By Will Burchfield
The Lions enter Saturday’s playoff clash with the Seahawks as eight-point underdogs. That’s pretty much in line with public opinion, even here in Detroit. But let’s put aside the pessimism for a moment and fixate on five legitimate reasons the Lions could win their first playoff game in 25 years.
1. A Porous Offensive Line
For a Lions defense that struggles to control the line of scrimmage, a matchup with the Seahawks is the perfect antidote. Seattle’s offensive line is one of the worst in the league, with a pair of tackles in George Fant and Gary Gilliam who have been exploited week in and week out. The Seahawks surrendered 42 sacks this season, the sixth most in the league, which should have Ezekiel Ansah and the Lions licking their chops.
2. A Depleted Secondary
As good as the Seahawks’ secondary may be, it’s simply not the same without safety Earl Thomas. Since Thomas went down with a leg injury in Week 13, Seattle has allowed 24.5 points per game — they were allowing 16.2 points per game before that. The Lions have a wealth of capable receivers (even if they’re lacking a bonafide star), who, together, could pose problems for a Seahawks’ secondary missing one of its best players.
3. A Banged-Up Quarterback
No, no, not Matthew Stafford. We’re talking about Russell Wilson, who’s been hampered by ankle and knee sprains since Week 3. The injuries have taken their toll, particularly in the rushing department where Wilson finished with a career-low 259 yards. That’s great news for the Lions, who have been burned by mobile quarterbacks this season, most recently in Week 17 against Aaron Rodgers.
4. Special Teams
In Sam Martin and Matt Prater, the Lions have a pair of weapons on special teams. Martin finished second in the league with an average of 44.2 yards per punt, while Prater, a late-season slump notwithstanding, remains one of the most reliable kickers in the game. Things aren’t as solid for the Seahawks. Jon Ryan finished 23rd in punting and Steven Hauschka endured kicking bugaboos all season long, missing the second most extra points (6) in the NFL. If Saturday’s game comes down to a battle of field position and pressure kicks, the Lions look to have a serious edge.
5. The Past Isn’t The Present
As strong as the Seahawks have been in the recent past, this year’s squad doesn’t quite measure up. Seattle’s typically stout running game has fallen to 25th in the league and its defense suddenly looks vulnerable without Thomas. It’s important to separate performance from reputation; allow Haloti Ngata to explain.
“We’re not playing their past records, we’re not playing their old teams. We’re playing this year’s Seattle team,” Ngata said. “I think a lot of people look and see that Seattle’s a good playoff team, but I feel like we can do well against this Seattle team. I really like our game plan defensively and hopefully we can go there and we can win.”