truly special,” Troy Aikman said on FOX. “His accuracy and velocity on the move is unprecedented.” Rodgers completed nine of nine passes in the fourth quarter, leading the winning 80-yard drive in the process, and playing his best when the Packers had to have it. Rodgers knew he had to get rid of the ball quickly because he wasn’t going to be able to move around well with his bad left calf, and he was sacked only once on the day. With a 24-of-35, 316-yard, three-touchdown, no-pick day, he chose the right time to have one of his best playoff games. …
Defensive Players of the Week
Kam Chancellor, strong safety, Seattle. The Seahawks beat Carolina 31-17, which sounds comfy and cozy and pretty easy. It wasn’t. Chancellor laid the wood to Carolina ball-carriers, as he always does; he is the enforcer on a defense that is as physical as any in the league week in and week out. And with the score 24-10 midway through the fourth quarter and Carolina driving for a last-gasp shot to make it a one-score game, Chancellor picked off Cam Newton and ran it back 90 yards for the clinching touchdown. …
I think this is what I liked about playoff weekend
Russell Wilson. If there’s any debate about his worth, or his ability to lead an offense with both his legs and his arm, watch Saturday night’s highlights. He’s a great quarterback for this day and age.
CenturyLink Field has been a house of horrors for the Green Bay Packers.
In 2012, the Packers lost the Fail Mary game in which replacement referee Lance Easley ruled a Seattle touchdown on a last-second pass caught simultaneously by Packers safety M.D. Jennings and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate. That win signaled the beginning of Pete Carroll’s budding dynasty. The 2014 season opened with the Packers being blown out by the Seahawks 36-16 at CenturyLink.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy used the entire offseason to try pushing the Packers to the level of the defending Super Bowl champions. The Packers weren’t there in September. Are they there in January? McCarthy has a week to prepare for a team playing some of the best defense in NFL history.
The NFC Championship Game will be a test for the Packers and a test for history. If the Packers pull off the upset, McCarthy will have closed a gap against Seattle that has developed since 2012. A win by the Seahawks, meanwhile, will put them in position to become the eighth franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
Here are 10 key questions about the NFC Championship Game:
1. What’s Aaron Rodgers‘ injury status? He will play, but his health might not be much better than it was heading into the Packers’ win over the Cowboys. In fact, Rodgers said the calf felt a little worse after the game. It’s my estimation we are seeing 70 percent of Rodgers. But 70 percent of Rodgers was good enough to eke out a 26-21 victory over Dallas. Rodgers has a partially torn left calf muscle, an injury that leaves the muscle tight and makes it difficult to run. Rodgers, who first hurt his calf in the regular-season finale against the Lions, said this is an injury that takes at least two months to heal and that he probably won’t practice much this week.
Expect Rodgers to work mainly out of shotgun and pistol formations, like he did in the Cowboys game. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Rodgers ran every play out of the shotgun or pistol except for the Packers’ three kneel downs. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns, but he clearly was limited by the injury.
2. Patriots-Seahawks: This would be a superstar Super Bowl week between New England and Seattle. Darrelle Revis vs. Richard Sherman all week might trump any sort of quarterback rivalry, to be honest. Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Gronk, Sherman, Revis … tons of big names. Marshawn Lynch!!! There’s some concern about seeing the Seahawks coming to Phoenix, because they’re the most likely team to be involved in a blowout (see: last year).
With a destructive running game and a ridiculous defense, they can stifle high-powered offenses and put up points quickly on both sides of the ball. Pete Carroll — the last Pats head coach before Bill Belichick — winning back-to-back Super Bowls and kicking off a dynasty while helping to shut the door on his successor’s dynasty? That’s just a voluptuous storyline. …
4. Colts-Seahawks: The biggest appeal here is the Andrew Luck-Russell Wilson storyline. Everyone, everywhere, all week long would be screaming about who they want as their franchise quarterback. Dudes would get punched for yelling that Luck doesn’t have a defense and a running game and would win 9 Super Bowls THIS YEAR if he was in Wilson’s spot. The world could marvel at Luck’s neckbeard and bask in his ability to answer millions of questions without saying anything. (The real rivalry between Luck and Wilson is who can issue the most platitudes per hour in a press conference.) Someone would mention that Vontae Davis is in the same class as Sherman and Sherman would go crazy, leading to an amazing soundbite. This line would be high, though, and it would be hard to pick the Colts to top Seattle. …
Russel’n: Shoutout to the people who hopped on Twitter to point out I picked the Panthers over the Seahawks and was wrong. Yes, I’m aware! Actually, I don’t feel bad about the pick, to be honest. Carolina hung tight with Seattle until a few late plays — which I predicted too! — and a complete inability to stop Russell Wilson on third down.
The Panthers needed to do a better job in third-down situations but it can’t be understated what a ridiculous job Wilson did.
He finished the game 8 for 8 (!) for 200 yards (!!), three touchdowns (!!!) and seven first downs on third-down passing.
Marinate on that for a minute and think about how devastating those stats are for the Panthers. They would routintely play great defense, set themselves up to get the ball back and promptly have their hearts ripped.
It’s this sort of thing that makes Wilson such an effective quarterback. Guy just makes incredible plays in incredible spots.
Green Bay, which is back in the championship game for the first time since 2010, will hit the road to face the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
Like all four of the remaining quarterbacks, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is two victories away from lifting the Lombardi Trophy overhead.
“I think I’ve got 120 minutes left in me,” Rodgers said Sunday.
The Seahawks easily brushed aside the Packers in this season’s Kickoff Opener, a 36-16 defeat in which Rodgers never threw in the direction of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and finished with 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
It seemed the Packers’ No. 12 was rattled by the 12th Man, or at least that’s what some Seahawks players said.
“The loudness of the stadium made him a little queasy out there,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said at the time.
The Seahawks could see a more confident Eddie Lacy than they did in September. Lacy, who rushed for 101 yards Sunday in the Packers’ victory over Dallas, was stymied against the Seahawks and eventually wound up sidelined because of a concussion.
“Lacy?” Bennett said at the time. “He had 12 carries for 34 yards, I could do that. It was just another offensive player.”
So the Packers have plenty of bulletin-board fodder for this one, and they don’t even have to reach back to the so-called “Fail Mary” game in 2012, when Green Bay lost on a hotly disputed touchdown pass at the end, a play that was ruled a catch by replacement officials but looked far more like a Packers interception.
Fifteen minutes after the game ended Sunday, a sustained roar filled the west concourse at Lambeau Field as thousands of giddy, towel-waving fans poured out of the stadium and emptied their lungs into the cold night air.
Celebration. Vindication. In a few cases, intoxication.
Whatever fueled the spontaneously combusting exit, the overriding emotion was pure, unbridled joy.
In stark contrast, inside the Green Bay Packers locker room, the mood was considerably more subdued. Yes, there were tired smiles. There was satisfaction after a hard-fought, 26-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional playoff game.
But there was also unfinished business.
“We don’t have the trophy or the ring yet,” said defensive end Mike Daniels. “That’s when I’ll smile.”
Ah, yes. The Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Super Bowl ring. The Packers are one step away from playing for them. But it is the kind of step that could cause a trip, a fall, a fractured dream, a broken season.
It can be argued that there is no bigger challenge in the NFL right now than to go into the belly of the beast that is CenturyLink Field in Seattle and beat the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
That is exactly what the Packers will have to do at 2 p.m. Sunday if they are to advance to Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 in Arizona.
“They’ve got probably the hottest team in football right now,” said Packers guard T.J. Lang. “They’ve got a lot of playmakers, especially on that defense. They play fast. They play physical. They fly around. They play well together.”
Seattle (13-4), the top-seeded team in the NFC, advanced to the conference championship game with a 31-17 victory over Carolina on Saturday.
The Seahawks have won seven straight since a Nov. 16 loss to Kansas City and have been installed as early seven-point favorites to beat the Packers, according to the Westgate sports book in Las Vegas.
“We understand they’re a very, very good team and they play very well at home,” said fullback John Kuhn. “So in order to get to the Super Bowl you’ve got to beat the defending Super Bowl champions. You couldn’t write a better script, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
If the Packers (13-4) had won Dec. 14 in Buffalo, they would be playing the title game right back in Lambeau, where they have yet to lose this season.
Instead, Green Bay must prevail Sunday at 2:05 p.m. against the Seattle Seahawks (13-4) at CenturyLink Field, possibly the NFL’s loudest and least welcoming venue, in order to reach the Super Bowl for the sixth time in franchise history.
It will be the 16th time the two top-seeded teams in the NFC have met for the championship in the 25-year history of the current seeding system. In 15 title games between the top two teams, the No. 2 has managed to advance six times.
The winners were San Francisco at Atlanta in 2012, Tampa Bay at St. Louis in ’02, Atlanta at Minnesota in ’98, Green Bay at San Francisco in ’97, Dallas at San Francisco in ’92 and the New York Giants at San Francisco in ’90.
One national oddsmaker immediately installed the Seahawks as a 7 ½-point favorite. They were favored by five Sept. 4 in a season-opening, 36-16 victory over the Packers in Seattle.
“They’re coming off a Super Bowl,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I can see us being the underdog. But we don’t think that way in this locker room.”
Nor should the Packers, not after they rolled for 425 yards and 64% on third down in dispatching the third-seeded Cowboys (13-5) on a mild, windless mid-January afternoon that was the antithesis of the arctic conditions in the last playoff game between the two clubs in Green Bay 47 years ago.
“They’ve won seven in a row, they’re playing lights out,” said guard T.J. Lang. “We like the way we’re playing, too.”
The Seattle Seahawks had to feel OK about how Sunday’s divisional round playoff game turned out in the NFC.
Given the choice, if you were the Seahawks, who would you rather face in the NFC championship game next week? The Dallas Cowboys, who have one of the league’s two best running games and beat you on your own field in Week 6? Or the wounded Green Bay Packers, whose quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, is diminished by a calf injury that isn’t going to heal anytime soon?
It would have to be the Packers, wouldn’t it?
With a healthy Rodgers, it’s a different story of course. But it became clearer than ever Sunday, even while he was leading a come-from-behind 26-21 win over the Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs at Lambeau Field, that Rodgers’ calf injury is serious, and seriously limiting.
It’s a six-week injury, at least, and that’s with nothing but rest and rehabilitation. By the end of the game Sunday, he looked no better off than he did hobbling through the second half in the Packers’ win over Detroit in the regular-season finale two weeks ago.
When asked how much worse his calf was after the game Sunday as opposed to the start of the day, Rodgers said: “A little bit worse, yeah. Hard to say, see how it feels in the morning. But, yeah, probably go through the week similar as far as practice goes and just kind of see how it feels as the week goes on.”
Yes, the Packers have to feel great about beating the Cowboys. They got past the divisional round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and they’re playing for the NFC championship for the third time in Mike McCarthy’s nine seasons as their coach. These are heady times, with a chance to get back to the Super Bowl again, wounded or not.
Anything can happen in one game, this week, at Seattle.
But it’s hard to be bullish on the Packers because of Rodgers’ injury, even though he played a great second half – he threw for 226 of his 316 yards after intermission. The early betting line according to the Westgate sportsbook has the Seahawks as 7-point favorites, and I’m guessing that’s more likely to go up than down as the week goes on, because of Rodgers’ injury.
Handling Beast Mode: The Packers gave up 123 yards rushing to DeMarco Murray in Sunday’s 26-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys and looked more like the run defense that was ranked 32nd in the league halfway through the regular season than the group that was a top-10 unit over the last eight games. They might have to do better against Marshawn Lynch to have any chance in Seattle. In the season-opener, Lynch rushed for 110 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns. In three career games against the Packers, Lynch has averaged 90.7 rushing yards per games
That season opener is difficult to forget when projecting this game.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers refused to even throw the ball on Richard Sherman’s side of the field, which cut their passing playbook virtually in half. What’s more, running back Eddie Lacy only finished with 34 rushing yards and offered little to no help.
Seattle’s physicality simply overwhelmed the Packers offense, and the crowd was deafening, as always.
It set the stage for a season of domination from the Seahawks defense, in which it finished No. 1 in the league in scoring defense, pass defense and total yardage allowed and No. 3 against the run. It also gave up more than seven points a single time in the final six games of the regular season, and it is playing at a ridiculously high level.
Sure, the Carolina Panthers ended up with 17 points in the divisional round, but seven of those came in garbage time.
The only chance the Packers realistically have is with a better performance from Lacy, who has run for at least 97 yards in each of the last four games, counting Sunday’s win over the Dallas Cowboys. If Lacy can pick up chunks of yardage, Seattle’s defensive line will have to freeze for a second before attacking the injured Rodgers.
That extra split second of decision time could help Rodgers find wide receivers Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb in the passing game.
The wild card for the NFC title game is the health of Rodgers. His strained left calf was visibly bothering him against Dallas Sunday, and he discussed his status, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com: “I think I’ve got 120 minutes left in me. So I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I can play all those minutes.”
Rodgers was far less mobile both inside and outside of the pocket than usual Sunday, which could be a problem against the relentless Seahawks defense.
1. Aaron Rodgers has helped win two massive games since leaving Week 17 with a calf injury. But winning in Seattle will be a whole other challenge. The Seahawks‘ defensive line is the most underrated group in the league. Seattle can get creative with their linebackers and send waves of pressure at Rodgers if they are confident he’s not mobile. It will be a far cry from Dallas’ pass rush.
2. Which quarterback is playing better in this game? Rodgers was the best at the position all season, but there’s no denying that Wilson had the better playoff performance over the weekend. Wilson’s near-perfect outing against Carolina got lost in a crazy weekend. Buoyed by a historically good ground game, the Seahawks‘ offense makes this team more balanced than you think.
3. Seattle’s defense is playing at a level we have rarely seen. They have roughly seven players that can take over a game, depending on the week: Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Beating that peaking group in Seattle would be the niftiest achievement of Rodgers’ career.
Just when the Seahawks needed him to, (Kam) Chancellor stole the show.
He stole it from Russell Wilson, who was almost perfect at quarterback. He stole it from Richard Sherman, who had an interception and almost picked another. And from Earl Thomas, who let two picks get away from him, one at the goal line late in the first half.
He stole it with his role in the greatest sequence of field-goal block attempts in NFL playoff history (even though, when it was all over, the Panthers made the field goal). He stole it with a teeth-rattling hit on a full-speed Mike Tolbert just short of the first-down marker, a stop that left the Panthers with the now-infamous field-goal try that Chancellor hurdled the line to try to block … twice.
And he stole the Panthers’ last chance to make it a game with his 90-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“I don’t know if a strong safety can have a better game than Kam Chancellor had tonight,” Pete Carroll said afterward.
“That,” added Wilson, was “one of his best games I’ve ever seen, honest.”
They all were entitled to a sigh of relief. The show put on by the secondary, against a quarterback who may have played his best game of the season, reminded the world of what the unit can do when it approaches its peak. Without Maxwell, it wasn’t at its best. But Chancellor was, and it made that defense seem impenetrable.
“I think I’ve got 120 minutes left in me,” Rodgers said, per ESPNWisconsin.com. “So I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I can play all those minutes.”
Rodgers’ mobility was clearly hindered throughout the game, and he appeared especially hesitant to flee the pocket early. However, in the second half the MVP front-runner made plays to bring the Packers back, including a game-winning touchdown strike that few healthy quarterbacks would ever even attempt.
Battling through the pain of a strained left calf, Rodgers — for much of the game — was a shadow of the MVP-worthy fireball we watched all season. The Packers quarterback missed on repeated shots downfield and operated gingerly in the pocket before heating up down the stretch. Dallas notched just one sack, but Rodgers is a different player when you take away his legs. A Jeremy Mincey strip-sack in the second quarter marked the first turnover for Rodgers in 887 snaps at home, dating back to Week 14 of the 2012 campaign. After throwing for just 90 yards in the first half, though, Rodgers looked good tossing back-to-back pretty touchdown strikes to Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. Still, the tweaked calf is a concerning injury for the Packers — one that isn’t going away before next week’s title-game showdown with the Seahawks.
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