Detroit Lions (9-7 SU, 8-8 ATS) vs. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1 SU, 8-8 ATS)
NFC Wild Card Playoff
Date/Time: Saturday, January 7, 2017 at 8:15PM EST
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: DET +8/OAK -8
Over/Under Total: 42.5
The Detroit Lions come to CenturyLink Field on Saturday to take on the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks are NFC West champions, looking for another deep postseason run. Not a ton of people are all that optimistic with Seattle based on their uneven form to end the season. But Seattle has shown an ability to change form on a dime and look to do so again in time for a playoff run. Incoming Detroit didn't exactly end the season with a flourish in their own right, ending the season with three straight losses and skating in based on a Redskins loss on Sunday. Which team can right the ship in time for the playoffs?
Detroit is a strange study. One of the league's more-streaky teams, their last two seasons have been characterized by high highs and low lows. You can break the last two seasons into chunks where they were either winning or losing in bunches. They had won 8 of 9 games before receding into this latest three-game losing streak. At the same time, those looking to bury Detroit based on losses to good teams like the Giants and Cowboys on the road, along with a loss to a red-hot Packers' team on Sunday, should temper their negativity. With Detroit, you can't be too sure with what you're going to get.
The Lions need a big performance from their difference-makers on offense and will be up against it facing a postseason Seattle defense that is home where they thrive the most. Matthew Stafford's growth this season as a more efficiency-minded quarterback has been a big key to Detroit making the playoffs. His key aerial weapons are all pretty familiar with Seattle, with Golden Tate facing his old team and Anquan Boldin having spent the bulk of his career in the NFC West. With Marvin Jones (questionable) and TE Eric Ebron, Stafford has ample weaponry through the air. And with Zach Zenner having some good showings lately on the ground, there is hope there, though they are one of the league's worst running teams. This is a big chance for Zenner to shine, so maybe they can come up with something on the ground.
The Detroit defense hasn't been in the best of form lately, allowing a combined 73 points in their last two games. That came on the heels of an 8-game stretch where no team surpassed 20 points against the Lions. Can they revert to their prior form? Will facing a sometimes-dicey Seattle offense have them looking better? Will the still-tough Detroit front have its way with a Seattle O-line that sometimes looks like one of the worst in the league? They need big games from Ziggy Ansah (questionable) and Kerry Hyder. Getting playmaker Darius Slay back last week was big and they hope for more a positive impact from the secondary this week.
Seattle is also a strange team to appraise, with vast ranges of form this season. They aren't able to run the ball with the same consistency as before, while their defense has suffered enough injury setbacks to make them not quite as fierce as we've seen them in recent seasons. Still, at the end of the day, only two teams allowed fewer points than the Seahawks did this season. They have been good against the pass and the run. Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor, two key pieces that have been battling injuries this season, are back in there. But not having Earl Thomas hurts
It's times like this when having experience at quarterback can really help. Russell Wilson has been though the postseason gauntlet, experiencing the full range of different outcomes. He knows what it takes to win this time of the season. It hurts not having a dependable and vital run-game. Thomas Rawls just hasn't quite gotten untracked since returning and this would be a good time for him to rediscover the form that had him looking like a viable long-term option in the post-Marshawn Lynch era. The aerial game has shown a wide range of effectiveness, looking potent some weeks and impotent in others. This would be a good week for guys like Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Jermaine Kearse, and others to get back on the right track. They've become more-aerially inclined in the past season-plus, but now need that part of their game to make a resounding impact. A lot of it comes down the offensive line. At times, they have done an OK job, but more often than not, it's hard to not notice how this team could be so much better with some upgraded play up-front.
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Still, Seattle's forte is defense. Up-front, Bennett and Cliff Avril can get after the quarterback. Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright are still a force in the middle. And even without Thomas, the Legion of Boom is still a difference-making group, with Chancellor and Richard Sherman still making big plays left and right. It's not the shutdown group of past seasons perhaps, but they're still awfully good. If Seattle wins this game and has hopes of getting deep this season, it will be this group that will need to facilitate that.
Detroit hasn't looked good coming down the final stretch of the season. Be that as it may, Seattle has only beaten two teams all season who ended up above .500 with the last one coming in mid-October. Both of those came at home and were each two-point wins. In other words, while this is a tough spot for a Detroit team that isn't exactly peaking, there is nothing in Seattle's 2016 body of work that suggests conclusively beating good teams is something in their wheelhouse. I'm taking the points.
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