Lions at Seahawks: Histories collide
The Detroit Lions are aiming for their first postseason win since 1991, while the Seattle Seahawks are reaching for their third Super Bowl appearance in four years.
Seattle is in the postseason again, finding its way to the dance for the fifth consecutive season. The Seahawks have a championship for their trouble and after winning the NFC West with a 10-5-1 record. In the Emerald City, this is old hat. In fact, having to play on Wild Card weekend is borderline embarrassing.
For the Lions, a 17th game is both rare and exciting. Detroit has only been to the playoffs thrice since the turn of the century, with the Motor City still waiting for its first postseason win since 1991. That year, it was Erik Kramer shredding the Dallas Cowboys at the Pontiac Silverdome with Barry Sanders running wild. Before that, the Lions were without a playoff win since 1957, the last time Detroit won a championship.
What does this mean for this current Lions team? It stands to reason that their opponent is supremely comfortable, and that it can’t possibly be itself.
Detroit started out the year 9-4, winning a bevy of games in the final two minutes. Both victories over the Minnesota Vikings were heartstoppers. There were wild wins over the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Jim Caldwell’s team didn’t win pretty, but it won just enough to earn a spot in the NFC playoffs. For Detroit, that is an unqualified success.
In Seattle, the Seahawks rolled to a division title with the Arizona Cardinals falling flat. Yet it was the Cardinals who took away a first-round bye from Seattle in Week 16, beating Pete Carroll and Co. to drop them into the third seed. Most organizations would be thrilled to hang another banner, but this was a disappointing regular season. It ended in a playoff berth, but not the right kind of playoff berth.
Perhaps more than anything else, these differing viewpoints is why the Seahawks are favored by a touchdown. Seattle has flaws that include a horrid offensive line and a questionable secondary without Earl Thomas, but those are largely masked by a team with ample experience and a gaggle of playmakers.
If the Lions are going to spring the upset, it’ll be about Matthew Stafford and the increased role of Zach Zenner. Stafford, who is playing through torn ligaments in his right middle finger, has to take advantages of the few blown coverages he will see on Saturday night. Against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, Stafford missed on a few deep throws that could have changed the outcome of the contest. If he does the same in the postseason, Detroit goes home.
As for Zenner, the second-year back out of South Dakota State needs to be a chain-mover. In his last two games, the 25-year-old has amassed 136 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The Lions have been challenged when running all year, but if Zenner can provide some solid play, look for the Seattle pass rush of Cliff Avril, Frank Clark and Michael Bennett to be slowed somewhat.
Offensively, the Seahawks are without a key component in Tyler Lockett. Lockett was lost to a broken leg in December, taking away a secondary receiver and a dynamic returner. Without him, Seattle needs Doug Baldwin to beat Detroit corner Darius Slay while Jimmy Graham works against the linebackers and safeties.
The ultimate ex-factor is the run game. With Thomas Rawls back and the ever-present threat of Russell Wilson, the Seahawks should run the ball effectively on paper. Yet the offensive line has been stupefying, leaving Seattle to rush for a paltry 3.9 yards per attempt.
Seattle and Detroit. Two teams playing from different backgrounds, both looking for the same prize. The Lions are hoping to erase history while the Seahawks are hoping to build upon it. For the players, that may not mean much, with history not being the same for each player. For the fan bases, the games of yesteryear definitely impact their psyches.
Should Detroit find a win for the first time in a quarter-century, it will travel to take on the Dallas Cowboys for the second time in less than a month. If the Seahawks hold serve at home, they will have a date with the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Nobody would complain about watching the Legion of Boom against Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, save folks from Detroit.
Saturday’s drama will unfold under the lights of CenturyLink Field, with history either being shattered or a shackle.