The Green Bay Packers go on the road to take on the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field at 7:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, televised nationally on NBC.
The Big Picture: What's at Stake?
As the defending Super Bowl champions, the Seahawks receive the honor of opening the following the season at home in the high-profile NFL Kickoff game, the first game of the 2014 season. The Packers, winners of three consecutive NFC North titles and five consecutive playoff appearances, were picked as the opponent.
Since winning Super Bowl XLV, the Packers have had three straight earlier-than-preferred playoff exits. They're looking to get back to the level the Seahawks were at last season, and the first game of the season should provide a good gauge of where both teams sit entering 2014.
What to Watch When the Packers Have the Ball
A) Aaron Rodgers takes on the "Legion of Boom": Right out of the gate, Rodgers faces the NFL's toughest team against the pass last season and the vaunted Seahawks secondary.
The pass rush is part of the Seahawks' key to success on the defensive side of the football too, but it's the secondary that's arguably the best in all of football. Led by Pro Bowlers, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, they're both hard hitters and ball hawks.
Rodgers and his receivers will have their hands full trying to get open and getting yards after the catch against an aggressive Seahawks secondary.
B) Corey Linsley makes first NFL start in hostile environment: After J.C. Tretter was injured in the Packers' third preseason game, the job at center became Linsley's, a fifth round draft choice.
When the Packers decided to sit 18 starters in the final preseason game, they passed on the last and only opportunity for Linsley and Rodgers to get some work together in a game environment before the start of the regular season.
As it is, Linsley will make his first start as a professional football players in stadium known as one of the loudest in the NFL. How he handles the pressure and handles facing one of the league's top defenses will be highly scrutinized.
C) Eddie Lacy's encore: In his rookie season, Lacy rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns on the way to winning the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
With Rodgers missing the better part of eight games with a broken collarbone last season, the two didn't get much of an opportunity to work together.
The Packers hope having a healthy Rodgers and Lacy in the lineup together at the same time will take pressure off each other, and they'll never be healthier than the first game of the regular season against the Seahawks.
What to Watch When the Seahawks Have the Ball
A) The Julius Peppers debut and his impact on the pass rush: Observers saw glimpses of what Peppers can provide in the preseason, but in playing rather vanilla schemes, they've only seen the tip of the iceberg.
The Packers didn't give $26 million overall and $7.5 million guaranteed to Peppers to run the same old schemes as season's past. Left or right, two-point or three-point stance, tackle or end, rushing the passer or dropping into coverage, they figure to utilize Peppers in many different ways.
More than anything, the Packers hope Peppers will be able to take pressure off the rest of the team's pass rushers and vice versa. Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels and the supporting cast should only benefit from having Peppers on the field with them.
B) Stopping Marshawn Lynch: Not unlike the Packers, the Seahawks possess a mostly-balanced offense with a Pro Bowl running back of their own, Marshawn Lynch, a powerful runner.
Last season, the Packers struggled to stop their opponents' run game, ranking 25th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing an average of 125 yards per game on the ground.
Nowhere will there be more attention than at the nose tackle position, where free-agent addition Letroy Guion takes over for an injured B.J. Raji as a starter on the Packers defense.
C) Packers safeties defending Russell Wilson: The Packers got terrible, horrible, no good, very bad play from their safeties in 2013, a position that accounted for zero interceptions.
Gone from last season is M.D. Jennings and added to the mix are cornerback conversion Micah Hyde and first round draft choice Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
It appears as if Hyde will join Morgan Burnett in the starting lineup, but Clinton-Dix may see time in the Packers' subpackages. Either way, the Packers secondary looks to be better equipped to stop a capable quarterback like Russell Wilson than they were a year ago.
What to Watch on Special Teams
Packers return specialists: The Packers did plenty of experimenting with their returners in the preseason, giving rookies Jeff Janis and Davante Adams turns on punts and Kevin Dorsey several attempts on kickoffs.
When the regular season gets underway, however, the Packers look like they'll go back the players the know and trust, Randall Cobb on punts, DuJuan Harris on kickoffs, Micah Hyde doing both and Janis not being ruled out. At least that's the word from head coach Mike McCarthy.
What remains to be seen is whether the Packers use some sort of rotation or the job will be handled by one player or whether they'll go with the hot hand.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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