The Detroit Lions had such an incredible run in the middle of the season that even dropping three straight games to finish the year couldn’t keep them out of the playoffs. The Lions responded to a three game losing streak by winning three straight games earlier in the year. They will look to begin a similar streak – hopefully one game longer – this Saturday in Seattle. The Seahawks have not exactly lit the league on fire to close out the season. Seattle went 4-4 in the second half of the year, and their victories came over teams with a combined record of 19-45. The Seahawks of 2016 are a shadow of the teams that have taken the field in previous seasons.
Seattle still field a dangerous defense, though with Earl Thomas suffering a broken tibia they are robbed of their leader. They managed top five performances in points allowed and total yardage allowed even with that loss. The defense finished seventh against the run and eighth against the pass. Their only real weakness is in the red zone, having allowed 57.4% red zone efficiency for 24th in the league. The Lions will have to solve the riddle of getting there, which has plagued the league in 2016.
The Seahawks offense is significantly less dangerous, primarily due to their 25th ranked running game. They can move the ball in the air however, making the performance of a banged up Lions’ secondary vital. The Seahawks had the number ten passing attack in the NFL. The Seahawks rely on their quarterback Russell Wilson to generate their offense, despite lacking dominant weapons in his supporting cast.
The Quarterback Duel
Matthew Stafford left the injured list this week, though he will continue to wear the specialized glove on his throwing hand. Stafford has had difficulty with accuracy on longer throws since the injury. The Lions can not afford to waste any opportunities against the frugal “Legion of Boom” secondary. Stafford will have to find what little the Seahawks’ defense leaves open, while avoiding a furious pass rush. This is the sort of game where the Lions’ reliance on multiple targets should work in their quarterback’s favor.
Russell Wilson will likely have more time to work than he is used to. Even with one of the best mobile quarterbacks in the NFL, the Seahawks allowed 42 sacks this season. That was the sixth most in the league in 2016. The Lions however managed only 26 sacks on the year, and had only a single player with more than five sacks on the year. Wilson is an incredibly accurate passer who can dissect a defense if given time to do so; which could lead to a long day for the Lions secondary.
The Lions’ Offensive Line
The best news the Lions could have received this week was that Riley Reiff and Travis Swanson are likely to play. With Swanson in the middle, there is a chance that the Lions’ offensive line will not be as hopelessly over-matched as they have been the last three weeks. The Lions have moved the ball on the ground at times during their streak because Laken Tomlinson excels at run blocking. Matthew Stafford has been getting murdered since Swanson went out with a concussion, and the Lions have clearly struggled to pick up blitzes. Graham Glasgow should move back to the left guard spot that he had taken from Tomlinson prior to being forced in to the middle. Reiff is likely equally vital to the Lions’ hopes this week. Corey Robinson, the Lions’ primary back up tackle, went on IR earlier in the week. That leaves the Lions without an acceptable plan B at right tackle. Seattle’s defensive line ranks among the best in the league. The Lions have virtually no chance if they can not keep that line from hitting Stafford in Seattle Saturday.
What does Devin Hester have left in the tank? The Seahawks have taken the chance that the answer is “something.” Hester was brought in by the Seattle to counter the excellent punting of Sam Martin. He holds the all time record for punt return touchdowns and is eighth in NFL history in kickoff return touchdowns. Lions fans will recall Hester’s time in Chicago with eye twitches and other nervousness. Hester has not hit pay dirt since 2014 however, and was released by the Baltimore Ravens earlier in December. He was averaging 24.53 yards per kick return, and 7.6 yards per punt return. Both are respectable but not spectacular numbers.
Lions 13, Seahawks 21
The Lions are out gunned in every aspect of the game. The Seahawks have better coaches, a better defense, and a better offense than the Lions. Of course when I pick the Lions to lose, they typically find a way to come out on top, and the difference in quality is not insurmountable. If Matthew Stafford can get back to mid-season form, and any of the Lions’ defensive ends can find the pass rushing form that many of them have shown in the past, anything could happen. Any given Sunday could be the one that the Lions put the pieces together and play a full 60 minute game. Cliff Avril said that he needed to leave Detroit and go to Seattle in order to learn how to win. We can all hope that the 53 men still on the Lions’ roster do the same thing Saturday.