And this wacky 2012 NFL season continues into the Great Northwest on Monday night.
The Green Bay Packers face the Seattle Seahawks in a game that has more NFC implications than given credit.
For one, it's about maintaining a pace within each division. The Packers need a win to remain atop the NFC North courtesy of the Week 2 tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears.
Seattle, on the flip side, is trying to keep up with the undefeated Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. Both sides feature upgraded defenses and the offenses provide some intrigue.
Obviously, Aaron Rodgers is the premier player here, but his counterpart in rookie Russell Wilson is legit. To that end, let's break down each aspect of this vital matchup and get a winner.
This is an interesting matchup because the Seahawks are capable of shutting down Green Bay.
After all, Seattle did limit the Dallas Cowboys to only seven points and 296 total yards in Week 2.
So, expect Chris Clemons and Co. to be bringing the pain all game long. Given that Aaron Rodgers possesses excellent mobility, the best way to slow any offensive onslaught is with pressure.
Not only does Clemons provide that, but so does rookie Bruce Irvin for strict passing situations. Green Bay isn't a run-oriented team, so other than pass-blitzing expect more heavy coverage packages from Seattle.
It's a tricky conundrum, however, because Rodgers reads well pre-snap and has a quick release. Then again, if given time, he will dice up any man or zone scheme. Therefore, Seattle has to constantly be stemming its linebackers and showing blitz.
The secondary must disguise coverages and adjust mid-play, because giving away too early will result in Rodgers taking advantage. One example is to show Cover 3, then switch to Cover 2 at the snap.
As for the Packers offense, they have to simply push the pace.
The sooner Seattle gets put on its heels the better. Having Rodgers spread the field early forces Russell Wilson to keep up, and the last thing the Seahawks need is to be in a shootout with Green Bay.
This side of the ball will have a greater impact on this game's outcome.
And it's because of how consistently efficient Seattle's offense can be throughout.
In other words: The Seahawks have to control the clock and win the time of possession battle by a fairly decent margin. Despite their defensive improvements, keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field significantly reduces Green Bay's odds of winning.
Seattle's defense is good enough to really shut down the Packers, but even more so when Rodgers gets a limited number of opportunities. So, feeding Marshawn Lynch is the key factor here.
What Seattle must acknowledge, though, is that Green Bay will also zero in on keeping Lynch in check. The Packers will need to stack the box to slow his production and force man coverage on the outside.
Green Bay's defensive advantage is making itself vulnerable to the pass. Although the cheese was horrendous against it in 2011, the pass rush is renewed and the coverage remains opportunistic.
The Seahawks just cannot abandon the run, period. Staying true on the ground only keeps the Packers honest and play-action relevant. Provided Lynch moves the chains a few times from opening kickoff, Seattle gains a crucial competitive advantage.
Field position always plays a factor, and this game features to excellent double-duty return men.
Green Bay presents second-year man Randall Cobb who has amassed 190 total return yards this season and one touchdown.
The Seahawks have veteran Leon Washington who has outdone Cobb with 211 yard in two games. Needless to say, both are expected to have a major impact when given opportunities.
Because of their explosiveness, though, don't be surprised if every punt is angled out of bounds. In a game where each offense differs with philosophies, one return will make a difference.
So, the punters become key role players in helping the defense. Tim Masthay of the Packers averages just under 48 yards per attempt, whereas Seattle's Jon Ryan is sitting at 50-even on eight punts.
If the defenses bend but don't break, Seattle-Green Bay will be extremely low-scoring.
Which then brings us to the kickers.
Mason Crosby has already connected from 54 yards in 2012 and has a career long of 58 (2011). Steven Hauschka by comparison isn't as experienced, although his career long is from 54.
Although their overall NFL success significantly differs, this is a much closer coaching matchup than anticipated.
Pete Carroll first led the New England Patriots to pro football's second season, it's just that his playoff record is 2-3 and he has never made it past the Divisional Round.
Mike McCarthy has been the Packers head coach since 2006 and posts a 5-3 postseason record. What has yet to occur, though, is a head-to-head contest.
Ironically, the two are also in their seventh season as NFL head coaches.
And if there was ever a chess-match, this game is it. Each team's offensive strength is the other's weakness, and the defenses are more similar than different.
McCarthy has to hit Seattle's defense early, because putting the pressure on Carroll to have more trust in Russell Wilson is an advantage. A quarterback's best friend is a strong running game and that's what the Seahawks offer to Wilson.
Plus, the more Wilson drops back the more sack opportunities for Clay Matthews.
With two offenses capable of consistently moving the chains, this game comes down to each defensive front seven.
And both are very good.
Green Bay has to stop the run, because if Lynch gets moving, this game will drag on and Aaron Rodgers won't see enough possessions to find a rhythm. So, the Packers have to load the box and force Wilson to air it out.
In addition, Matthews and Co. will be blitzing as the secondary is capable of forcing turnovers in man coverage. Switching to Green Bay's offense and Rodgers has to burn the Seahawks early.
Running the ball is what Seattle wants, therefore, simply do the opposite. That, however, also comes at a premium since playmakers like Brandon Browner, Marcus Trufant and Richard Sherman reside in Seattle's secondary.
Nevertheless, the Packers have to rely on Rodgers to win this game. Green Bay's defense faces the more favorable matchup because of Wilson being a rookie, and the cheese force a few turnovers as a result.
Packers 26, Seahawks 16
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