Our NFL tipster Neil Harvey has been showing play-off form of his own lately, with 14 of the last 15 teams he's tipped to win bringing home the bacon. Picking the winner of Sunday's NFC showdown has proved quite a task though. So instead he's backing Green Bay to be quick out of the blocks against slumbering Seattle - just one of what he hopes will be a magnificent seven bets...
"I expect Green Bay to be highly creative with their offensive play-calling. And given a head-start I think that makes them the value call, particularly in the first half, when they might just catch the Seahawks by surprise"
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks
Sunday January 18, 20:05
Live on Sky Sports
In Week One of this season, Seattle gave Green Bay a good old fashioned stuffing. And it wasn't even Thanksgiving. That 36-16 Seahawks victory was as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests and many are anticipating a similarly one-sided outcome in Sunday's NFC Championship game.
You can understand why Seahawks supporters are so ebullient. After all, their team has hit top form at just the right time, with last week's win over Carolina (as predicted here) - nothing short of a procession. Seattle will again have home advantage, with much made of how the noisy support at CenturyLink Field acts as the Seahawks' 12th man. And then there's the matter of the injury to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers QB is clearly still affected by a calf injury, which significantly limited his mobility against Dallas last week. And the popular belief is that on Sunday he'll be a sitting duck for Seattle's pass rushers.
Now all of the above is true. And you will find nobody who has had more belief in Seattle this season than yours truly. And yet I must confess that my spider-sense is tingling here. Because it all looks a bit too easy on first inspection. And it would be foolish to think that the Packers got this far into the season without being an excellent football team. So let's take a look at the case for Green Bay.
Well, first off, they're in pretty good form themselves. After losing to Seattle in that season opener, they also slumped 19-7 to Detroit in Week Three, suggesting that all was not right in their camp at that time. But after that, they turned things around, going on a run of 12-2 for the rest of the regular season. The talk of Rodgers' calf problem has been substantial, with many pundits already writing him off. And yet regardless of that, it was Rodgers who orchestrated Green Bay's comeback victory over Dallas last week. Standing tall in the pocket, Rodgers was bereft of his ability to run. And yet you could argue that perhaps in some ways that was a blessing. After all, if you've got arguably the best passer in the NFL, couldn't it be a good thing to have him focused solely on throwing the ball and nothing else? And throw it he did, with laser accuracy, as he racked-up 316 yards and three touchdowns in guiding the Packers to victory. The truth is, Rodgers has been playing with this injury since Week 15. And while it might stop him from running, it has done little to hamper his throwing based on what we've seen so far. And that means Green Bay's passing offense remains a major threat.
Back in Week One, the Packers made a point of avoiding Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, by simply not throwing to his side of the field. Instead, they focused on targeting receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in what they considered to be preferable coverage. And while it's a tactic that didn't work too well in that game, I think it could prove more effective this time round. With all eyes on the big two, the emergence of Davante Adams as Green Bay's third receiver could be crucial. Adams played a game-winning role last week against Dallas and I believe we'll see him get a significant number of targets, and on big downs too, in this game.
Seattle's defense is tremendous. And Bobby Wagner and co. will no doubt be looking to knock down Aaron Rodgers as often, and as hard, as possible. And I have no doubt they will get to him, they are that good. The Packers though may well look to offload the ball often and early with short passes, which should limit Seattle's chances of making the sack in time. And Green Bay's running game could play a pivotal role. The Packers showed against Dallas a liking for lining-up in the three-wide I-formation. With three receivers involved, this forced Dallas to go with a more conservative defensive play, and allowed Packers' running back Eddie Lacy room to run into. Seattle have proven to be vulnerable to teams who stick it to them up the middle. And so a heavy dose of Lacy running hard between the tackles could just expose one of their few vulnerabilities. I expect Lacy to be heavily involved here and so recommend backing him accordingly.
Green Bay's defense will also need to step up against the Seattle offense. In their last meeting, Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch gashed them for 110 yards and two touchdowns. 'Beastmode' will once again form the arrowhead of the Seattle offense and is the only bet I would want when it comes to scoring a Seahawks touchdown. Seattle no longer have Percy Harvin though, who played a key role in that Week One win. And that could allow the Packers to focus heavily on stopping Lynch, while taking their chances downfield against a receiving corps that hardly sends chills though the spine - with Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks leading wideout on show, having grabbed just three touchdowns this season.
Everything said, all this requires a lot to go right for Green Bay if they're to win this game. Rodgers needs to stay on the field. And Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy will need to be at his cunning best. But I expect Green Bay to be highly creative with their offensive play-calling. And given a head-start I think that makes them the value call, particularly in the first half, when they might just catch the Seahawks by surprise. Eventually, Seattle could overpower them. But that too offers a tempting price on the HT/FT market.
And one final thought. The Packers defense ranks better against both the run and the pass than that of Carolina, when it comes to average yards conceded per play. And the Packers have by far a superior offense to that of the Panthers, who last week kept things tight early on before losing 31-17 to the Seahawks. This again makes a strong case for thinking that Green Bay could pack a lot of excitement into this supposedly one-sided encounter, especially in the first half.
Green Bay (+ 3.5) to beat Seattle at Half Time @ [21/20] Sportsbook
Green Bay to score first @ 2.407/5 or better
Green Bay (+ 7.5) to beat Seattle @ 1.8910/11
Back H/T-F/T result to be Green Bay/Seattle @ 8.6015/2
Eddie Lacy (Green Bay) to score anytime touchdown @ [11/10] Sportsbook
Marshawn Lynch (Seattle) to score anytime touchdown @ [1/2] Sportsbook
Green Bay points to be Over 21 @ [6/4] Sportsbook