NFC Wild Card Game
Detroit Lions (9-7) at Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
5:15 p.m. Saturday, CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 5. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
Russell Wilson endured the first injuries of his five-year career. His running is still limited. He set career highs in passes (546), completions (353) and yards (a Seahawks-record 4,219). But he threw a career-high 11 interceptions, with 21 touchdowns and a career-low rating of 92.6. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford was sixth in the NFL in passing yards (4,327). He has committed five turnovers in 14 quarters since he broke the tip of the middle finger on his passing hand. His 10 interceptions were his fewest over a full season in his eight-year career. Stafford is not as much of a dome-only passer as some people believe. His career passer rating indoors, including at Detroit’s Ford Field, is 90.4. Outdoors, it’s 82.1.
Seattle’s Thomas Rawls has yet to get going since coming back in September from a broken ankle, then in November from a cracked fibula. He needs to get it right after gaining only 349 yards and 3.2 yards per carry. Rookie Alex Collins has come on lately. Eighteen Seahawks had a carry this season. Detroit’s leading rusher, Theo Riddick, is injured. His 357 yards were the league’s lowest for a team rushing leader. Zach Zenner gained 69 yards last weekend against Green Bay.
Doug Baldwin followed his huge 2015 by tying Seattle’s franchise record with 94 catches this regular season. Jermaine Kearse has been big in the playoffs, but not this regular season. Tyler Lockett is out with a broken leg, so Paul Richardson steps in at No. 3 for Seattle. Former Seahawk Golden Tate leads Detroit with 91 catches. Former Cardinal Anquan Boldin leads the Lions with eight touchdown catches. Marvin Jones is the deep threat, averaging 16.9 yards per catch.
Jimmy Graham is a huge weapon that the Seahawks didn’t have in the last postseason; he was injured. Seattle’s No. 2, Luke Willson, had a touchdown last weekend and is a favorite of Wilson’s near the goal line. Detroit’s Eric Ebron (61 receptions) is one of the league’s better tight ends.
The Seahawks’ biggest — and potentially fatal — weakness. Three first-time starters: undrafted college basketball player George Fant at left tackle, former guard and tackle Justin Britt at center and inconsistent first-round pick Germain Ifedi at right guard. Detroit starts rookies on the left side: first-round pick Taylor Decker at tackle and third-round choice Graham Glasgow at guard. Worth noting: The Seahawks surrendered 41 sacks, the Lions 37.
Seattle has two Pro Bowl ends, Michael Bennett (five sacks) and Cliff Avril (career-high 11 ½ sacks), with second-year end Frank Clark (10 sacks) in for passing situations. They are the keys to getting after Stafford. Rookie Jarran Reed joins stout veteran Ahtyba Rubin at tackle. Detroit’s right side is dominant with tackle Haloli Ngata and end Ziggy Ansah — and they will pose issues for Seattle’s Ifedi and right tackle Garry Gilliam. Situational edge rusher Kerry Hyder leads the Lions with eight sacks, but Detroit is 30th in the NFL in sacks.
Seahawks middle man Bobby Wagner is in the Pro Bowl again, but weakside LB K.J. Wright remains underappreciated outside Seattle. Strongside LB Mike Morgan is making his first career playoff start after years as a special-teams mainstay. Seattle has spent a lot of time this week on how to slow down Detroit’s active middle LB, Tahir Whitehead.
Earl Thomas is missing a playoff game for the first time in his career. His broken leg has changed the Seahawks’ vaunted “Legion of Boom” — and not for the better. Expect Stafford to try to “Arizona” replacement Steven Terrell, targeting him with deep posts and seam routes. Three-time All-Pro Richard Sherman has attracted more attention for his words and actions off the field. Darius Slay, a second-round pick in 2013, is the Lions’ top cornerback, covering top opposing receivers. So he’s likely to be on Baldwin. Slay played last weekend against the Packers, two weeks after he tore his hamstring. The Lions are 27th in pass defense, 31st in third-down conversions allowed.
Devin Hester, the NFL record holder with 19 career returns for touchdowns, is Seattle’s new kickoff and punt returner, as of Wednesday. He replaces the injured Pro Bowler Lockett. Kicker Steven Hauschka has missed six extra-point attempts this season and 10 kicks in all, as many as in the previous two seasons combined. Now he and punter Jon Ryan have a new snapper, Tyler Ott, as of Tuesday. Detroit’s Andre Roberts has two returns for TDs, including one for 85 yards, and is why the Lions are fifth in the NFL in punt returns. Roberts averages 22.6 yards in running back kickoffs. Matt Prater has missed five field-goal attempts this season. His longest make was from 58 yards.
Bennett says Seahawks’ veterans can turn on their playoff magic, just like that, after an inconsistent and alarming end to the regular season. Seattle went 3-3 over its final games against sub-.500 teams. We are about to find out if Bennett is correct. Seattle hasn’t lost a home playoff game since 2004. Detroit has won one postseason game since 1957. The Lions are coming off three straight losses. They would consider it a gigantic upset to beat a team that has reached two of the past three Super Bowls.
THE PICK: Seahawks 24, Lions 14