To get another banner, they’ll again have to beat the Packers, who will return to CenturyLink Field on Sunday with the NFC title and a berth in the Super Bowl on the line.
Green Bay advanced with a 26-21 win over Dallas on Sunday in the NFC divisional playoffs. And afterward they pronounced that they are a different team than the one that was beaten 36-16 by the Seahawks four months ago.
“I don’t think we had a team identity the first time we played them,’’ rookie center Corey Linsley told reporters in Green Bay after the win over Dallas. “Now we do. All of us are better players. I think it’s going to be a great game.’’
The Las Vegas oddsmakers, though, quickly installed Seattle as a 7½-point favorite, which was later determined by Pro Football Talk to be the biggest spread against Green Bay in Aaron Rodgers’ previous 113 career regular season or playoff starts.
The home-field advantage — Seattle is 25-2 in the regular season and playoffs at CenturyLink Field since 2012 — contributes heavily to that line.
It’s an advantage Seattle got in this game with a heavy assist from the Buffalo Bills, who beat the Packers 21-13 in week 15, a defeat that ultimately meant Green Bay and Seattle each finished with 12-4 records and gave the Seahawks the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, however, sounded an optimistic tone Sunday, telling reporters that he was “looking forward to going back up to Seattle and looking forward to winning the NFC Championship.’’
Saturday, after beating Carolina 31-17 to advance to the NFC title game, Seattle players mostly said they didn’t care who they faced next. The few who did, such as defensive tackle Michael Bennett, said they hoped to play Dallas since the Cowboys handed the Seahawks their lone loss at home this season, 30-23 on Oct. 12. Bennett said he hoped Seattle could avenge that defeat.
Instead, the Seahawks will hope against Green Bay to replicate what was one of their most dominating efforts of the season, holding a Packers’ offense that ended up leading the NFL in points scored with 486 to just one touchdown through the first three quarters (that coming after Earl Thomas fumbled a punt away at the Seattle 34) in building a big lead. Green Bay’s 255 yards were its second-lowest total of the season.
Rodgers was 23 of 33 for just 189 yards in a game in which he famously never once threw in the direction of Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
Asked Sunday if the Packers need to throw at Sherman this time, Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson said: “We’re going to do what we need to do to win the game. We’re going to run our offense, we’re going to put ourselves in position to make plays, and then we have to make them.’’
The health of Rodgers will be a big story line this week as he is battling two injuries to his left calf suffered in the last two games of the regular season. Rodgers was noticeably hobbled throughout the win over Dallas on Sunday but still threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns and after the game told reporters that the injury won’t stop him from playing against the Seahawks.
“I think I’ve got 120 minutes left in me so I’m going to do everything I can to play all of those minutes,” Rodgers told reporters in Green Bay. That, of course, is a reference to playing 60 minutes Sunday and 60 more in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.
Seattle, though, feels equally confident after advancing to the NFC title game for the second straight year.
“We keep going out there doing our best and playing our hardest and we’re untouchable,’’ said cornerback Tharold Simon.
It will be the third time the Seahawks and Packers have met in the playoffs but the first meeting in Seattle.
The others came during the 2003 season on Jan. 4, 2004, a 33-27 Green Bay win in overtime in an NFC wild-card game, and during the 2007 season on Jan. 12, 2008, a 42-20 Packers win in a divisional game that proved to be the final postseason game for Mike Holmgren as Seattle’s coach.
With the Philadelphia Eagles’ surprising loss to Washington on Saturday, clarity was finally cast upon the NFC playoff picture. The AFC? That’s a question that will be better answered following Week 17.
Sunday’s action only proved to muddy the picture further in the AFC, with multiple teams above .500 jostling for position heading into the season’s final week.
On Saturday, the San Diego Chargers kept themselves alive with a three-touchdown comeback from the dead-on-arrival San Francisco 49ers, while the AFC North is a complicated riddle yet to be solved.
The Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a playoff berth after a win against Kansas City. The Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, shot themselves in the foot with a dispiriting loss to the Houston Texans, who were forced to start Case Keenum at quarterback due to injuries.
While there are still some positions left to be filled, this week has helped pare down the field. The Eagles’ loss in Washington eliminated them from contention, Kansas City and Baltimore both have work to do and Detroit further solidified its playoff status.
But as much as some things changed, others stayed the same. The New England Patriots are the top seed in the AFC and clinched home-field advantage after the Denver Broncos’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday.
To cap off Sunday’s action, the Seattle Seahawks looked as strong as ever in their Super Bowl defense, dominating the Arizona Cardinals 35-6 on the road to ascend to No. 1 in the NFC.
Week 17 AFC Scenarios
Broncos clinch first-round bye with:
- Denver win vs. Oakland OR
- Denver tie vs. Oakland + Cincinnati loss or tie vs. Pittsburgh OR
- Cincinnati loss OR
- Cincinnati tie + Indianapolis win vs. Tennessee
Bengals clinch AFC North with:
- Cincinnati win vs. Pittsburgh
Bengals clinch first-round bye with:
- Cincinnati win + Denver loss or tie OR
- Cincinnati tie + losses by both Denver and Indianapolis
Steelers clinch AFC North with:
- Pittsburgh win vs. Cincinnati
Chargers clinch playoff spot with:
- San Diego win vs. Kansas City OR
- San Diego tie + Baltimore loss or tie vs. Cleveland
Ravens clinch playoff spot with:
- Baltimore win + San Diego loss or tie OR
- Baltimore tie + San Diego loss
Chiefs clinch playoff spot with:
- Kansas City win + loss by Baltimore + loss or tie by Houston
Texans clinch playoff spot with:
- Houston win + losses by both Baltimore and San Diego
Week 17 NFC Scenarios
Cowboys clinch home-field advantage throughout NFC with:
- Dallas win + loss or tie by Arizona vs. San Francisco + Detroit vs. Green Bay tie OR
- Dallas win + win by Seattle vs. St. Louis + Detroit vs. Green Bay tie
Cowboys clinch first-round bye with:
- Dallas win + loss or tie by both Seattle and Arizona OR
- Dallas win + Detroit vs. Green Bay tie OR
- Seattle and Arizona both lose OR
- Dallas and Seattle both tie + Arizona loses or ties + Detroit vs. Green Bay does not end in a tie
Lions clinch NFC North with:
- Lions win or tie
Lions clinch home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
- Lions win + Seattle loss or tie + Arizona loss or tie OR
- Detroit tie + losses by both Seattle and Arizona + Dallas loses or ties
Lions clinch first-round bye with:
- Detroit win OR
- Detroit tie + Dallas loss or tie OR
- Detroit tie + both Arizona and Seattle lose
Packers Clinch NFC North and first-round bye with:
- Green Bay win
Packers clinch home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
- Green Bay win + loss or tie by Seattle
Seahawks clinch NFC West with:
- Seattle win OR
- Seattle tie + loss or tie by Arizona OR
- Arizona loss
Seahawks clinch home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
- Seattle win + Detroit vs. Green Bay does not end in tie OR
- Seattle win + Dallas loss or tie OR
- Seattle tie + losses or ties by both Arizona and Dallas + Detroit vs. Green Bay tie
Seahawks clinch first-round bye with:
- Seattle win OR
- Seattle tie + Arizona loss or tie + Dallas loss OR
- Seattle tie + Arizona loss or tie + Detroit vs. Green Bay tie
Cardinals clinch NFC West with:
- Arizona win + Seattle loss or tie OR
- Arizona tie + Seattle loss
Cardinals clinch home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
- Arizona win + Seattle and Green Bay both lose or tie OR
- Arizona tie + Seattle loss + Dallas loss or tie + Detroit vs. Green Bay tie
Cardinals clinch first-round bye with:
- Arizona win + Seattle loss or tie OR
- Arizona tie + Seattle loss + Dallas loss or tie OR
- Arizona tie + Seattle loss + Detroit vs. Green Bay tie
Panthers clinch NFC South with:
- Carolina win or tie vs. Atlanta
Falcons clinch NFC South with:
- Atlanta win
Read more at the Bleacher Report