SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (0-0)
at GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-0)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Line: Green Bay -3.0, Total: 51.0
Super Bowl hopefuls Seattle and Green Bay begin the year with a marquee matchup on Sunday.
The Seahawks went 10-5-1 and won a soft NFC West, but wildly inconsistent play riddled them all season. Seattle topped 30 points five times, but scored 12 points or fewer five times. QB Russell Wilson is surrounded by solid weapons and can dominate when healthy, but it may be difficult to keep him upright behind one of the league’s shakiest O-lines. Seattle’s front seven is as good as any in the NFL, but the once-impenetrable secondary showed chinks in the armor last season as safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor battled injuries and CB Richard Sherman struggled to cover in-breaking routes. Their merit will be tested right out of the gates against Green Bay. With some internal strife brewing and the active shopping of Sherman, the clock may be ticking on the Seahawks’ time as a title contender. The 2016 Packers sat at 4-6 on Thanksgiving before finishing the regular season with six-straight wins, then beat the Giants and Cowboys on route to the NFC Championship Game: Before Green Bay could blink, Atlanta took a 31-0 lead and ultimately won 44-21. QB Aaron Rodgers might be the most talented thrower in NFL history and, despite a weak-supporting cast, his improvising style gives the Packers a chance to win a shootout any week. The Packers defense wilted in the Conference Championship Game and gives up too many big passing plays. Even a slight improvement in the secondary would make the Packers a Super Bowl favorite. The Packers have beaten the Seahawks in Green Bay (and covered the spread) each of the past two seasons. Green Bay was a three-point home underdog in Week 14 last year and won 38-10 as Rodgers threw for three TD and Wilson threw five INT. The last time these teams met in Seattle was the 2014 NFC Conference Championship game, in which Seattle, an 8.5-point home favorite, fell behind 16-0 but pulled off a miracle comeback to win 28-22 in overtime. The Seahawks are 2-5 SU & 1-6 ATS on grass fields over the past two years. In the past three seasons, Green Bay is 18-4 SU & 15-5-2 ATS as a single-digit home favorite, and they’re 5-1 SU & ATS in September games since 2015.
The Seahawks offensive line is one of the league’s worst, and starting OT George Fant tore his ACL in the preseason, but Seattle has enough skill-position talent to overcome that deficiency. RBs Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy are violent runners who are both due to bounce back from disappointing seasons, and injury-prone RB C.J. Prosise is a passing-down option who showed great promise in limited action as a rookie. QB Russell Wilson (4,219 yards, 31 TD, 11 INT, 259 rushing yards) was inconsistent as he battled injuries all last season. He can torch defenses as both a quick-strike thrower in spread formations and outside the pocket as an accurate and powerful passer on the move. Dynamic slot WR Doug Baldwin (94 receptions, 1,128 yards, 7 TD) might be the league’s most underappreciated player, TE Jimmy Graham (65, 923, 6) is still unguardable at times and Seattle has a deep rotation of speedy young receivers lining up on the outside. The Seahawks gave up the third fewest points (18.3) and the lowest yards per carry average (3.4) in the league last season. Up front, moveable DL Michael Bennett is an underrated superstar who is elite against the run and the pass, and DEs Cliff Avril (11.5 sacks) and Frank Clark (10 sacks) fueled a pass rush that sacked opponents on 7.3% of dropbacks (2nd in the NFL). The LB tandem Bobby Wagner (82 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and K.J. Wright (70 tackles, 4 sacks) are textbook examples of what NFL coaches want from linebackers. The Legion of Boom secondary lost a step last year, as CB Richard Sherman (4 INT, 13 passes defended) looked less dominant and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor battled injuries. All three are healthy entering 2017, but the window on their dominance appears to be closing.
After a rocky start to the season, QB Aaron Rodgers (4,428 yards, 40 TD, 7 INT, 369 rushing yards, 4 rushing TD) hit his stride and the Packers averaged 32 points in eight-straight wins before Atlanta knocked them out of the playoffs. The offensive line allows Rodgers to extend plays beyond their design, which compensates for the lack of talent among Green Bay’s skill positions. Former WR Ty Montgomery (805 yards from scrimmage, 3 TD) switched to RB last season and will be the No. 1 runner in a thin backfield this season. WR Jordy Nelson (97 receptions, 1,257 yards, 14 TD) returned to form after tearing his ACL in the 2015 preseason, and Davante Adams (75, 997, 12) became a serviceable second fiddle. Slot WR Randall Cobb (60, 610, 4) has the athleticism to do more, and free agent signing Martellus Bennett (55, 701, 7 with New England) should thrive as a matchup nightmare for defenses. After giving up the most yards per pass in the league (8.1), the Packers lost versatile DB Micah Hyde to free agency. Two second-round picks, CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones, need to get up to speed quickly. Safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (61 tackles, 5 INT) and Morgan Burnett (68 tackles, 3 sacks, 9 passes defended) were last year’s leading tacklers and can play multiple positions, but need to be better in coverage. Nick Perry (11 sacks) and Clay Matthews (5 sacks) are fearsome edge-rushers and DT Mike Daniels is a force up front. But if the Packers can't cover, they'll be forced into many shootouts.