MATCHUPS TO WATCH: SEAHAWKS OFFENSE VS. PACKERS DEFENSE
C Max Unger vs. NT Ryan Pickett/B.J. Raji: With no hope of making the playoffs, the Seahawks are in evaluation mode. Unger, a second-round pick in '09 out of Oregon, started the first 13 games at right guard before making the switch to center last week against Tampa Bay. Sunday will be Unger's first NFL start at center against a 3-4 defense, so this will be a good challenge for him and an opportunity to show that he is the guy the Seahawks can build their offensive line around. He'll likely go up against first-round pick Raji, with the Packers eager to get Pickett past his hamstring problems.
QB Matt Hasselbeck vs. Secondary: This will be the big-picture matchup to watch. After the Packers were dissected by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger last week, will the Packers' secondary be up to the task? Certainly, the Steelers' Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and Heath Miller are a better group than Seattle's T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, Deon Butler and John Carlson (especially with Nate Burleson injured), but Hasselbeck is a smart guy, and while he downplayed it this week, he probably saw a few things to attack. Green Bay's second-ranked run defense and last week's meltdown likely will result in Hasselbeck dropping back early and often. Chances are, the Packers will try to keep Jarrett Bush lined up on rookie Butler (14 catches, 160 yards, no touchdowns).
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: SEAHAWKS DEFENSE VS. PACKERS OFFENSE
WRs Donald Driver/Greg Jennings vs. CBs Marcus Trufant/Josh Wilson: Big, physical receivers with the ability to run after catching passes from Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks are a nightmare matchup for the Seahawks, who lack the pass rush and man-cover skills to negate their effectiveness. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (15-178-1), Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin (11-168-3) and Andre Johnson (11-193-2, with 10-184-2 coming in the first half) have all lit up the Seahawks' secondary in the last six weeks, and the Packers' receivers might be the best of the bunch.
Jermichael Finley vs. S Deon Grant: Finley, and not Greg Jennings or Donald Driver, has become the go-to player in this offense. He was the target of 10 passes from Aaron Rodgers last week, catching nine including one for a touchdown. At 6-foot-5, Finley is a physical mismatch for most defensive backs, but Grant stands 6-foot-2, and the 10-year pro has seen just about everything. Athletic linebacker Will Herring, who replaces injured first-round pick Aaron Curry, likely will get his crack at Finley, too, and middle linebacker David Hawthorne – the replacement for stud Lofa Tatupu – has a nose for the ball with a team-high three interceptions.
THE PACKERS WILL WIN IF ...
... there's no letdown/hangover from last week. The Packers are the superior team, they're playing at home and they have everything to play for. The loss to Pittsburgh should have this group focused, as long as they're not dwelling on that gut-wrenching defeat.
THE PACKERS WILL LOSE IF ...
... it's the easy thing to point to, but the Packers are in deep trouble if Hasselbeck and Co. have found a fatal flaw by watching film from the Pittsburgh game. There's almost no doubt that they'll play most of the game with three receivers to force Bush on the field.
THE SEAHAWKS WILL WIN IF ...
... Matt Flynn starts? In all seriousness, if the Seahawks take the air out of the football and are able to run effectively with Julius Jones, Justin Forsett, and Louis Rankin, keeping Aaron Rodgers on that potent passing attack on the sidelines, and somehow discover a pass rush on their flight to Wisconsin, they've got a chance to pull out an upset.
THE SEAHAWKS WILL LOSE IF ...
... they can't run the ball or protect Matt Hasselbeck on offense, and can't put pressure on Rodgers as the Packers' receivers run free in the secondary.
Bill Huber (11-3): The NFL is all about matchups. Last week, Roethlisberger got on a roll and was able to take advantage of his talented receivers. The Seahawks' receivers aren't as good. Meanwhile, the Packers' offense has been rolling, and that shouldn't change this week. Packers 31, Seahawks 17.
Brian McIntyre: The Seahawks haven't won a road game against a team that finished the season with a winning record since December 3, 2006 (beat the 9-7 Denver Broncos 23-20 in overtime, which also happened to be Jay Cutler's first NFL start). Lately, the Seahawks haven't even been competitive on the road against mediocre teams, so I'm confident in predicting that this one might be over by halftime. Packers 38, Seahawks 10.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.