If it’s starting to seem like the Seahawks and Packers have played each other a lot in the playoffs, you’re right.
Sunday’s divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field will be the fourth time the two have faced off in the postseason, the most Seattle has played any opponent in the playoffs (breaking a tie with Carolina, Miami and Washington).
One constant has been the home team winning. Green Bay won the first two postseason games the two teams played in 2004 (33-27 in overtime after Matt Hasselbeck’s famous coin-flip proclamation) and 2008 (42-20). The Seahawks won the NFC title in 2015 with an absurd comeback, 28-22 in overtime.
But as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll seemed to take great delight in pointing out this week: “How many times we’ve won or they’ve won, whatever in years past — all that stuff, it doesn’t mean anything at all.’’
If history doesn’t matter, here’s what will as we look at some keys to the game.
Matchup to watch
QBs Russell Wilson vs. Aaron Rodgers
Two of the defining quarterbacks of their generation get a chance to add to their impressive resumes. The urgency may be greater for Rodgers, who is 36 with who knows how many more legitimate chances to get to a Super Bowl.
What defines each as much as their playmaking is their ability to avoid the bad play. They were No. 1 (Rodgers, with four) and tied for No. 2 (Wilson, with a career-low five) for lowest interception percentages in the NFL this season, combining for just nine picks (or, less than a third of Jameis Winston’s 30).
Whether either can be forced into a mistake or two could define which is able to advance to another conference title game — which would be Rodgers’ fourth or Wilson’s third.
Some of the numbers favor Wilson, who had the third-highest passer rating of his career (106.3) while Rodgers’ 95.4 was his third-lowest. Rodgers put up some particularly head-scratching numbers down the stretch, with a passer rating of just 84.22 and 10 touchdowns in the last eight games of the season (he had 16 in the first eight, when he never had a single-game passer rating below 85). Wilson is coming off one of his best playoff games with 325 yards against the Eagles, his third-most in 14 postseason appearances.
Coaching decision to watch
The Seahawks remained one of the most run-heavy offenses in the NFL this season, running it on 48.2% of plays, fifth-most in the NFL. But they showed last week they aren’t afraid to switch things up if the run isn’t there: The Seahawks threw it on 23 of 36 plays from the late first to the early fourth quarter last week after realizing the run wasn’t working.
It may make more sense to run it more against the Packers, who ranked 23rd in the NFL this year in rushing yards allowed per game (120.1) and allowed 149 or more six times. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll seemed to hint at that this week when he said to expect Marshawn Lynch to play a bigger role in the game plan against the Packers. Lynch has just 41 yards on 18 carries in two games in his return to the Seahawks, but he’s also one of the greatest postseason runners in NFL history. Carroll will at least hope that part of the past can repeat itself Sunday.
More relevant may be if Seattle has its usual left side of the line — tackle Duane Brown and guard Mike Iupati — after they sat last week because of injury.
Player to watch
WR DK Metcalf
Metcalf was one of the breakout stars of the first weekend of the NFL playoffs with 160 yards receiving on seven receptions in his first career playoff game. Will that cause the Packers to send a little more attention his way? As Metcalf said, if they do, that might open things up for Tyler Lockett and other receivers. Some in Green Bay have surmised the Packers might use former Huskies star Kevin King — who is 6 feet, 3 inches as opposed to his cornerback counterpart Jaire Alexander, who is 5-10 — to match up on Metcalf. But Metcalf has already seen some of the best take him on, such as Patrick Peterson and Jalen Ramsey. Last week showed Metcalf won’t be fazed by the moment.
Can the Seahawks really do it again? Last week made them an amazing 8-1 on the road this season. Only two teams in NFL history have won nine road games in a season — the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants, each of who were No. 5 or No. 6 seeds and won the Super Bowl by winning three road games.
This will mark a second consecutive week of the Seahawks flying on Friday and adjusting to a different time zone. This time the conditions might be more of an issue with temperatures in the 20s at kickoff, though the forecasts seem to indicate it won’t be snowing during the game.
Carroll said he wouldn’t harp on the conditions. But with a game that starts at 5:40 p.m. CST, it’s going to be cold when it ends.
Wild-card player who could surprise
Right tackle Germain Ifedi
Ifedi has long been a target of criticism for Seahawks fans for his inconsistent play and propensity for penalties. But Ifedi has at least been a constant this season. He and Wilson were the only two offensive players to play every snap this season, and Ifedi’s 1,107 snaps were the second-most of anyone at his position in 2019.
He’s set to be a free agent at the end of the year and has a big chance Sunday to make a case for himself going against Green Bay’s outside linebacking pass-rushing tandem of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith.
Za’Darius Smith led the NFL with 93 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and has 13½ sacks while Preston Smith had 12 sacks. Ifedi won’t be called on to step either on his own, but he’ll have to play his part.
14-23 or 61%
That’s Seattle’s third-down conversion rate in its last six quarters — the second half against the 49ers (6 of 8) and the game against the Eagles (8 of 15), when the Seahawks outscored their opponents 38-22.
Six of those third-down conversions were of 9 yards or longer. Seattle’s opponents in those six quarters were 4-14 on third downs, including the Eagles going just 3 of 11.
The numbers led Carroll to say the Eagles game was basically decided by who won the third-down battle. This week could be, too.
Surprisingly, given their 13-3 record and Rodgers as QB, Green Bay was one of the worst teams in the NFL this year in converting third downs at 35.96%, 25th overall. They were somewhat better at stopping them at 38.07%, 16th in the NFL.
The final word
Packers 21, Seahawks 17
Is the road going to finally end here? Seattle has overcome the odds and some challenging circumstances time and again this season. But a healthy and rested Green Bay playing at home and in its own comfort zone may be too much to overcome. The Seahawks simply have to get a pass rush on Rodgers to have a chance, but that might be tough unless the Seahawks get big games from some banged-up players such as Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney.