Sea­hawks have been a thorn in the side ROB REISCHEL

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Ear­lier this sum­mer, I was hav­ing lunch with a Green Bay Pack­ers team em­ployee. At one point, my friend said, “I have a feel­ing that the best chance at great­ness for a lot of these guys died in Seat­tle.”

My pal, of course, was re­fer­ring to the 2014 NFC Cham­pi­onship Game. And I bring this story up for two rea­sons:

1. The Pack­ers host Seat­tle on Sun­day in a game sure to open old wounds. Green Bay’s loss to the Sea­hawks in the con­fer­ence ti­tle game two years ago re­mains the great­est col­lapse in fran­chise his­tory, and for many play­ers and fans, the most painful de­feat they’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced.

2. Seat­tle, which has got­ten the bet­ter of Green Bay over the past five years, can do the same thing to the 2016 Pack­ers that it did to the 2014 group: fin­ish them off.

The Pack­ers cur­rently sit in a tie for eighth place in the NFC, two games be­hind di­vi­sion-lead­ing Detroit and one game out in the wild-card race. Green Bay quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers has talked about the need to “win out,” and a loss to archri­val Seat­tle could vir­tu­ally end the Pack­ers’ play­off hopes this year.

The tim­ing of the matchup is ironic, as Green Bay’s great­est neme­sis the past five years has an­other chance to blow up a Pack­ers sea­son. Whether Green Bay can stop that from hap­pen­ing will de­ter­mine where the Pack­ers are headed in 2016 — and down the road.

“Play­ing Seat­tle has al­ways been a chal­lenge for us,” de­fen­sive end/out­side line­backer Da­tone Jones said. “For the most part, they’ve prob­a­bly got­ten the bet­ter of us. We’ve just got to turn it around (this) week.”

There’s no doubt, Seat­tle has handed Green Bay some of its most frus­trat­ing de­feats in re­cent years.

There was the ‘Fail Mary’ in 2012. Seat­tle, the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pion, steam­rolled the Pack­ers, 36-16, in the 2014 sea­son-opener in a game where Rodgers re­fused to throw in the di­rec­tion of Sea­hawks cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man.

But noth­ing comes close to the 2014 con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship.

The Pack­ers were in com­plete con­trol at Seat­tle and poised to reach the Su­per Bowl for the sec­ond time in five years.

Green Bay built a 16-0 half­time lead, and ac­cord­ing to ProFoot­bal­lRef­er­ence.com, held a 94.4% chance to win the game. With the Pack­ers lead­ing, 19-7, with just more than 3 min­utes left, their chances of win­ning were 99.9%.

Yet some­how, some­way, the Sea­hawks ral­lied for the most im­prob­a­ble 28-22 win in over­time.

Bran­don Bo­stick’s on­side kick fi­asco. Julius Pep­pers’ in­sis­tence that Mor­gan Bur­nett fall down af­ter an in­ter­cep­tion. Ha Ha Clin­ton Dix’s atro­cious at­tempt at bat­ting down a two-point con­ver­sion. And Tra­mon Wil­liams get­ting beat for a game-win­ning, 35yard touch­down by Jer­maine Kearse.

Had any one of these plays — or a bevy of oth­ers — gone Green Bay’s way down the stretch, it would have reached Su­per Bowl XLIX. In­stead, that game still both­ers many play­ers in­side the Pack­ers locker room.

Green Bay safety Micah Hyde, for ex­am­ple, has never watched film of the game.

“I never watched it. Never,” Hyde said. “You know, I had the front row view of the on­side kick, the two-point con­ver­sion, the touch­down that they had. The deep touch­down they had to win the game. I don’t need to see it again.

“I’d be ly­ing if I said it didn’t bother me. As an NFL foot­ball player, it’s hard to get to those games and get to those sit­u­a­tions. Play­ing in the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game and try­ing to get to a Su­per Bowl, we un­der­stand how hard that is to do.”

De­spite the loss, Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son kept the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of that team to­gether and brought back 21 of 24 starters in 2015.

Even to­day, left guard Josh Sit­ton and full­back John Kuhn are Green Bay’s only of­fen­sive starters from that 2014 team play­ing else­where. On de­fense, the only starters that have left are de­fen­sive end Josh Boyd, lineback­ers Sam Bar­ring­ton and A.J. Hawk, and Wil­liams.

They say if you aren’t get­ting bet­ter, you’re get­ting worse. And the Pack­ers have largely been proof of that.

Af­ter start­ing 6-0 in 2015, Green Bay is just 11-13 since that time (.458). The top half of the ros­ter — which typ­i­cally de­ter­mines a team’s suc­cess — has got­ten older. Thomp­son hasn’t found enough young, dif­fer­ence-mak­ing play­ers to keep up with con­fer­ence pow­ers like Seat­tle and Dal­las.

Now, the Sea­hawks come call­ing with the Pack­ers’ sea­son — and fu­ture — both in doubt.

These cur­rent Pack­ers still be­lieve they can some­how string to­gether a mag­i­cal fin­ish and jus­tify the front of­fice’s de­ci­sion to keep them to­gether this long. If Seat­tle top­ples Green Bay again — es­sen­tially end­ing its sea­son — the Pack­ers seem likely to make ma­jor changes this off­sea­son.

Ran­dall Cobb. Clay Matthews. Julius Pep­pers. Nick Perry. Da­tone Jones.

These are all play­ers whose fu­tures could be shaped by what hap­pens Sun­day — and over the fi­nal month of the sea­son.

“We un­der­stand play­ing against Seat­tle that it’s not about the Fail Mary,” Hyde said. “It’s not about the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game. That stuff is all in the past.

“This is a to­tally new foot­ball team with a to­tally dif­fer­ent mind­set. All that other stuff has kind of run its course. We’ve just got to find a way to win the game and keep this thing go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

If they can’t, Seat­tle will be the ones dig­ging Green Bay’s grave once again.

RICK WOOD / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

In what has be­come known as the “Fail Mary” game, of­fi­cials in­di­cate op­po­site rul­ings — one a touch­down, one in­com­plete — in the Green Bay Pack­ers’ 14-12 loss to the Seat­tle Sea­hawks in Seat­tle in 2012.

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