Centurylink Field – Sunday 18th January 20:05 live on Sky Sports 1

The NFC Championship Game will be the first one played this Sunday and I think most would accept it would have a lot more potential to be a classic if Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were coming in healthy. Rodgers couldn’t disguise his limited movement on an injured calf last weekend against Dallas and, despite saying it probably feels better than a week ago, the Quarter Back has to have more than he did in the Divisional Round game to give the Packers any kind of chance in this one.

The Cowboys got some pressure on Rodgers, but he was mainly well protected by his Offensive Line and that allowed him to pick apart a Cowboys Defence that has given up a lot of yards this season. It will be tough to replicate that success against the Seattle Secondary that will have Byron Maxwell back at Corner Back opposite Richard Sherman.

Seattle can get a lot of pressure up front with a four man rush and the Green Bay Offensive Line will be tested to the fullest if Rodgers is unable to step up and perhaps scramble a little more than last weekend. The pressure without blitzing means there are less spaces to exploit in the Secondary, but Rodgers will at least be boosted by two more weapons he has this week than he did in Week 1.

For starters, Davonte Adams has become more comfortable in the Offense and being matched across from Sherman won’t mean Rodgers automatically shies away from one side of the field as he did in Week 1. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson remain key Receivers, but Richard Rodgers could be another new factor at Tight End.

Eddie Lacy and James Starks will find it tough to keep Rodgers in winnable downs and distance as Seattle’s Defense is very strong against the run, but the Carolina Panthers showed it can be possible to move the chains on the ground. Keeping Rodgers in third and short will give their Quarter Back a chance to make plays and Green Bay have to be excited about some of the success that Cam Newton enjoyed in the Divisional Round here last weekend.

Lacy and Starks MAY have success, but Marshawn Lynch is almost a lock to be able to punish the Green Bay Defence on the ground. Max Unger looks like he won’t miss this game which is huge for the Seattle Seahawks who virtually average a Touchdown more per game with the Center in the line up, while Lynch has also been a lot more effective when Unger plays. Lynch had over 100 yards and 2 Touchdowns when Seattle met Green Bay in Week 1 and he should be able to follow DeMarco Murray to rip some big gains on the ground.

If the Packers can make some Defensive stands, Russell Wilson is also a threat for the Seattle Seahawks when it comes to running the ball and could become the latest mobile Quarter Back to pose problems for the Packers Defence. It is Colin Kaepernick that has ended Green Bay’s last two seasons in the Play Offs and Wilson is capable of getting out of the pocket and happy to run the ball for First Downs or scores.

Green Bay may want to dial up the blitz to try and force Wilson to get rid of the ball quicker than he would like- Seattle have allowed a lot of pressure on their Quarter Back through the season and Green Bay have an effective pass rush which could be their best avenue of success. However, the Packers would prefer to have made some stops on Lynch to set up third and long before they decide to bring these packages into play as Wilson could take off for the First Downs if in man coverage behind the blitz.

Wilson has also been very efficient with the ball when it comes to throwing despite not having the ‘big name’ Receivers that the NFL fans will be used to hearing. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Luke Willson are all capable Receivers, but the Green Bay Secondary is a ball-hawking unit that will believe they can make the big plays to try and slow the Seahawks down.

Both teams will be confident they have the game plan to win this one and move to the Super Bowl where they will likely be favoured to win. The injury to Aaron Rodgers calf is really bothersome and Seattle have a very strong home record since Russell Wilson was Drafted, going 20-7 against the spread in those games including 2-0 straight up and against the spread against Green Bay.

Green Bay have neither been a good underdog (2-10 against the spread over last three seasons) nor on the road (10-14 against the spread last three seasons), but I think the Packers are getting too many points this week. They have an Offense that can score points and I like the earlier start which may suit them a little more than a late evening game on the West Coast.

It just seems like too many points to be giving a team like the Green Bay Packers and that is backed up by the trend that an underdog being given 7 or more points in a Championship Game are 9-3 against the spread over the last 18 seasons.

Another trend backing the Packers is the fact that teams who return to play a game at the same venue they have already been beaten at are 28-14 against the spread when that opponent is not from the same Division.

Lacy and Starks could get something going on the ground and I think Green Bay have more weapons than when they played here earlier this season. Rodgers’ injury means I can only back this for minimum stakes, while Seattle could pull away as they did against the Carolina Panthers last week if they can establish the run and wear the Packers down. However, I think Green Bay will make enough plays against the tough Seattle Defence to keep this closer than most will anticipate and I like taking the points in this game.

PICK: Green Bay Packers +7.5 Points at 1.95

By @DavAulak

Price correct at the time of writing

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