NFL Playoffs: Packers-Seahawks NFC Championship game preview: Can Green Bay exorcise recent history, reach Super Bowl XLIX in Seattle?
First things first: This is the final boss stage that the 2014-15 Green Bay Packers should be facing. It should be the end of the road, or it should be the key that unlocks the path to the NFL’s finale out in the Arizona desert. The cyclical nature – Green Bay starting in Seattle and now needing to go back to finish somewhere other than the same place – is an easy lap to trace. Having to go through the Seahawks again, after Week 1’s 20-point wheels-came-off loss, is the question this season, and recent history, needs as its answer. Because until they don’t, the Packers have an NFC West problem. They have a Seattle problem. The greatest aspect of this rematch is that there’s no way around those. That’s exciting. There will either be another loss to a West opponent or a glass ceiling shattered.
The Super Bowl is the ultimate goal. This is obvious. But Sunday’s NFC title game for the Packers has its own feeling of finality. One that runs on a slightly lower level of import but maybe deeper, somehow, than simply earning another chance at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And that’s the beautiful, deadly, simplicity of this particular matchup: Defeating the defending champions in the perpetually-wet box of flying daggers and rabid noise is something, maybe the only other thing, that could come close to winning the world championship. A conference title game is always the biggest stepping stone towards the grand prize. If Packers-Seahawks feels like it means more, it’s because a victory would also be an addition by subtraction. It would be an exorcism.
In a way it’d be an exorcism for a league that’s largely been unable to slow the Seahawks at home. Especially in the postseason over the last three years. More importantly, it’d be the release of the ghosts of many issues that have haunted recent Packers teams. The problems ending seasons a few steps shy of a Super Bowl. Winning in Seattle means Green Bay’s defense keeps the Seahawks versatile offense in check. It keeps Russell Wilson from reaching his dreams of improvisation and ripping backbreaking runs.
It gets them off the field on third down. This is a difficult thing to accomplish with Wilson (who was 8-for-8 with 199 passing yards on third down against Carolina Saturday, getting seven first downs and three touchdowns on those completions) and Seattle’s run game, which led the league in rushing first downs in the regular season with 144; 22 more than the second-best squad.
An exorcism means Aaron Rodgers is protected well enough to move and wait for receivers to break open. It means Rodgers can shift about the pocket enough to buy additional time. It means those wideouts win some one-on-one battles, and both receiver and quarterback connect on nearly every major chance they have. It means Eddie Lacy and the ground game, especially in the important pistol formation, keeps Seattle’s defensive front honest enough. It means special teams makes positive plays or simply remains neutral. It means Kam Chancellor isn’t allowed to do the superhuman leapfrogging he, twice in a row, pulled off on field goals against the Panthers.
Presumably, some of these things will have to occur. Or in other words, a win means we saw something close to perfection. Some combination of plays we haven’t yet seen against Seattle – or Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco teams, the other shadowy NFC West presence still in the equation. That’s what it seems like it’ll take to rid the Packers of the postseason spirits circling them. The component we can’t wait for is the one we haven’t seen yet.
You have to understand all of that about the NFC Championship game this Sunday. You have to understand that, whatever the point spread is or score predictions are, Green Bay isn’t supposed to win. No one is supposed to win in Seattle. The Packers, or any other team making the trip, are supposed to succumb to the elements. Let the madness overtake them. Let the Seahawks shake early, then erase your hope late. After a few midseason bumps that look smaller now in hindsight, the Seahawks are running at peak Death Star levels of scariness. And that defense? It is a unit that believes it will not only control opponents; they believe they’ll leave you empty, a smoldering crater left behind. Slowly pooling with Pacific Northwest precipitation.
And we are as excited about this game as we were about the season opener. For the same reasons. The same possibilities exist. Slay the dragon. Escape the NFC West’s possession. But now there’s even more to gain, of course: Another Super Bowl appearance. The chance to change legacies. Cement more lasting memories of this current era. We can’t wait to see what happens.
The crazy thing about this NFC championship game is that, more than being a gateway for the biggest game, a win means the Packers passed the toughest test in the NFL today. It means that demons present since September 2012 evaporate into the Seattle air. It means the Super Bowl is the last stop. Out in the desert, where it hardly ever rains.