The absurd notion of the Detroit Lions upsetting the Seahawks doesn’t seem so absurd if you go back in time.
I don’t mean way back in time, to those days when the late Alex Karras was recognized more as a Detroit defensive tackle with a mean streak than a sitcom dad with a warm heart. By back in time, I mean last month.
On Dec. 11, the Lions beat Chicago, improving their record to 9-4. A few hours later, the Seahawks were clobbered in Green Bay, dropping their record to 8-4-1.
While it’s convenient to dismiss Detroit as a flawed team mocked by history — the Lions last won a postseason game on the road in 1957 — the numbers don’t lie. As recently as three weeks ago, the sad-sack underdogs given no chance to win Saturday profiled as a higher playoff seed than Seattle.
Now, ask yourself this: Since Dec. 11, have the Seahawks done anything to suggest they’re capable of dominating a playoff opponent? A 24-3 victory over the sorry Rams was followed by a 34-31 defeat to the similarly sorry Cardinals, and then a 25-23 squeaker over the 49ers, the sorriest pro-sports franchise on the planet.
Home-field advantage is the obvious reason why the Seahawks are favored by more than a touchdown. The last time the Hawks enjoyed home-field advantage — on Christmas Eve, which seems like 17 years ago — they heard the boos of frustrated fans who’d devoted their holiday to watch a first-half clunker.
Arizona had nothing at stake that day, but it pounced on the Seahawks early and withstood the late, inevitable comeback. If the Cardinals could survive the sound and fury of CenturyLink Field, I’m inclined to think the Lions can survive, as well.
That nobody expects them to win serves as a kind of let-the-ball-go liberation. The pressure will be on the Seahawks, who played their best game of 2016 — a 31-24 victory at New England — where nobody expected them to win.
The Lions scored 346 points this season and gave up 358. As I swirl that negative-point differential through my brain, I hear the famously creaky voice of former Colts coach Jim Mora scoffing at his team’s worthiness of qualifying for the playoffs.
And yet, there’s something dangerous about challengers who’ve advanced to the wild card round despite unimpressive statistics. Before the Lions took a three-week slide in December, they were within one score of every defeat: a 16-15 loss to Tennessee, a 34-27 loss at Green Bay, a 17-14 loss at Chicago and a 20-13 loss at Houston.
The difference between a 9-4 record and a 13-0 record, in other words, was 18 points. Then quarterback Matt Stafford dislocated the middle finger of his right hand — his throwing hand — and the explosive offense sputtered, taxing a defensive unit not renowned for its depth.
Stafford’s passing ability remains compromised, but if he exercises patience and manages a few clock-killing drives in the first half, the Seahawks might find themselves surprised.
Which is when it gets interesting. Who shows up? The inspired Hawks who beat the Patriots in what appeared to a Super Bowl sneak preview? The lethargic Hawks who were booed into halftime against the Cardinals?
A reasonable question. So reasonable it’s scary. After 16 games, we don’t know the Seahawks.
As for the Lions, we know that they’re traveling to Seattle with nothing to lose, seemingly doomed by the same fate that deprived any chance of the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the 2016 NBA Finals or the Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series.
A crazy year calls for a crazy prediction: Detroit 27, Seattle 24.
The defeat should not demand a radical restructuring of a championship-caliber roster. May it be more like a wake-up call, and a reminder:
A team convinced it can win any time it wants is a team primed to suffer a knockout punch.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath