The Seattle Seahawks aren't buying into it.
Yes, they've heard that the injured calf is going to be an issue for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Yes, they've heard he won't be as mobile. But the Seahawks are preparing to face arguably the NFL's best quarterback, and they refuse to be lulled into a false sense of security heading into Sunday's NFC championship game at CenturyLink Field.
"I'm not really concerned about his hobbly or wobbly calf," said Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, who had a spirit-breaking 90-yard interception return for a touchdown in last week's divisional playoffs victory over Carolina. "I'm concerned about Aaron Rodgers. If he's in that game, no matter how he's feeling, he's still Aaron Rodgers. He's capable of making plays, capable of getting the ball downfield, getting it to his receivers, just running their offense. So you've got to respect a guy like that."
Rodgers threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 125.4 in last Sunday's victory over Dallas, despite the calf injury he suffered in a first-round game against Detroit.
"Watching that last game, he was still doing pretty good," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "He stepped up in the pocket when he needed to. He was still able to find the passes that he needed to. … But we were going to chase him down whether he was healthy or not healthy."
These teams met in Seattle for the Kickoff Opener this season, with the Seahawks rolling to a 36-16 victory, a game when Rodgers never threw a pass in the direction of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
But Seattle Coach Pete Carroll is expecting a far more capable opponent this time.
"They've had a big turnaround," he said of the Packers, who were 32nd against the run in the first half of the season, but gave up the league's sixth-fewest yards rushing in the final eight games.
Mouth that roared
Among the most outspoken Seahawks is Bennett, who had some eye-opening comments about the Packers after the season-opening game.
"Lacy?" Bennett said at the time. "He had 12 carries for 34 yards, I could do that."
Also back in September, Bennett said of Green Bay: "Obviously we were the more physical today, offensively and defensively. I saw supposedly some of the best players in the league not want to tackle Marshawn Lynch. Of course, nobody is going to say nothing about that, but I seen a lot of guys whiff on tackles that should have been two-yard gains, and they're supposed to be the best."
We'll see if Sunday changes his opinion.
The Packers have some key players who were making their NFL debuts back in the Week 1 game, guys who are fixtures now: center Corey Linsley, tight end Richard Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams.
"You expect those guys to hit some sort of lull during the year, as the college season is usually 12 or 13 games," Rodgers said. "After the preseason, you're looking at midway through the season, that's a normal college season for these guys, and you haven't seen it."
Before Seattle traded for Lynch in 2010, there was talk that the Buffalo running back might wind up in Green Bay. That would have reunited him with Rodgers, who was his quarterback at Cal for one season.
Rodgers respects Lynch's ability to run, but said the powerfully built tailback can also wing a football.
"Marshawn was an extremely gifted athlete," Rodgers said. "He always used to challenge me in throwing competitions. I won't say I beat him every single time, because he's got a heck of an arm — distance-wise, not accuracy. He's a great teammate and we had a lot of fun."
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All regular-season stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
GB | SEA
Points scored: 30.4 (1) | 24.6 (10)
Points allowed: 21.8 (13) | 15.9 (1)
Pass offense: 266.3 (8) | 203.1 (27)
Rush offense: 119.8 (11) | 172.6 (1)
Pass defense: 226.4 (10) | 185.6 (1)
Rush defense: 119.9 (23) | 81.5 (3)
Sacks: 41 (9) | 37 (20)
Penalty yards: 59.0 (25) | 38.3 (1)
Turnovers: +14 (1) | +9 (4)
In light of the calf injury, Rodgers is not himself. He can't break contain, get out in the flat and make plays the way he's accustomed to doing. Now, he has to stay in the pocket with a severely diminished threat of him running. The Seahawks are going to do what they always do — blitz the quarterback on defense, hand the ball off to Lynch on offense, and let quarterback Russell Wilson work his magic. The NFC North isn't the black-and-blue division anymore; the NFC West is more physical, and the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks can pack a punch.
SEATTLE 24, GREEN BAY 17