The Green Bay Packers (1-1) travel to the Pacific Northwest Monday night for an NFC clash with the Seattle Seahawks (1-1).
The final game on the Week 3 schedule represents an opportunity for the Seahawks to make a statement early in the 2012 season, while the Packers can get their difficult upcoming schedule (four road games in five weeks) off on the right foot.
Here's the five most important matchups to watch on Monday Night Football:
Packers LBs D.J. Smith and A.J. Hawk vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson dominates the headlines, but Lynch is the key to the Seahawks offense. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell uses Lynch on early downs to protect his young quarterback from difficult situations and set up the play-action passing game, where Wilson excels.
The Packers lost thumping inside linebacker Desmond Bishop before the season even started, which means Smith starts alongside Hawk. Expect the Seahawks to do plenty of power running right at the second-year linebacker early on.
Both Smith and Hawk need to be sure tacklers against Lynch, who runs with more power than most NFL backs and currently leads the league in broken tackles. The Seahawks will be in good shape if the running game is averaging five or more yards an attempt Monday night.
Packers OLB Clay Matthews vs. Seahawks LT Russell Okung
Matthews currently leads the NFL in sacks with six, or the same amount he had in 16 games in 2011. He's been arguably the best defensive player in football through two games.
The Seahawks welcome back Okung, who missed Seattle's Week 2 win over the Dallas Cowboys with a knee bruise. He'll be matched up with Matthews for most of Monday night.
Wilson has the ability to keep plays alive with his legs, but the rookie quarterback has been pressured on almost 50 percent of his drop-backs so far this season, according to Pro Football Focus. That number is too high.
The Packers will cause poor decisions and make them hurt if Wilson is under duress at such a high rate Monday night. Okung stopping Matthews is a big part of that puzzle.
Packers Interior Offensive Line vs. Seahawks DTs Brandon Mebane and Jason Jones
The Seahawks possess an impressive duo of defensive tackles who complement each other well.
Mebane, a 315-pound behemoth, is one of the more underrated run-stopping tackles in football. He's one of the big reasons why the Seahawks currently rank among the NFL's best in containing the run (just 46.0 yards/game).
On passing downs, Jones is tough to handle inside. Signed from Tennessee this offseason, the 6'5", 275-pounder is explosive off the ball and has contributed a number of hurries and disruptions this season.
The Packers have three capable players inside in left guard T.J. Lang, center Jeff Saturday and right guard Josh Sitton, but this isn't an overly physical trio. The Seahawks can control the line of scrimmage from the inside if the three can't keep Mebane and Jones from creating consistent pressure, both in the pass and run game.
Packers WR Greg Jennings vs. Seahawks CBs Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman
The Packers are likely to have Jennings back, despite some early-week concerns that his groin injury hadn't yet healed well enough. One of the league's most disciplined route runners, Jennings is also one of the best at disengaging from bump-and-run coverage on the outside.
Both Browner and Sherman rely on getting their hands on receivers and disrupting timing, so Jennings' presence is crucial.
That thinking is only reinforced when you remember back to Week 14 of 2011, when the Chiefs used physical cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr to rough up the Packers receivers without Jennings available. Green Bay scored a season-low 14 points that afternoon.
Browner and Sherman (both in press coverage on almost 40 percent of pass plays) are plenty capable of replicating that blueprint Monday night. It's up to Jennings to show why he's one of the game's elite receivers.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Seahawks safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas
These three players spent some time together in January at the Pro Bowl. Monday night, they may decide this NFC tilt.
Both Chancellor and Thomas are unafraid to come up and hit, but the Seahawks have traditionally played a single-safety high under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Both the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears had success against Rodgers while playing both safeties back to protect against the big play.
If the Seahawks do utilize single-safety looks on Monday night, Rodgers needs to be disciplined with his eyes. Thomas especially has grown into a dependable safety valve at the back end and a playmaker on bad decisions from opposing quarterbacks.
Both Chancellor and Thomas need to protect against the big plays. Long drives have fizzled early on for the Packers' high-flying offense.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!