Wild Card Preview: Seahawks draw favorable opponent in floundering Lions
And so it begins, again, Saturday in CenturyLink Field when the Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) winners of the NFC West face their Wild Card round opponent and No. 6 seed Detroit Lions (9-7). And of all the possible NFC playoff opponents to draw for the recently topsy-turvy Seahawks team, the Lions should represent the least challenging jumping-off point on Seattle’s quest for Super Bowl LI glory.
It’s not that Detroit presents no challenge for Seattle in the team’s opening round matchup as the Lions will trot out their seasoned 4,300 yard-plus passing, 24 TD-tossing quarterback in Mathew Stafford. But since injuring his finger in Lions’ victory over the Bears three weeks ago, Detroit has failed to win another game. And as such, Stafford has thrown five interceptions vs. two touchdowns (two INTs in the win vs. the Bears).
Besides that, the Lions own the 30th best rushing attack in the NFL and their starting back at this point in the season is the third man on the depth chart, the second year player out of South Dakota State Zach Zenner. Now ask the Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennet about Zenner and the driving force on the Seattle line Bennett calls the kid the “best white running back in the NFL” which is quite the compliment, if not moderately backhanded.
Yet Zenner has proven to be quite a capable and versatile player out of the backfield rushing and receiving and has contributed three touchdowns in the past two games for Detroit against division winning teams Dallas and Green Bay.
But Zeener runs behind a group that consistently struggles to force defenders off the line of scrimmage. And if Seattle has proven to have one weakness it would be teams that can out-physical them in the point of attack. Either offensively or on defense.
The last two teams to do so, Tampa Bay, and Arizona earned W’s over the Seahawks. The Packers also earned a victory over Seattle recently but that was moreso due to the ability of the MVP candidate Aarron Rodgers and the Seahawks QB Russell Wilson having an off-day throwing a season high five interceptions in the 38-10 road loss in week 14.
The Lions will field a capable receiving corp Saturday when old friend, Detroit’s leading receiver Golden Tate (91 receptions, 1,077 yards, 4 TDs) makes his return to the Pacific Northwest. Then there’s the old reliable Anquan Boldin playing in his 14th season who leads Detroit in TD grabs with 8 to go with his 67 receptions and 584 yards.
Beyond that Stafford also has the (finally) emerging, field-stretching tight end Eric Ebron who now in his third year is starting to live up to his first-round status. Although his production has trailed off in recent weeks. For the season, Ebron has 86 receptions for 711 yards although with only one TD.
But none of those weapons matchup favorably for Detroit against the third-ranked defense for points allowed (18.3 ppg) that Seattle will field on Saturday. From players on the defensive line like former Lion and now Pro-Bowler Cliff Avril on back to the intimidator at the safety position Kam Chancellor, Seattle holds all the aces and will present matchup issues for the under-experienced Lions offensive attack.
If it’s not the Seahawks leading tackler K.J. Wright it’s the always vocal and equally talented cornerback Richard Sherman Stafford will need to contend with on every play.
The name of the game is pressure and disruption and for five years, not too many teams in the NFL have done a better job of that than the Seahawks.
Seattle is 6th in total sacks with 42 and 4th overall in total tackles with 1141. The Seahawks field the 7th best defense for yards allowed rushing (1487 and 3.4 YDS/A) and defend the pass 8th best.
Detroit does own the 11th best passing offense, but a majority of those yards were tabulated in comeback, late-game situations and compiled against teams with losing records. On the road in the most hostile of environments, playing in front of a frenzied crowd, the Lions offense is sure to struggle under the weight of the moment.
Truth be told, I’m a Lions fan at heart. Can’t help it, was born this way. Being branded as such means that I and futility have quite an understanding.
The Detroit Lions as a franchise have only one playoff win (1991 Dallas) since 1957 in 12 tries. This 2016 team backed into the playoffs thanks to the Giants beating the Redskins in the last week of the season.
The Lions had the opportunity to win their first NFC North division title since 1993 and owned a two-game lead with three to play but were unable to earn one victory against the three toughest opponents on their schedule (Giants, Cowboys, Packers).
Undisputedly, Seattle presents their greatest test yet.
Look for the Lions to get behind quick and possibly be out of this contest by the end of the first quarter. Even a score of 10-0 should prove more than enough to prevent a potential upset for Seattle.
Should the Lions somehow trail by only 3 at halftime, we should fully expect to see Seattle dominate the second half and roar on to a big lead to close out the game.
Detroit is capable of playing a good game and keeping the score close, but the weight of the moment and talent on the field will be too much to overcome.
Seattle wins it, 27-13. But if the Lions were to get shut-out, that wouldn’t surprise me either.