The Seahawks and Packers kick off the NFL season on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. EDT (TV: NBC). Here are five things to watch for.
1. For openers … ?
Last time we checked in on the Seahawks, they were mauling the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. No team has repeated as Super Bowl champion since the Patriots won it all after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Defending champions are 8-2 in the last 10 season openers (5-3-2 against the spread, however, for all of you who care about such things in a purely recreational fashion), with those two straight-up losses coming over the last two seasons.
2. Remember the ‘Fail Mary’?
The Packers and Seahawks last met in the regular season two years ago. This happened:
The loss ultimately cost the Packers a second-round home playoff game — they lost at San Francisco — and led the league to almost immediately resolve its labor impasse with the officials. Most of the players from each team say they’ve moved on — it’s been nearly two years — but I’m setting the over/under on “Fail Mary” mentions on the NBC broadcast is at 3, way over if there’s even one minorly blown call.
3. Can the Packers stop the run?
Green Bay allowed 125 rushing yards per game last season, good for just 25th in the league, and 4.6 yards per carry, which ranked 29th. The Packers made no attempt to re-sign three former starters on the defensive line after their contracts expired, and now nose tackle B.J. Raji is out for the season with a torn biceps. So Green Bay’s front seven will be lighter and, it hopes, more aggressive. The first test will be against a Seahawks rushing attack that ranked fourth in the league last season.
4. New faces on the O-Line
Both teams will start rookies in key positions on the offensive line. Corey Linsley suddenly became Green Bay’s starting center when J.C. Tretter suffered a knee injury during training camp. Can the fifth-round draft pick successfully snap the ball to Aaron Rodgers with all those Seattle fans giving him the business. Meanwhile, second-round pick Justin Britt will start at right tackle for Seattle after winning the job in camp. His job: Help slow newcomer Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews on the edges.
5. Another standout year for the Seahawks’ defense?
Linemen Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald departed Seattle after the Super Bowl — taking 11 1/2 sacks with them — along with cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. But most of the standouts return, including Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in the secondary. But will the league’s new-found focus on stopping illegal contact cramp their style?