By Michael Ferro
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford started his post-game press conference after the Lions’ disappointing loss to Green Bay in the final game of the regular season with one claim: He doesn’t feel the stint on his throwing hand is affecting his passing game. While that may indeed be the case, something is certainly different about the Detroit Lions. Throughout much of the season, Detroit shaped a narrative of a team that mounted incredible comebacks to win games. In their final three games, that just wasn’t the case.
Now that Detroit is in the playoffs thanks to a lucky break, fans are hoping that the Lions can overcome the odds one more time to win their first playoff game since the 1991 season. It’s also the second time that the team finds itself in the playoffs in the Jim Caldwell era (and Caldwell was just announced as returning for next season, too). But will playing at Seattle prove to be too much for the Lions to handle?
Seahawks Season Record: 10-5-1
Seattle is 10-5 overall on the season, but perhaps the more important stat here is that the Seahawks are also 7-1 at home, having lost only one game in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. Detroit is 3-5 on the road and many teams that have fallen in Seattle know that the home factor for the Seahawks is nothing to balk at. Seattle certainly wasn’t lights out in their match-ups this season, but the Lions certainly cannot rely on a last-minute comeback if they hope to win their first playoff game in 25 years.
Seahawks on Offense
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson might not be at the top tier where Stafford is (or was) this season, but he’s not terribly far off. The real challenge for the Detroit defense comes from wide receiver Doug Baldwin who, much like Detroit’s own Golden Tate, has over 90 receptions for more than 1,000 yards (and Baldwin has three more touchdowns than Tate at seven on the season).
If Detroit’s defense is healthy and Darius Slay and the rest of the Lions’ top talent is healthy as well, then the Lion’s best shot at winning could likely be by shutting down Wilson and the Seahawks offense. Then again, that would mean Stafford would have to find his own magic, as well.
Seahawks on Defense
Detroit’s biggest weakness on the season (and for a number of years) has been their running game. Young running backs Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington have had to take the full load of the carries since Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick have been out. If Stafford can rely more on a balanced ground game—as we’ve seen lately with Zenner—then the passing game becomes more lethal.
The Seahawks have relied on their stellar defense for years now and ranked fifth this season overall in the league. They have come in at seventh in run defense (92 yards per game) and finished third overall in points allowed (18.3 per game). One bright spot might be the fact that they are eighth in pass defense allowing 225 per game, so perhaps if a top talent like Stafford can find a rhythm, Detroit might have a chance.
Players to Watch: WR Doug Baldwin & QB Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson can either be quite good or not so good at all; it all comes down to who he is facing and the opportunities he’s presented with. If the Detroit defense cannot find a way to pressure the Seattle quarterback, then odds are good that Wilson will have the opportunity to have a big game (he’s had a few this season).
Some of Wilson’s successes have come via his top receiver in Doug Baldwin. Seattle will likely focus on their passing game out of the gate, seeing as their ground game is also lacking, so Detroit would do well to smother Baldwin early on to force Wilson into making mistakes. Wilson has 11 interceptions thus far in the season, and the Lions were adept at creating turnovers just a few games ago. If Detroit can reignite that ability, then they might negate Wilson from the start.
Three-straight losses for Detroit will be tough to overcome, especially as they play away from home. But, can the Lions finally end their own playoffs curse and nab a win? It may not be likely, but neither were all those last-minute comebacks this season. They don’t call it the Wild Card for any ol’ reason.