Lions-Seahawks top storylines to watch
The Detroit Lions, losers of four of their last five, have next-to-no margin for error anymore, making Sunday's game against Seattle at Ford Field that much more important.
Here are five storylines to follow:
1. We all know San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit coach Jim Schwartz aren't the best of buds, but Harbaugh might have done Schwartz and the Lions a favor.
Harbaugh complained publicly and to the NFL office about the physical play of Seattle cornerbacks Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and Richard Sherman (6-3, 195) after facing the Seahawks last week.
This is Seattle's first game since those comments. It will be interesting to see if the league agrees and whether officials will be watching Browner and Sherman more closely.
Sherman has drawn additional attention to himself this week by changing his Twitter name to Optimus Prime, which was the enemy of Megatron in the Transformers series.
Megatron, of course, is the nickname of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson said he'll use the challenge as "motivation, no doubt about it."
The Seahawks' secondary also includes 6-foot-3, 232-pound safety Kam Chancellor.
"That's like a junior-college basketball team," Schwartz said. "They've got some length and some size. They play physical. It's their length that's important to the way that they play. It's hard to throw the ball over top of them because they're, No. 1, tall and, No. 2, long arms to go along with it."
There's no question this is as physical as any secondary in the league. Look for more illegal contact and pass interference penalties to be called this week, thanks in part to Harbaugh.
2. Lions cornerback Chris Houston has done the math.
When asked about the importance of this game, Houston said, "This is big because if we lose, we go down. If we win, we've still got a chance."
When pressed on whether he thinks it's a must-win to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive, Houston answered, "It can be, you never know."
Before the season, the over-under on Lions victories was set at either nine or 9.5. But with the slow start, one sportsbook, Ladbrokes.com, adjusted that total down to 6.5 this week.
Over the last three-plus decades, teams that started 2-4 -- as the Lions have done -- came back to make the playoffs 8.7 percent of the time.
That's 18 of 208 teams since 1978, according to STATS LLC.
Shockingly, three of those 18 turnarounds were by the Lions, more than any other team. They started 2-4 in 1983, 1994 and 1995, and made the playoffs each time.
It's taken at least 10 victories to earn a wild-card berth in the NFC the last three seasons. But with the balance this year, some analysts are starting to believe a 9-7 record might be enough.
The Lions still need to go 7-3 over their last 10 games just to reach nine victories. That's going to be difficult and nearly impossible if they don't beat the Seahawks at home.
3. If someone had told you that after six games, the Lions would rank eighth in total defense (319.3 yards per game), sixth in pass defense (210.5 yards) and No. 1 in red-zone defense (25 percent, three touchdowns allowed in 12 possessions), you probably would have thought this team would be cruising back to the playoffs.
Maybe even contend for the division title and a Super Bowl.
The Lions' defense, supposedly the team's glaring weakness, has exceeded expectations so far. It's been a little bend-but-don't-break at times, but they've been respectable.
Most observers would have thought the depleted secondary would be getting shredded, but it's not. The defensive line is starting to come on and live up to expectations the last couple weeks. And then there's the much-overlooked linebacker trio, the most consistent part of the team outside of kicker Jason Hanson.
Here's something to ponder, though: The offense is too talented not to get its act together at some point this season, but will the defense still be able to hold its own by the time that finally happens?
4. The weekly slow starts have gotten a little ridiculous coming off Monday's scoreless first three quarters at Chicago.
The Lions have averaged 3.5 points in the first quarter, 2.7 points in the second quarter, 2.2 points in the third quarter and 13.3 points in the fourth quarter.
"We've made it hard on ourselves, for sure," said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who incredibly still hasn't thrown a touchdown pass to Johnson. "We haven't had a lead a whole lot. We've just got to go out and fight for it. We've got to understand that it's not going to come to us. We've got to go out and earn them.
"I know the one thing I'm not going to do is freak out or panic or anything like that. I'm just going to keep working hard. That's what you have to do. That's what you have to believe in."
5. The season-ending injury suffered by slot receiver Nate Burleson opens the door for second-year player Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyles.
Tight end Tony Scheffler also could get more opportunities in the slot.
Young had somewhat of a breakout game against Chicago, catching six passes for 81 yards. Broyles, meanwhile, caught the first three passes of his career, including a touchdown.
Young has been hampered by a sore knee much of the season. Broyles is coming off major knee surgery last November.
"Anytime someone goes down, someone has to step up," Young said. "I need to take advantage of every single opportunity I'm given, especially when guys are focusing attention on Calvin."
Young has been a bit of an enigma since being drafted last year, but this is his big chance. It's time to put up or shut up, as they say.
Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, arguably the team's most consistent player so far this season, is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury. Ashlee Palmer likely would start in his place.
Safety Amari Spievey and cornerback Jacob Lacey have been both ruled out because of concussions. Erik Coleman is expected to start at safety with rookie Jonte Green at cornerback.
Defensive end Cliff Avril (back), cornerback Bill Bentley (shoulder), safety Louis Delmas (knee) and receiver Titus Young are questionable.
Meanwhile, receiver Nate Burleson underwent successful surgery Friday to repair a broken right leg that will keep him out for the remainder of the season.