On January 7, the Lions will play the Seahawks in an NFC wildcard game in Seattle. The winner goes to the divisional round; the loser’s season is over.
If the Lions win, it would be their first playoff victory since 1991, and they would play the team they last beat in the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys. A Seahawks win would mean a tango with the Falcons, whom Seattle beat earlier this season.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at who has the edge in the main phases of the game: offense and defense.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson and Lions QB Mathew Stafford are both talented players. Stafford is a gunslinger, but, unlike Wilson, he is not very mobile. Wilson’s mobility has been very limited (although it’s improving) since he was injured early in the year.
Stafford’s numbers look better: 4,327 yards, 24 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and two rushing touchdowns, compared with Wilson’s 4,219 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and one rushing touchdown.
The difference is that Stafford has been working with an offensive line that is more than five practice dummies. His line gave up the 12th most sacks during the season, while Wilson’s O-Line gave up the sixth most. That, combined with the fact that Wilson was hurt at the beginning of the year, is why Stafford’s stats are better.
Neither team has a good run game. The Seahawks ranked 25th in rushing offense, and the Lions ranked 30th, only beating out the Browns and Rams.
In Week 16, the Seahawks took a huge blow to their receiving crops (and special teams) when Tyler Lockett broke his leg in gruesome fashion. He’s out for the season. However Seattle still has depth with Doug Baldwin, who consistently moves the chains, and Jermaine Kearse, who is a clutch playmaker.
Stafford made history by leading the Lions to nine—nine!—fourth-quarter comebacks. This is the most ever for a quarterback in a single season.
But the Seahawks have the game’s x-factor: tight end Jimmy Graham. The former basketball player is a huge red zone target for them.
Advantage: Seahawks, because they have the edge (if only slightly) in the run game and because of Jimmy Graham.
Defense still wins championships.
The first question one should ask is: Is Seattle’s defense still that good?
And the answer? No.
For starters, the Seahawks lost the most valuable player in the Legion of Boom secondary, Earl Thomas. He broke his fibula in Week 13 against the Carolina Panthers. Without him to play centerfield for the defense, the Seahawks went 3–2.
From Weeks 1 through 11, Seattle gave up three passing touchdowns of 10 yards or more, all during the worst defensive quarter of coach Pete Carroll’s tenure. Since Week 12 against the Buccaneers, the team has given up four touchdowns through the air of more than 10 yards.
But they were third in scoring defense, giving up only 18.3 points per game.
Last season, the Seahawks became the first team to lead the league in scoring defense for four consecutive seasons since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. So third place isn’t bad, but it’s not what Seattle fans are used to.
The Lions defense was 13th, giving up 22.4 points per game.
The Lions were terrific in the red zone, however, giving up the second fewest rushing touchdowns, with eight. The Seahawks, from the Tampa Bay game onward, gave up that many passing touchdowns.
The Seahawks gave up 16 rushing touchdowns compared to Detroit’s eight—but Seattle gave up about 300 fewer yards.
Advantage: Seahawks, because of their pass rush in a game that will be decided through the air.
The Seahawks have a home field advantage that no other NFL team can boast: Their fans caused an earthquake—twice. Really: The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network registered the vibrations as between a 1 and 2 on the Richter scale.
The game will air at 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC.
Photograph by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images