It's almost here. We are less than 24 hours away from real football.
As if NFL fans really needed another reason to tune in on Thursday night, but the game pits two of the best teams in the league against one another. The 2013 Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, the 2010 champions, will take center stage in the season opener.
With the best defense in the NFL in 2013, the Seahawks come into the season with aspirations for another title. But the Packers have an explosive offense that, when entirely healthy, can test nearly any defense.
Before the game officially gets underway, here's a look at the full viewing info, X-factors to watch and predictions for the matchup.
When: Thursday, Sept. 4, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA
Live Stream NBC Sports Live Extra
Seahawks X-Factor: Doug Baldwin, Wide Receiver
Heading into last season, questions surrounded the Seahawks receiver corps. Coming into 2014, those same questions remain.
As Percy Harvin returns, he is tasked with replacing Golden Tate's production from last season. That leaves the another receiver role up for grabs, and Doug Baldwin has grasped it heading into the opener.
The fourth-year player hauled in 50 catches for 778 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, but should play a much bigger role for Seattle this year. Baldwin recently spoke about the team's offensive potential, per Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com:
I think we can be extremely dangerous. The biggest thing for us is not what we can do; it’s just that we’ve got to stay healthy. If we can keep everybody on the field healthy and being productive, we’re going to be an explosive offense – both in the running and the passing game.
So that’s our biggest concern. Everything else, it will come, it will all clear itself out.
In order for those words to come to fruition, Baldwin will have to be a huge factor on the field. With the loss of Tate and the retirement of Sidney Rice, the former Stanford player will be leaned upon heavily.
And with Russell Wilson needing to get going in the passing game against the Packers, expect a large dose of Baldwin. Harvin will provide the speed, but Baldwin has the necessary rapport with Wilson to be a reliable receiving option.
Packers X-Factor: Richard Rodgers, Tight End
When it comes to targets for Aaron Rodgers, the Packers already have plenty of them. But rookie tight end Richard Rodgers has the potential to be an emerging star for Green Bay.
Heading into the season opener, Rodgers has earned the starting role with the Packers. But before an announcement was ever made, Jim Nantz of CBS believed he was a player to watch, per Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports:
Jamey Eisenberg @JameyEisenberg
Just spoke with @JimNantzCBS who said keep an eye on #Packers tight end Richard Rodgers8/26/2014, 4:14:07 PM
The 22-year-old target out of Cal has already made a huge impact while starting in three preseason games. While Andrew Quarless is the veteran at the tight end position, the rookie has set himself apart in terms of talent.
Rodgers spoke about his performance in the final preseason game that likely secured the start, per Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel:
"I was just doing my job," Rodgers said..."I've got a job to do and I tried to do it. We did a good job on the opening drive. We were getting the ball out quickly, and it really felt like we settled into a rhythm."
In order to get into a rhythm against a staunch Seahawks defense, Rodgers will have to be dependable yet again. And with a chance to be on the field in a full game, a solid performance might be coming from the other Rodgers from Cal on the Packers offense.
The Packers may have a loaded offense and a relative unknown in Rodgers—the tight end, that is—but going into Seattle is tough for any team. And with the Seahawks going 7-1 at home last year, it's not likely that they will start with a loss in 2014.
With the 12th man in full force, expect a raucous crowd on Thursday night. And with Rodgers taking snaps from a new center in Corey Linsley, the level of difficulty only grows for the Green Bay offense.
Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson will prove a true test for the Seahawks defense. But with the Packers fighting both Seattle's staunch secondary and the difficult road conditions, the Seahawks have plenty on its side against Green Bay.
As Wilson continues to improve and Marshawn Lynch enters Beast Mode, this game will begin to tilt toward Seattle. And with the crowd behind them, the 12th man will prevail yet again in the opener.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Packers 20
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