NFL 2014 kickoff: Seahawks vs. Packers preview

The defending Super Bowl champions welcome a perennial NFC championship contender to Seattle as the newest NFL season gets started Thursday night. Pundits give a slight edge to Seattle.

Jeff Chiu/AP
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, center, huddles with teammates during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.

Has seven months really passed us by that quickly?

Back in early February, the Seattle Seahawks thoroughly dominated the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XLVIII in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Following that flourish of a finish, the Seahawks kick off a new NFL season Thursday evening by hosting the Green Bay Packers.

Seattle returns with all the major pieces from last year's championship run, including quarterback Russell Wilson, cornerback Richard Sherman and a host of talented teammates in between.

After throwing for 3,357 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, Wilson is ready to build upon those numbers this fall as Seattle seeks to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since the New England Patriots in 2004 and 2005.

Wilson has all his offensive weapons back for the 2014 season. Running back Marshawn Lynch is coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season for the Seahawks. Wide receiver Percy Harvin returns from injury to rejoin Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and tight end Zach Miller in a potent passing attack.

The Seahawks offense will face a Green Bay defense missing one of its stalwarts. Nose tackle B.J. Raji suffered an injury during this summer's training camp and is out for the season. However, the Packers still feature pass rushing linebacker Clay Matthews, along with veteran Julius Peppers, a newcomer to the Green Bay defense this season.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, himself a former defensive coordinator, has a great appreciation for what Matthews brings to the game.

"There's nobody really more effective than Clay Matthews," Carroll told the media Wednesday. "He's as big a factor in the game as anybody."

The Green Bay offense begins with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who returns from injury last year. Despite missing seven games, the former All-Pro still threw for more than 2,500 yards and 17 TDs. He'll hand the ball off to running back Eddie Lacy, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards his rookie year in 2013.

Rodgers has a dynamic receiving corps of his own, beginning with Jordy Nelson who caught 85 passes for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns last season. 

Versatile Randall Cobb, who has also helped the Packers in the past returning kicks and punts, is the other starting wide receiver.

The Packer offense will take on a stout Seahawk defense, led by veteran safety Kam Chancellor and the aforementioned Sherman, one of the most talented cornerbacks who can cover just about anyone in the NFL. Sherman had eight interceptions in 2013.

Seattle has an outstanding pass rush, featuring defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril who combined for 16.5 sacks last season.

Earlier this week, Rodgers heaped plenty of praise on the Seahawks defense.

“There’s a challenge at every level,” the Packers quarterback told “They’re really talented up front. They’re as good as they come on the backend with the safety-corner tandem. And they’re very talented and long and rangy and athletic and physical in the linebacker group.”

One final point of emphasis for the Seahawks – their fans, otherwise known as "The 12th Man." They have been recognized as one of the loudest home crowds in the NFL and can cause problems for opposing offenses trying to be heard on the field. That, plus the team being honored for winning the Super Bowl, will have the crowd in an extra frenzied mode for this season's opening game.

Most Oddsmakers, computer models, and pundits give a slight edge to the Seahawks.

The Seahawks-Packers game will be televised on NBC, starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time Thursday.

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