Packers Need To Pay Attention To Seahawks

After disposing of the hottest team in the NFC on Saturday, Mike Holmgren’s Seattle Seahawks are coming to Lambeau Field for a divisional playoff game next Saturday.

There are no shortage of intriguing storylines for this matchup. Mike Holmgren going against his former team in what may be his last season — he’s hinting at retirement. Brett Favre (no stranger to hinting at retirement) going against his former coach and mentor. Former Packer backup quarterback and current Pro Bowler Matt Hasselbeck competing against his former mentor Favre, who is enjoying one of the best years of his extraordinary 17-season career.

And then there’s the little matter of the last time the Seahawks and Packers met in the playoffs four years ago: After winning the overtime coin toss, Hasselbeck made the infamous claim of “We want the ball and we’re going to score!” Instead, Al Harris picked off a Hasselbeck pass and scored, winning the game for Green Bay. You can bet Hasselbeck would love to atone for that embarassment. And of course Holmgren and Favre — whether either retire at the end of the year or not — would love to emerge victorious over the other.

But for all the juicy plotlines, this isn’t the game the Packers or their fans are waiting for. Since losing to Dallas on Nov. 29 in a bizarre game that saw Brett Favre leave with an injury after playing horribly for the first time all season, fans and players have been itching for the postseason rematch.

But the Packers have to beat Seattle first to have a chance to go back to Texas Stadium this season (that’s if the suddenly-sputtering Cowboys win next weekend). And if Seattle — the proverbial “under the radar” NFC team this year — plays like they played against the Redskins on Wild Card Saturday, the Packers will have their hands full.

The Redskins’ offense entered Saturday’s game as one of the more balanced playoff teams and their defense was thought to be one of the more aggressive. But it was the Seahawks defense that dominated the game, holding running back Clinton Portis to only 52 yards on 20 carries, and generally making life miserable for quarterback Todd Collins, who was sacked three times, hurried 13 times, and was on the run all afternoon. Eventually Collins cracked under the pressure, throwing two bad fourth-quarter interceptions that were both returned for touchdowns.

While the Packers run game has improved dramatically in recent weeks, few people would say it matches Washington’s. Seattle knows that to beat Green Bay, it’s going to have to contain the Packers’ pass attack, which ranks second behind only New England in the league. That will mean getting pressure on Favre to disrupt the Packers’ timing routes. The good news for Green Bay fans is that rattling Favre won’t be as easy as rattling the journeyman Collins. Not only is Favre more adept at quickly getting rid of the ball, he has a wider complement of receivers to work with than Washington did. Look for the Packers to successfully nullify the Seahawks’ pressure by their quick passing attack, which will in turn allow them to run the ball with Ryan Grant easier.

That leaves the Packers’ defense against the Seahawks’ offense. Although Matt Hasselbeck is having a terrific season, the Seahawks’ once-dominant rushing attack is now just dormant, with former Pro Bowler Shaun Alexander averaging a measly 55 yards per game. (He totaled 46 against the Redskins.) The Packers should be able to shut him and colleague Maurice Morris down, while you’d have to give the advantage to Packer corners Al Harris and Charles Woodson over the Seahawks’ just-OK corps of receivers.

Besides having the better team, history is also on the side of the Packers: Seattle has not won a road playoff game since 1983, and Green Bay has only lost two postseason games at Lambeau Field, although both of those losses have come recently and to teams (the Falcons and the Vikings) that Green Bay was heavily favored to beat.

Bottom line, the Packers should win on Saturday. But by whipping Washington, the Seahawks warned that they should not be overlooked. The Packers need to heed that warning.

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