Rejoice, football fans of the world: the NFL is back!
With the meaningless drag of the preseason behind us, it’s time to get back to football games that actually matter. The NFL schedule makers picked an absolute gem of a game to get this year started: the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks versus the high-octane Green Bay Packers.
The game has everything fans love to see: history (Fail Mary, anyone?), great quarterback play, elite matchups, and plenty of star power. Should be a good time. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five key things to watch for in tonight’s game:
1. The Harvin Effect:
When he’s healthy, Harvin is one of the game’s elite playmakers. A hip injury sidelined him for almost the entire 2013 season, but his explosive abilities were on full display in the Super Bowl. After a full, healthy offseason in Seattle, Harvin is primed to make a huge impact on Seattle’s offensive attack. Look for Russell Wilson to look Harvin’s way early and often on high percentage routes. All you need to do is get the ball in Harvin’s hands and he’ll do the rest.
2. Packer Protection:
The last time these two teams played, Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half. The Packers’ offensive line has been well-below average in recent years, and gave up 45 sacks and 75 quarterback knockdowns during the 2013 season. All stats considered, the Packers had the 24th ranked offensive line in the league last year.
Rodgers is one of the NFL’s great quarterbacks. If the Packers can give him time, he should be able move the ball on Seattle. If not, the Packers could be in for a long night.
3. Wilson’s Jump:
Seattle Quarterback Russell Wilson has done absolutely everything the Seahawks have asked him to do in his young career. He’s played smart, efficient football and picked up a Super Bowl trophy along the way. Now, entering his third year in the league, Wilson will look to make the jump from an effective game manager to an elite passer in the NFL. Green Bay is his first test.
4. Eddie Lacy
Lacy, the second year running back out of Alabama, has a lot of hype behind him heading into the season – and for good reason. He rushed for 1,178 and 11 touchdowns in his rookie year, which was the most rushing yards for a Packer since Ryan Grant ran for 1,253 in 2009. For years, the only thing missing from Green Bay’s offense was a running game. Lacy, who has drawn comparisons to Marshawn Lynch, finally gives them that compliment. We’ll see what difference that makes for Green Bay against the best defense in the league.
5. The Packers’ Defense
The Packers fielded the 25th ranked defense in the NFL last year. They’ll need to improve on that if they want to contend for a Super Bowl this season. Losing defensive tackle B.J. Raji is a huge blow -- there’s no denying that. The Packers will turn to many of the same faces that struggled last year to turn the team’s defense around. Keep an eye on offseason acquisition Julius Peppers. The former Bear and Panther defensive lineman will play outside linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 scheme. His abilities at age 34 will go a long way in determining Green Bay’s defensive success this year.
This should be a close game, but I’ve got Seattle winning it. Kickoff is at 8:30 eastern.