The NFL is back in spectacular fashion.
Coming off a 43-8 shellacking of the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks might be even better in 2014. Entering his third year, Russell Wilson is still improving. He has more—and healthier—weapons to play with. The defense, which was one of the best in history a year ago, returns all of its stars and many of its key role players. The coaches and coordinators are back.
The Green Bay Packers will be no pushovers, though. When Aaron Rodgers is at the top of his game, he can carve up any defense if he's given time, and Eddie Lacy would love to match Seattle's physicality. Mike McCarthy's team missed the postseason a year ago, but now the Packers are healthy and dangerous.
Last year, the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens began the NFL season by getting roasted by the Broncos, who ended up enjoying a historically potent offensive campaign. Will that be the Packers this year?
Let's take a look.
Date: Thursday, September 4, 2012
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
The obvious battle to watch is Green Bay's offense against Seattle's defense.
Aaron Rodgers has a slew of talented weapons to work with in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin, while Seattle's Legion of Boom is the best secondary in the league, even with Byron Maxwell replacing Walter Thurmond III and Brandon Browner.
The key in swinging that battle will be bruising sophomore Lacy and Green Bay's running game. CBS Sports' Derek Stephens put it simply:
If the Packers are forced to be one-dimensional, they'll be in trouble. If they move the ball on the ground, that will open up things for Rodgers and the play action.
Red Bryant's departure is a large reason—literally—for the uncertainty regarding Seattle's run defense, but the 'Hawks feature tremendous depth on the interior in Brandon Mebane, Kevin Williams and Tony McDaniel. The latter will be especially important in replacing Bryant at the 5-technique and slowing down the run.
Helping in the trenches for Seattle will be not only the loudest stadium in the NFL but also the fact that Green Bay is starting rookie Corey Linsley at center.
"I'm going to pray for [Linsley]," Seahawks pass-rusher Bruce Irvin told reporters. "It's going to be a long night, man. We've got to just take advantage of it."
On the other side of the ball, Seattle looks more explosive than a year ago.
The smashmouth run game behind Marshawn Lynch is still a force, while a healthy Percy Harvin can take it to the house every time he touches the ball and is a versatile weapon who draws the attention of defenses.
It doesn't stop there. Doug Baldwin is a consistent chain-mover, and as NFL.com's Marc Sessler noted, Super Bowl standout Jermaine Kearse is a rising star:
McCarthy put it simply, via ESPN.com:
I think you have to be very impressed with their offense. On Russell Wilson and their ability to stay in favorable down and distance and keep the mix of the run and the pass.
They've always been outstanding running the football, but they look like they're a lot more balanced now.
Clay Matthews and the Packers pass rush will give Seattle's shaky offensive line problems, but Wilson is elusive and thrives on making throws out of the pocket.
Green Bay is better than last year's 8-7-1 record represents. Frighteningly enough, though, the same can be said about the Seahawks following last year's historically good season.
If this game were at Lambeau, it might be a different story. But the 'Hawks are juggernauts at their Emerald City fortress.
Prediction: Green Bay 17, Seattle 28