The Seahawks are off to what could be a snowy Green Bay to face the Packers, a team Seattle has seen a lot of in recent seasons, with Green Bay winning at Lambeau Field last year, and the Seahawks winning three straight at CenturyLink Field before that dating back to 2012, including the wild NFC championship game victory that sent the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLIX.
The Packers (6-6) have rebounded from a four-game losing streak with back-to-back wins to stay in playoff contention, while the Seahawks (8-3-1) have chance to clinch the NFC West this weekend depending on what happens in this game and in Arizona's game at Miami.
If the Seahawks are going to come out on top, these are three key matchups that could make the difference for them against the Packers:
1. December Russell Wilson vs. Packers passing defense.
Finishing strong has become a calling card of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider-era Seahawks, and they seem poised to do just that again this year having won four of their last five games, including a 40-7 win over Carolina last week. Dating back to 2012, the Seahawks are 17-3 in regular-season games played in December and January, and few players embody that ability to finish strong like quarterback Russell Wilson.
As good as Wilson has been throughout his career, he has been even better late in seasons. In 19 December starts, Wilson has thrown 35 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, giving him a 106.2 passer rating that is the best in the league since the 1970 merger for a quarterback with five or more December starts. Throw in Wilson's one January regular season game (last year's Week 17 win at Arizona) and the rating goes up to 107.1 with 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"I think every season is a process," Wilson said of his late-season success. "You go through the ups and downs of a season and you continue to learn, to grow, to build. That's what you always want to be on, you want to be on that constant growth. You always want to be building, hopefully to the playoffs. For us and even for myself, it's just continuing to focus on the fundamentals of the game, really try to keep it simple, and the exciting things will happen from there. I attribute that to the coaches, our guys and how hard we work together. The fellowship that we put into this game, we're really dedicated. We have to continue that zealous approach and continue to build."
While weather could be a factor in the passing game, the Packers' defensive stats suggest there will be opportunities for Wilson and his pass-catchers to make some plays. Green Bay's opponents have a 102.1 passer rating this season, higher than any other team has allowed except for Cleveland, and Green Bay is allowing a league-worst 8.2 yards per pass attempt. The 24 passing touchdowns the Packers have allowed is also the fourth-worst mark in the league. The Packers have been better of late, however, limiting their past two opponents to a total of 395 net passing yards with two touchdowns and one interception while recording six sacks.
2. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers vs. Seahawks safety Steven Terrell.
Terrell and Rodgers likely won't get too close to each other on the field very often, but it's a safe bet that Rodgers will be very cognizant of the whereabouts of the player filling in for All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas. Terrell is making just his second career start, and as Seattle's free safety, job No. 1 is to take away big plays while facing a quarterback who is more than willing to take his shots.
"It's a huge spot for us because it's the foundation of our defense," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "I wouldn't say it's mentally tougher or anything to that nature, it's just really identifying how the offense is going to try to attack us, how the quarterback is going to try to move you with his look-offs and things of that nature."
Terrell figures Rodgers and the Packers might test him out, but if they do he feels he's prepared for that challenge.
"You've got to prepare for that," Terrell said. "I would assume they would. This defense, it's kind of hard to single one person out and try to attack them. We have so many weapons and the way our style of play is, but I assume they will come after me. I don't really know."
As for Rodgers, he has been a big part of the Packers' recent turnaround. After some rough games for him and the team, Rodgers has bounced back in his last three games, throwing seven touchdowns with no interceptions while posting a passer rating of 108.9 or better in each game.
3. Thomas Rawls and rejuvenated running game vs. the Packers front-seven.
As much as there might be opportunities for Seattle in the passing game, it's still as safe bet that the Seahawks will try to run the ball, particularly with the success they've had on the ground of late. Earlier this season with Thomas Rawls sidelined and Russell Wilson battling ankle and knee injuries, the Seahawks leaned more heavily on the passing game than they have in years past, and while they were still winning, they weren't quite themselves on offense. That has started to change with Wilson getting healthier, Rawls returning from his leg injury, and the offensive line continuing to show growth. And while the Seahawks are more than capable of throwing the ball when they need to, they still prefer to be the balanced team they have been of late, rushing for 519 yards in their past three games.
"When you can run the ball as successfully as we have the past few games, it's a great thing, because it brings that physical approach back," Wilson said. "I think it also allows us to go downhill and help our play-action game a little bit. Also just to see Thomas Rawls run the football the way he's running it right now is exciting… I think it helps the whole offense. We want to be versatile, we want to be able to do it all."
The Packers have been good against the run this season, allowing 92.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the league, and just 3.8 yards per carry, which is tied for fifth best. But a tough run defense won't deter the Seahawks from trying to establishing the ground game; that much was clear last week when the Seahawks were facing a Panthers run defense that ranked No. 2 in the league at the time and still rushed for a season-high 240 yard while averaging 8.3 yards per carry.
"We always feel like when we get the run game, that's who we are and that's what our philosophy is," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "Everything for us really comes off of it. It helps us to play a different way. When we do a hard play fake or put the ball in front of Thomas, the defense has to react. If he's running and getting 4 to 9 yards a clip, they're going to react. That helps to give us some other shots, it helps with protections because they're playing the run and then, 'Oh it's a pass' so they have to react to the pass after that rather than just pinning their ears back on drop-back pass. We feel like it's a huge part of who we are and getting the run game going is very important."