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NFL Preview - Seattle (5-9) at Green Bay (9-5)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks have been frequent playoff visitors during the current decade, and have squared off in multiple classic battles as two of the NFC's better teams over that stretch.
On Sunday afternoon, when the clubs face off again at Lambeau Field, only the homestanding Packers will harbor the goal of finishing off the decade with yet another trip to the postseason. The Seahawks, resigned to the role of spoiler for a second straight season, will be attempting to keep the Packers right alongside them as a team still on the outside looking in.
Last week in Pittsburgh, Green Bay (9-5) was one play away from a sixth consecutive win and a position of great comfort in the playoff race heading into the final two weeks. But a 19-yard touchdown pass from the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger to wideout Mike Wallace on the game's final play saddled the Pack with a heartbreaking 37-36 loss, after they had battled back from a 24-14 deficit to start the fourth-quarter in order to take the lead.
The loss was difficult on a number of fronts, not the least of which was the fact that the Packers officially conceded the NFC North title to the Minnesota Vikings. Meanwhile, Week 15 wins by fellow playoff hopefuls the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants reduced Green Bay's margin for error in reaching the field as a wild card.
The Packers enter Week 16 still holding the first of two wild card positions in the NFC, but a loss to Seattle, coupled with wins by all of the above-mentioned NFC East teams, could leave Green Bay in a precarious position as they head into what should be a difficult battle at the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals in Week 17.
On the bright side for Mike McCarthy's club, a win over the Seahawks, coupled with a loss for either the Giants (vs. Panthers) or Cowboys (at Redskins), would officially place Green Bay in the postseason.
Seattle, meanwhile, is a team in the wilderness, one that will simply be trying to restore a bit of pride following an embarrassing 24-7 home loss to the one- win Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.
The defeat, which clinched Seattle's first back-to-back losing seasons since 1993-94 and officially killed the Hawks' already-remote postseason chances, saw the Seahawks commit five turnovers and allow a combined 133 rushing yards to Tampa Bay running backs Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward.
Seattle has now scored a total of 14 points in each of its past two games, and has been held to a single-digit scoring total in four of its last nine contests.
Green Bay owns a 7-5 lead in its all-time regular season series with Seattle, including a 27-17 victory when it visited Qwest Field in Week 6 of last season. The Seahawks won the previous meeting, a 34-24 home affair in 2006. Seattle was a 23-17 loser when it last visited Lambeau Field for a regular season game in 2005, and is 0-2 in such games since last winning there in 1999.
The clubs have also met in a pair of playoff contests, both won by Green Bay at Lambeau Field. The Packers took a 33-27 overtime victory in a 2003 NFC Divisional Playoff, and a 42-20 triumph in a 2007 NFC Divisional Playoff.
Including playoffs, the Seahawks have lost in their last four trips to Lambeau Field.
McCarthy is 2-1 against the Seahawks as a head coach. Seattle's Jim Mora was 0-1 against the Packers during his tenure with the Falcons (2004-06), and will be meeting McCarthy for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Though certainly Hasselbeck (2656 passing yard, 15 TD, 12 INT) has been culpable in the Seahawks' shaky offensive play this season, the generally poor work of his offensive line and non-existent nature of the team's running game has not been a credit to the three-time Pro Bowler's cause. Exacerbating the problems for Hasselbeck this week is the fact that top receiver Nate Burleson is likely done for the year with an ankle injury suffered last week. Still, if Hasselbeck can find time to throw behind an offensive line that has surrendered a bloated 35 sacks on the year, he will have capable targets in the form of T.J. Houshmandzadeh (72 receptions, 3 TD), Deion Branch (36 receptions, 2 TD), and tight end John Carlson (47 receptions, 5 TD). Houshmandzadeh hauled in seven catches for 73 yards in the Tampa Bay loss, while Carlson had his best game in weeks with seven receptions, 86 yards, and the team's only touchdown of the day. Mora is likely to give a lot of attention to the running game in the offseason, as Julius Jones (563 rushing yards, 28 receptions, 4 TD), Justin Forsett (475 rushing yards, 38 receptions, 5 TD) and company lead an attack that is 28th in NFL rushing offense (93.6 yards per game) as Week 16 begins. Jones and Forsett combined for 120 yards on 21 total carries last week, but the team all but abandoned the running game in the second half.
A Green Bay defense that had made tremendous strides during the team's five- game winning streak saw its reputation take a major hit last Sunday, when Roethlisberger gutted the Packers during a historic 503-yard passing day. Looking to bounce back this week will be a secondary led by cornerbacks Charles Woodson (70 tackles, 8 INT, 2 sacks) and Tramon Williams (44 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack), with safeties Nick Collins (47 tackles, 6 INT, 1 sack) and Atari Bigby (38 tackles, 1 INT) in support. Woodson had a game-high nine tackles against the Steelers but did not further his case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. The Packers pass rush got after Roethlisberger for five sacks, including two each for linebackers Clay Matthews (47 tackles, 10 sacks) and Brad Jones (27 tackles, 3 sacks). The rookie Matthews, who has become the team's most capable pass rusher in the absence of the injured Aaron Kampman, has six sacks over his past four games. Green Bay enters Week 16 ranked second in the league against the run (83.6 yards per game), with d-linemen B.J. Raji (21 tackles, 1 sack) and Johnny Jolly (35 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) both active in the trenches, and inside linebackers Nick Barnett (91 tackles, 3 sacks) and A.J. Hawk (77 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) making plays in the next line of defense. The Pack limited Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker to a combined 60 rushing yards on 17 attempts last week, though Mendenhall did get loose for 73 receiving yards.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
A terrific season that could land him his first career Pro Bowl appearance continued last week for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (3962 passing yards, 28 TD, 7 INT), who completed 26-of-48 passes for 383 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers in a losing effort against the Steelers. Four players - wideouts Greg Jennings (61 receptions, 4 TD), Donald Driver (61 receptions, 6 TD), Jordy Nelson (20 receptions, 2 TD), and tight end Jermichael Finley (48 receptions, 4 TD) - had 70-plus receiving yards in the defeat, while a fifth, James Jones (28 receptions, 5 TD), hauled in a touchdown pass in the game. Jennings, whose 118 receiving yards were his second-best total of the year, helped him take the team receiving yard lead (973) over Driver, who has been held to eight catches in his last three games combined. The underrated component of the attack has been the second-year-pro Finley, who has gone over 70 yards in each of the past three weeks and has three touchdowns over that span. A Green Bay team that ranks eighth in the league in passing offense (262.9 yards per game) also comes in at a healthy 15th in rushing (115.9 yards per game), though top rusher Ryan Grant (1105 rushing yards, 8 TD, 25 receptions) was limited to eight carries for 37 yards in last week's shootout. Grant's crowning achievement as a pro was a 201-yard rushing effort in a 2007 playoff game against the Seahawks. The Packers continue to rank last in the league in sacks allowed with 49, though Rodgers was dumped just once by the Steelers.
The Seahawks have been generally lousy against the pass this season, ranking 29th in NFL passing defense (249.4 yards per game), 29th in touchdown passes allowed (26), and also in the bottom half of the league in interceptions (12) and sacks (27). Handling Jennings and Driver will likely be cornerbacks Marcus Trufant (40 tackles, 2 INT) and Josh Wilson (44 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack), with safeties Deon Grant (64 tackles, 2 INT) and Jordan Babineaux (99 tackles, 1.5 sacks) attempting to help out over the top. Grant notched the Hawks' lone interception off of Buccaneers rookie Josh Freeman last Sunday. Seattle did not have a sack of the youngster, a feat that ends Patrick Kerney (28 tackles, 5 sacks) and Lawrence Jackson (26 tackles, 4 sacks) will be hoping not to repeat on Sunday. A group that ranks 21st against the run (106.4 yards per game) is dealing with some injury problems as it heads to Green Bay, with rookie linebacker Aaron Curry unlikely to play due to a shoulder problem and D.D. Lewis battling a bad knee. Middle backer David Hawthorne (103 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 INT) and OLB Leroy Hill (40 tackles, 1 sack) will have to lead an injury- depleted front seven, with defensive tackles Colin Cole (40 tackles) and Brandon Mebane (42 tackles, 1.5 sacks) looking to make a difference at the point of attack. Hawthorne had a game-high 10 tackles against the Bucs.
The Seahawks' season is dead, but Seattle is still a team worth considering for fantasy-related purposes. Houshmandzadeh comes off a week in which he caught seven balls for 73 yards, and the injury to Burleson should make the first-year Seahawk a more attractive option for Hasselbeck. It might also be worth taking a flier on Carlson, since the otherwise disappointing tight end had a big day last week, and just after Mora had spoken publicly about the need to get him more involved offensively. Otherwise, probably best to steer clear of any Seahawks in this one.
On the Green Bay side, Rodgers has been among the league's most reliable fantasy quarterbacks, and Driver, Jennings, and the tight end Finley have all been consistent contributors of late. Grant is a bit hit-or-miss at the running back position, but has enjoyed good success at the Seahawks and should get his yards here. The Packers defense might arouse some skepticism after allowing 500-plus through the air to Roethlisberger last week, but this is a good playmaking group and you shouldn't bench them against a Seattle attack that has struggled of late. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby has been erratic and belongs on the waiver wire.
Never underestimate the power of pride. The Seahawks didn't show much of it last week, but there's a good chance you'll see renewed energy from the team here, for a few reasons. First, Seattle has to be embarrassed about last week's showing, and will want to show the world that it is not, in fact, one of the worst teams in the league. Second, there are enough Seahawks players on this roster who remember those previous classic battles with the Packers, and won't lay down against what has become something of a rival. That group of Seahawks includes Hasselbeck, who figures to show some fire against the team that once employed him. Finally, Seattle has a chance this week because Green Bay showed against the Steelers that it still has some problems, and the Seahawks have enough talent to exploit those weaknesses, at least in part. Mind you, none of the above will lead to a Seahawks upset, since the Packers are still the better team and aren't going to let a must-win at Lambeau Field slip away. But count on the Hawks to make things interesting.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 24, Seahawks 17
12/23 16:32:14 ET