The Seattle Seahawks secured their fifth straight season of 10 or more regular-season wins with a 25-23 victory over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. This puts Seattle in elite company with Green Bay and New England as the only two other NFL franchises to achieve the same status.
After getting punched in the mouth by the 49ers early on in the first half the Seahawks responded to the challenge and made big plays on both sides of the ball to rally and get the job done. Russell Wilson completed 19 of 32 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown. The bigger concern moving forward is the running game as it was pedestrian at best as Alex Collins led Seattle with just 55 rushing yards on seven carries.
Detroit stumbled into the NFC playoffs after blowing a chance at home last Sunday night to win the NFC North, losing to Green Bay 31-24. The secondary just simply did not have an answer for Aaron Rodgers, who completed 27 of 39 attempts for 300 yards and four touchdowns. For the Lions, Matthew Stafford and the passing game had to carry the load once again. Stafford went 26-of-41 for 347 yards, two touchdowns and interception, but was stymied for the most part in the second half as the Packers outscored the home team 21-10.
NFC Wild Card: Detroit at Seattle
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 7 at 8:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Seahawks -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Which team runs the ball effectively?
Seattle must get some consistency out of its offensive line and produce some semblance of a running game against Detroit. The Seahawks have tired all year to find a quality replacement for the retired Marshawn Lynch, but it will not matter who is running the ball if the offensive line cannot win battles up front. With rookie Alex Collins showing some signs of life last Sunday against the 49ers, he should get some opportunities early on Saturday night to make some big impact runs. Another key is going to be Russell Wilson, who may need to pick up key first downs with his legs to move the chains and keep the offense on schedule in hopes of wearing down the Lions’ defense. Detroit is in a similar pickle, as it will need more than the 69 rushing yards Zach Zenner picked up against Green Bay last week on 20 carries, especially considering Seattle’s defense figures to be a stiffer test. The Lions finished the season 30th in the NFL in rushing offense at 81.9 yards per game. The Seahawks haven’t fared much better (99.4 ypg, 25th), but between Collins, Thomas Rawls and Wilson’s mobility appear to be more of a threat to make some noise out of the backfield.
2. Detroit passing attack vs. Seattle’s secondary
With the continuing struggles in the secondary for the Seahawks, you would have to believe that Detroit offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is going to put the ball in Matthew Stafford’s hands and let him fling it early and often. Golden Tate makes another return visit to Seattle and you would have to believe that he would like nothing more than to put together a monster game against his former teammates. Tate has been the Lions’ No. 1 receiver this season with 91 receptions for 1,077 yards and four touchdowns. Fellow wideout Marvin Jones and tight end Eric Ebron should also see plenty of targets on Saturday night, as both players have the ability to break off a big play at any point and considering the Seahawks are allowing a 99.0 passer rating to quarterbacks since the season-ending injury to Earl Thomas in Week 13. If Jones and Ebron can combine for double-digit receptions and average between 15-20 yards per catch that will put even more pressure on Seattle’s pass rush or the need for the defense to come up with a key turnover or two.
3. Special teams battle
This is a definite problem spot for the Seahawks as they have made too many costly mistakes in special teams over the past few weeks. Last week, Seattle gave up a safety due to bad snap that went over punter Jon Ryan’s head and out of the end zone. Kicker Steven Hauschka has made 33 field goals in 37 attempts, but his misses have come at the worst times. It is going to be important for Hauschka to get an early made field goal or extra point in the first quarter as there will be a new long snapper in Tyler Ott, who is replacing the injured Nolan Frese. Veteran return specialist Devin Hester also was signed this week to ignite a return game that could use a jolt after the season-ending leg injury for Tyler Lockett. Hester has returned 19 kicks for touchdowns over the course of his career. On the other side, Detroit will rely on Andre Roberts, who has been one of the NFL’s best this season. He finished the regular season eighth in the league in kickoff return average (22.3 ypr) and third on punt returns (12.3 ypr). The ability to swing field position and gain some of that important hidden yardage will be very important for both teams on Saturday night, as the weather should be horrendous in Seattle and could limit each team’s passing attack.
This game should be closer than the experts expect as Seattle, even in games that the Seahawks wind up winning, have had an adverse situation or two to overcome. In addition, the intensity that the 12s bring is worth a potential three to seven points to the home team in any playoff game. Seattle has won nine consecutive playoff games at CenturyLink Field while it will not be easy, they will find a way to make enough big plays. Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and Cliff Avril will all make critical plays to send the Seahawks through to a matchup in the NFC Divisional Round in Atlanta next Saturday.
Athlon Editors and Contributors Predictions
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.