The Seattle Seahawks looked to be in midseason form last week against one of the AFC's leading Super Bowl contenders, as a game that many people considered a (ridiculously) early preview of Super Bowl XLVIII turned into a 40-10 rout of the Denver Broncos.
The Green Bay Packers weren't nearly as impressive last week against the St. Louis Rams, but Green Bay did earn a 17-9 victory that was a step in the right direction after getting shut out in its exhibition opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
These teams have, um, a bit of history, and as the Seahawks and Packers get set for both a "dress rehearsal" and a rematch of one of the more infamous endings to a football game in recent memory here's a look at some of the biggest storylines.
Seattle Seahawks Major Storyline No. 1: Strength vs. Strength (Sort Of)
Without question one of the most fascinating games within the game on Friday night will be watching the NFL's top secondary square off against one of the league's top passing attacks.
In cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Antoine Winfield and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks have a defensive backfield that looks more like a Pro Bowl roster than an NFL one.
Were the Packers at full strength in the passing game, this contest would serve as a true test for the Seattle pass defense. However, wide receiver Jordy Nelson is out after undergoing knee surgery and Randall Cobb is highly questionable with a biceps injury.
Green Bay leaned heavily on tight end Jermichael Finley last week, and the Seahawks struggled a bit with Denver's Julius Thomas, so look for Seattle to focus on shutting Finley down.
Seattle Seahawks Major Storyline No. 2: Paging Mr. Rodgers
The biggest story of Seattle's Week 3 win over the Packers last year (besides that whole "Fail Mary" thing), was the beating that the Seahawks pass rush laid on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Seahawks sacked Rodgers eight times in that game, including four from "Leo" end Chris Clemons. Clemons tore his ACL in the playoffs, but the Seahawks added Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency to compensate for the loss.
However, Clemons won't play in this game as he works his way back into shape, and Avril has been sidelined with a hamstring pull.
Seattle may have Bruce Irvin (who is suspended for the first four games of the regular season) in uniform, but it will be very interesting to see what kind of pressure the injury-depleted Seahawks can generate against a Green Bay front that's without left tackle Bryan Bulaga.
NFL teams don't generally get very exotic with blitz packages in the preseason, so if Seattle can generate consistent pressure with just the front four (and reserves at that), it will bode very well for when the games count.
Green Bay Packers Major Storyline No. 1: Grinding it Out
One way that the Green Bay offense can keep the Seattle pass rush honest is by establishing the run game, something that the Packers failed to do in last year's loss to the Seahawks.
That could involve a healthy dose of rookie tailback Eddie Lacy, who had eight carries for 40 yards in his preseason debut last week.
That showing certainly appears to have made an impression on at least one NFL scout, who told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the following:
[Lacy] showed the ability to make you miss in the open field and the strength and power to power through you. They got a steal getting him where they got him.
Chris Wesseling of NFL.com was similarly impressed.
DuJuan Harris may draw the start for the Packers, but make no mistake: The key to a more balanced Green Bay offense in 2013 is Eddie Lacy making opponents pay between the tackles.
Green Bay Packers Major Storyline No. 2: Defending the Read-Option
In some respects, regardless of the outcome, the Green Bay Packers couldn't have asked for a better opponent for their third preseason game.
The Packers open the regular season September 8th in San Francisco against the 49ers, and there isn't a team in the NFL that runs an offense more similar to San Francisco's than its NFC West rivals.
Of course, the Packers are going to have to do a better job against Seattle than they did against San Francisco in last year's playoff loss, or the outcome will be the same.
Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore combined for a staggering 300 rushing yards in that game (including an NFL-quarterback-record 181 from Kaepernick), and how the Packers fare against Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch on Friday should shed some light on their chances of knocking off the NFC champs in Week 1.
The Bottom Line
With both teams involved in this game legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and given a national TV audience, more will probably be read into this game than should be.
However, on some level it's more than "just" a preseason game.
For the Packers, it's a true "dress rehearsal" in advance of their matchup with the 49ers, a chance to show that the defensive deficiencies that doomed Green Bay in the playoffs a year ago have been remedied.
For the Seahawks, it's a chance to send a message to the rest of the National Football League with a second straight win over a playoff contender.
Were this the regular season and the Packers at full strength, this game could be just as exciting as the last time these teams met. However, the loss of Bulaga and the absence of Nelson and Cobb are just too much for even Aaron Rodgers to overcome.
Final Score Prediction: Seahawks 34, Packers 24
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