Seahawks, Packers kick off NFL season

The 2014 NFL season kicks off Thursday night in Seattle with a marquee matchup between the Super Bowl champion Seahawks and the powerful Green Bay Packers (8:30 p.m. ET).

Seattle begins title defence at home

All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman headlines a fierce Seattle defence that allowed only 14.4 points per game last season, tops in the league. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks benefited from a memorable, but controversial, call to beat Green Bay the last time the Packers visited in 2012.

As the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Seahawks have since proved they're capable of handling the NFL's top teams on their own while rising to the top of the league.

Eager to build on their championship season, the Seahawks face the Packers in front of what's sure to be a raucous crowd in Seattle on Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET).

"We've all been waiting to get this thing started," coach Pete Carroll, whose team is 15-1 at home during the regular season the past two years, told the Seahawks' official website.

A team that led the NFL in scoring defence (14.4 points per game) and average yards allowed (273.6), capped a stellar 13-3 season by stymieing Peyton Manning and Denver's league-leading offence in the 43-8 Super Bowl XLVIII rout.

With that defence, headlined by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, pretty much intact, and the improvement of quarterback Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and a healthy Percy Harvin, Seattle remains the class of the league.

''They play with a lot of confidence, have a little swagger about `em, and it's a tough place to play," Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.

Lynch has rushed for 4,624 yards and 41 touchdowns in the regular season since joining the Seahawks in 2010.

A hip injury limited Harvin to one regular-season game in 2013, but he recovered from that and a concussion in time to rush twice for 45 yards and return the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a TD in the Super Bowl.

Wilson, meanwhile, posted a 101.2 passer rating that was seventh in the NFL last season. His 112.8 rating at home the last two seasons trails only Drew Brees and Manning. His 31 TDs during that span are tied for fourth.

He also looked sharp guiding an offence that recorded nine touchdowns and two field goals in 13 possessions with him on the field in four preseason games.

''I think you have to be very impressed with their offence,'' Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. ''On Russell Wilson and their ability to stay in favourable down and distance and keep the mix of the run and the pass.

"They've always been outstanding running the football, but they look like they're a lot more balanced now.''

'Fail Mary'

That's one of many challenges facing the Packers, but another they confidently welcome on a primetime stage.

"We knew when the [2013] season was over that we were travelling to play Seattle. So, heck, why not do it Week 1," McCarthy said.

The last time the teams met in Seattle, the Seahawks concluded a 14-12 victory Sept. 24, 2012, in a much-talked about fashion.

With the clock winding down, Wilson heaved a desperation pass from Green Bay's 39-yard line into the end zone and the replacement officials ruled that Golden Tate scored while gaining simultaneous possession with defensive back M.D. Jennings. The play instantly became known as ''The Fail Mary,'' and within days the NFL settled its labour dispute with referees.

"Those things happen," Carroll said. "It's what makes us keep coming back. We love the games. We watch so much because of the surprise and the uniqueness of the experience all the time.''

With Tate in Detroit and Jennings in Chicago, neither can reminisce about the moment Thursday, and it likely won't be on the mind of those current Packers come kickoff.

Rodgers, Lacy bring balance

With Rodgers prepared to play a full season after missing seven games with a collarbone injury and reigning offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy in the backfield, the Packers expect to again be balanced while challenging for a fourth straight NFC North title.

In limited time, Rodgers ranked fifth with a 104.9 passer rating while throwing for 2,536 yards with 17 TDs and six interceptions.

Lacy finally provided the Packers with some balance as they tied for fourth in the league at 4.7 yards per carry and ranked seventh averaging 133.5 per contest after averaging no more than 106.4 the previous three seasons.

Lacy's 1,178 yards ranked eighth and his 11 touchdowns were third in the NFL.

With receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as Rodgers's main targets, the Packers plan to be even harder to stop by incorporating more no-huddle sets.

''We're going to try to go out and do what we do best and that's our no-huddle," said Nelson, who set career highs with 85 catches and 1,314 yards last season.

"Speed the tempo up and try to be successful."

The Packers' main area of concern again falls on protecting Rodgers, whose 139 times sacked since 2010 are the most among NFC quarterbacks. He was sacked eight times while throwing for 223 yards and no touchdowns at Seattle in 2012.

Chris Clemons recorded four of them, but he and defensive tackle Red Bryant are in Jacksonville. However, Michael Bennett and Chris Avril return after combining for 16 1/2 sacks last season.

Green Bay was tied for 24th in scoring defence (26.8 ppg) and 25th in average yards allowed (372.3) last year, but hopes the addition of Julius Peppers and his 118 1/2 career sacks and first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will help improve that unit.

Clay Matthews is back after a thumb injury forced him to miss five games and the 23-20 playoff loss to San Francisco.

Defensive tackle B.J. Raji, however, was lost to a season-ending biceps injury.


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