Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers: Matchups, prediction for battle of star quarterbacks

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers are both healthy and will play in this NFC showdown.

Rarely have we been this excited about a 3-5 Seattle Seahawks vs. 7-2 Green Bay Packers matchup. But it will be must-see TV with the return of both Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Wilson is back after a month-long absence as he rehabbed surgery to fix a mallet finger on his throwing hand.

Rodgers, meanwhile, is expected to start 11 days after testing positive for COVID-19 and missing Green Bay’s Week 9 loss to the Chiefs. The Packers are fine with starting Rodgers even though league health protocols kept him out of practice all week.

Seattle Seahawks offense vs. Green Bay Packers defense

The Seahawks’ offensive rankings (19th in scoring, 29th in yards, 31st in third downs, and last in fourth downs and time of possession) are all but useless because nearly half of their offensive snaps came with Wilson on the mend. But it is instructive to look at how Seattle performed when their star quarterback was on the field.

The Seahawks averaged a robust 6.6 yards per play and 25.8 points per game through their first four weeks, but the Seahawks did struggle with third downs (33%) and sustaining drives. They didn’t have more than 54 snaps in any of those four games.

Plus, the Packers should be ready for a mobile, play-extending, home-run hitting quarterback. They just saw one last week — and acquitted themselves quite well. The Packers limited Patrick Mahomes to 20-of-37 passing for 166 yards in Green Bay’s Week 9 loss to Kansas City.

Russell Wilson vs. Packers defense

The question isn’t if Wilson will play. He answered that Monday with his “It’s Time” video montage. It’s how effective he will be. On Sunday, Wilson will be just two weeks out from the procedure that removed the pin in his right middle finger. So there’s some unknown there, and rust can be expected. But Wilson proved that his best, even at age 32, is still really good before the injury. His completion percentage over expectation (10.2%) is by far the best in the league, as is his passer rating (125.3).

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The Packers’ defense has been on a tear, allowing just 17.8 points per game since Week 2, a stretch that included games against Mahomes, Joe Burrow, and Kyler Murray. On the year, the Packers rank fifth in yards per game (321.2), yards per play (5.3), and yards per pass (6.1), and are in the top 10 in scoring defense (20.0), pass defense (210.4), and interception rate (2.9%).

Advantage: Push

Seahawks weapons vs. Packers defensive backs

Running back Chris Carson will miss his fifth straight game with a neck injury. Carson’s injury thrust Alex Collins (304 yards and 2 touchdowns on 74 carries in 2021) into a starting role. But we’re burying the lede here.

The biggest beneficiaries of Wilson’s return will be Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, who each averaged around 5 catches for 60 yards during Geno Smith’s three starts. Lockett hasn’t had a touchdown since Week 2. The Seahawks activated rookie wide receiver Dee Eskridge ahead of Sunday’s game.

Football is the most unpredictable of sports. Coaches spend some 80 hours preparing ahead of each game, only to have all of those plans detonate in their faces by sheer dumb luck. That was the case in Week 9, when Eric Stokes was supposed to play a big role in slowing down Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and the Chiefs, only to suffer a freak knee injury during warmups.

Credit the Packers for adjusting, with Kevin King, Rasul Douglas, and Chandon Sullivan stepping up. The good news is, Stokes might play this week, but it’s good for Green Bay to know they can rely on their other corners if he misses substantial time. The Packers’ interception rate (1.3%) is sixth-best in the NFL.

Advantage: Push

Seahawks offensive line vs. Packers front seven

The Seahawks have enjoyed a decade of sustained excellence despite a persistent, perplexing inability to put together a consistently good offensive line. It’s a liability again, with Football Outsiders ranking the group as the second-worst pass-protecting unit in football.

The raw stats back that up. The Seahawks — who start, from left to right, Duane Brown, Damien Lewis, Kyle Fuller, Gabe Jackson and Brandon Shell — are 31st in sack rate (11.8%). And Seattle isn’t exactly great at running the ball, either. Their efficiency on the ground (4.2 yards per carry) ranks 19th.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s this: The Seahawks aren’t exactly facing the Steel Curtain. The Packers are 17th in yards per carry allowed (4.3) and 19th in sack rate (6.4%).

Linebacker Rashan Gary (4.5 sacks, 18 quarterback hits) is by far the best of the bunch. Defensive end Kenny Clark (3 sacks, 7 QB hits, and 6 tackles for loss) can hold his own as well.

Advantage: Push

Green Bay Packers offense vs. Seattle Seahawks defense

Want to know why the Most Valuable Player just so happens to be a quarterback every year? Look no further than Sunday’s Packers-Chiefs box score. The Packers scored 7 points, gained 301 yards and 19 first downs on 60 plays (for an average of 5.0 per), and went 2-for-12 on third downs and 0-for-1 in the red zone.

On the season, the Packers average 22.1 points, 333.4 yards, and 20.9 first downs per game. Additionally, they convert 39.2% of their third downs and 55.9% of their red-zone trips. And most importantly, the Packers are 7-1 in 2021 with Rodgers in the lineup and 0-1 without him.

Defense wasn’t the issue for the Seahawks during Geno’s time under center. They’ve held the Steelers, Saints, and Jaguars to 23, 13, and 7 points over the last three games.

The Seahawks’ topline stats are ugly — 31st in yards allowed (401.5 per game), 25th in rush defense (127.6), 28th in pass defense (273.9), and 31st in first downs surrendered (24.3) — but they get by with good third-down and red-zone defense (34% and 48.4%, respectively).

Packers quarterbacks vs. Seahawks defense

Of course, there are two completely different breakdowns — one with Rodgers playing, and the other with Jordan Love at QB. It’s hard to overstate the huge gulf between the two players.

Rodgers entered Week 10 ranked third in QBR (65.6), fourth in EPA + CPOE (.16), sixth in passer rating (105.7), and 14th in yards per pass (7.3). Love, meanwhile, barely moved the ball in Week 9, completing just one pass over 21 yards the entire game. His QBR (27.4) and EPA + CPOE (.02) were both bad.

The Seahawks have struggled with good quarterbacks. Ryan Tannehill lit them up for 347 yards. Kirk Cousins roasted them for 323 and 3 touchdowns. Matt Stafford went for 365. But while the Seahawks’ pass defense looks rough at first blush (only five teams give up more yards per game), Seattle has given up a not-awful 6.8 yards per pass.

The issue is turnovers. Seattle just doesn’t force enough of them. Only two teams have picked off fewer passes (3) — the 49ers and the Jets.

Advantage: Packers (assuming Rodgers plays)

Packers weapons vs. Seahawks defensive backs

Only two players in the NFL are targeted more frequently than Davante Adams (10.9): Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill. But Los Angeles and Kansas City throw it far more than the Packers do.

So there’s an argument to be made that no team is more reliant on any one receiver than the Packers are on Adams, who has accounted for 30.7% of the team’s targets in 2021 despite missing a game due to injury. Adams and running back Aaron Jones account for more than half of Green Bay’s yards from scrimmage.

Quandre Diggs has become one of the most dangerous free safeties in the league and is a perfect complement to Jamal Adams on Seattle’s back end. His defensive metrics are fantastic.

Diggs has allowed just 47.6% of passes thrown in his direction to be completed, which along with his 3 interceptions, adds up to 51.4 passer rating allowed. He’s actually been better than Adams, who has allowed 3 touchdowns this year. Furthermore, quarterbacks are averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt on CB D.J. Reed.

Advantage: Push

Packers offensive line vs. Seahawks defensive front

The Packers have the best run-blocking offensive line in the league, per Football Outsiders, with an 85% success rate. Certainly, Jones and AJ Dillon have had a lot to do with it. But so have Elgton Jenkins, Jon Runyan, Lucas Patrick, Royce Newman, and Billy Turner, who start for the Packers from left to right.

And things will only get better once left tackle David Bakhtiari finally returns to the lineup. He’s been activated off of the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after missing the first two months with a knee injury. Still, pass protection has been an issue. Green Bay is in the bottom half of the league in sack rate allowed (6.4%).

For all the yards the Seahawks surrender, their run defense metrics are actually pretty good. They’re allowing 4.2 yars per carry, which is the 12th-best in the NFL. And they’re tied for fifth in goal-to-go defense (58.8%). Nevertheless, they plain stink at getting to the quarterback.

Only three teams have a lower sack rate (4.3%) this season. Darrell Taylor leads Seattle with 4 sacks and 8 quarterback hits. No front-seven player has more than 3 tackles for loss on the team.

Advantage: Packers

Betting line and game prediction

The line as of Saturday afternoon — Packers -3.5 — is weird, given Rodgers’ availability. In our view, the Packers are better than a coin flip on a neutral field.

Seahawks vs. Packers Prediction: Packers 31, Seahawks 24

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