There are two popular storylines for the Seahawks-Packers NFC Divisional playoff game: The return of Mike Holmgren to his first head coaching position where there's a street named after him, and the infamous overtime coin flip in the 2003 playoffs between these two teams where Matt Hasselbeck let the Packers know his team would win, and Seattle lost anyway. But neither story will have anything do with the outcome of this game.
The real story is Brett Favre, his young football team and a defense that can win if Favre stays within himself.
Favre has been brilliant for most of the season, so the challenge for Seattle is to get him to make a bad decision or two. Otherwise, beating the Packers is going to be very difficult.
Seattle is a poor road team (3-5) which has generated just 22 points a game away from Qwest Field this season. But the Seahawks have a few components that give them a chance to win. Hasselbeck has been efficient all year, throwing just one interception in every 47 pass attempts. But he threw two against the Redskins in the wild-card round, a performance that will get him beat in Green Bay this week if repeated.
The Packers look like a team of destiny. This season, Favre regained his youth, the team found a running back and there are more than enough receivers to beat anyone. This game will see a lot of West Coast offense on both sides with short, shallow crossing routes and a hope for yards after the catch. Seven different Packers have caught a touchdown this season, and nine different Seahawks have hit pay dirt. Favre and Hasselbeck should each put up between 35 and 40 passes.
» Seattle comes in with a better turnover margin, plus-10 to plus-4.
» Mike Holmgren knows Favre better than any coach, and the game plan will reflect that.
» Seattle, the least penalized team in the league, has committed 54 fewer penalties than Green Bay. That's more than three extra per game.
» The Seattle two-man committee of Alexander and Morris have 1,633 yards and 10 TDs.
» Seattle had the second fewest broken tackles allowed by a defense all year (25).
» The Seattle punter, Ryan Plackemeier has the second most punts inside the 10 yard line (13).
» Seattle's defense finished the regular season with 20 interceptions and 45 sacks.
» The Packers were 7-1 and averaged 28 points a game at Lambeau Field.
» The Green Bay defense gave up just 14 points a game at home.
» The Packers offense is No. 2 in the NFL, while Seattle has the No. 15 defense.
» Green Bay's third-down defense is ranked third in the NFL; Seattle's third-down offense is ranked 26th.
» Green Bay finished the regular season 3-1 vs. playoff teams, while Seattle was 1-1.
» Seattle (3-5) has the worst road record of the four teams traveling this week, averaging 21.5 points on the road.
1. Packers RT Mark Tauscher vs. Seahawks DE Patrick Kerney: Playing the best football of his career, Kerney finished with 14½ sacks. He plays the run as well as the pass and is really tough to block when he stunts inside. Tauscher is capable and he has Favre, who only gets sacked once every 36 pass attempts. Kerney will get a few hits on Favre, but sacks will be tougher. Kerney is excellent at diagnosing the screen and Green Bay will not be able to slow him down with the slip screen to Grant.
2. Packers RB Ryan Grant vs. Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu: I usually don't match the middle linebacker against the running back, but in this case it is appropriate. Since midseason, Green Bay has blended in a solid running game with Grant to balance the attack. Tatupu gets the great deep drop to make their Seattle version of the Tampa 2 coverage work. Green Bay will counter with the draw and middle screen to Grant. Tatupu is the master of the "bait and switch." When it is a critical third down, Green Bay will try and put Tatupu in a bind. Good luck against the all-pro linebacker.
3. Packers WR Donald Driver vs. Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant: The Packers have a number of quality young receivers, but Driver is still Favre's "go-to guy." Driver only scored two touchdowns all year but he moves the chains and sets up touchdowns. Trufant will be Driver's teammate at the Pro Bowl, but in this game he will be asked to shut Driver down. He has the skills and attitude, but it's the Seahawks' ability to pressure Favre that Trufant needs most.
4. Packers DE Aaron Kampman vs. Seahawks RT Sean Locklear: The Packers' home crowd will create an advantage for Kampman, who has a tremendous "get-off" and plays with leverage. If Locklear plays too upright, he will find himself bull rushed back into Hasselbeck, like he was 33 times during the regular season. But the Redskins only sacked Hasselbeck once and rarely pressured him. On third downs when Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is on the opposite side from Kampman and Cullen Jenkins is inside, Locklear will struggle.
5. Packers CB Charles Woodson vs. Seahawks WR Deion Branch: If Branch doesn't play, then it will be D.J. Hackett who gets the starting nod. Woodson can and will take any Seattle receiver on his side by himself as will Al Harris on the other side. Look for Seattle to try and get the short crossing route game going but Woodson jumps the slants as well as anyone. The key to attacking Woodson is the slant-and-go route. The Seahawks would be wise to get Woodson to jump the first route and convert to a deep route. Seattle will make a few plays Woodson's way, but he also gives the Packers the ability to drop a safety in the box to restrict the running game. The ripple effect of Woodson is where his real value is in this game.
When Green Bay has the ball
Early in the season the Packers were a very heavy passing team, but when Mike McCarthy said they needed to run the ball more as they entered their bye week, he meant it. Green Bay finished the season passing 60 percent of the time and running it 40 percent. Grant is a dangerous back who looks for the cutback lane and has a burst when he finds it. The Seahawks have a great set of linebackers but their quickness and speed to the ball carriers could work against them when Grant is running the ball. Whichever backer has the cutback (Leroy Hill or Julian Peterson) he needs to be disciplined.
When the Packers take to the air, the Seahawks will be challenged by Favre and his 15 different receivers. Splitting the cover 2, TE Donald Lee will challenge Tatupu to get deep drops. When he does, look for Favre to get his sophisticated screen pass game in play. The best way to handle DE Patrick Kerney is to double-team him, but the best way to handle Darryl Tapp and Peterson is the screen game. Both men are speed rushers, and a few of the Favre screen passes should slow them down.
When Seattle has the ball
Under the direction of Holmgren, Hasselbeck can move the Seahawks offense with the run or the pass. Lately, Shaun Alexander is running the ball better than he did earlier in the season. He appears to hit the hole with less caution and can be tough to bring down. After watching Maurice Morris play for Alexander earlier in the year, it was clear Morris will threaten the cutback and hit the hole with better quickness. Alexander has responded with improved play.
The most dangerous component to the Seattle offense is the timing routes between Hasselbeck and WR Bobby Engram. Seam routes and inside bend routes look perfectly timed against zone coverages. If Hasselbeck sees coverage around Engram he will go elsewhere with the ball. D.J. Hackett has missed some time this season but returned to the playoffs with a big day (six receptions for 101 yards and one TD). The fear I would have is the Seahawks getting Branch back and working a lot of three wide-receiver sets with Engram in the slot.
TE Marcus Pollard is nowhere near the threat he used to be, but he can be a go-to guy in a pressure situation. He caught the two-point conversion on a "yogi" route to give the Seahawks the fourth-quarter lead in their wild-card matchup with the Redskins. A linebacker such as Brady Poppinga can cover him so that the safeties are available to support the corners.
Hasselbeck will go at Woodson if he feels he has been left alone on one of his wideouts. Look for a max-protection call to give Hasselbeck time and a double move by the receiver.
This game should be a clinic on the West Coast offense. Holmgren is still considered the "purist" when it comes to the Bill Walsh system. Of course, Favre is a guy they broke the mold, and he does things his own way. I see both teams scoring in the high 20s but the Packers moving on to the NFC Championship Game. Home field is always a critical factor on Divisional Weekend.