The Seattle Seahawks will host the Detroit Lions in the wildcard round of the National Football League playoffs. The two organizations boast talented rosters with stars at important positions. Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, Jimmy Graham, Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, and Darius Slay are just a few of the top players that will share the field Saturday evening. But who has the edge for each position group?
Breakdown: Likely the most difficult comparison, as Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson have had nearly identical seasons in the passing game. Both quarterbacks have also sustained injuries that have obviously hampered their respective play. Wilson’s have played out over the course of the entire season and appear to have impacted his throwing mechanics, while Stafford’s key injury occurred just weeks ago. While Wilson is defensibly the better franchise quarterback, Stafford has had a better season. Stafford threw for more yards and touchdowns than Wilson while throwing for fewer interceptions. Wilson did throw for more yards per attempt than Stafford, but his passer rating was still slightly lower. Perhaps the most convincing evidence for Stafford is that his QBR was roughly 10 points higher than Wilson’s this season.
Advantage: Lions. Matthew Stafford has been more consistent this season and therefore carries the banner.
Breakdown: Neither unit has had a standout season. The Seahawks and the Lions rank 25th and 30th in season rushing yardage, respectively. Both teams managed less than 4 yards per carry and appear to lack a feature back. Neither the Lions nor the Seahawks have a rusher over 500 yards this season. The production simply has not been there and it has been more of a shock to the Seahawks who have been so accustomed to having Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Among running backs with 30 carries or more, the Lions have zero running backs with 4 or more yards per carry. Meanwhile, Seattle has had three running backs this season with 4 or more yards per carry (only two remain on the roster and just one remains active; Alex Collins).
Advantage: Seahawks. Seattle has a clear advantage in the backfield as the running game has improved significantly since the midseason point and Alex Collins has shown explosiveness running behind a youthful line.
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Breakdown: Doug Baldwin is a phenomenal receiver. The departure of current Lions receiver Golden Tate III from CenturyLink Field in 2014 left a large void in the Seahawks passing game, and Baldwin seized the opportunity to become one of the best receivers in the NFL. Baldwin’s 94 receptions/1,128 yards/7 touchdowns outdo Tate’s 91 catches/1,077 yards/4 touchdowns. But while Baldwin will be the best receiver to take the field on Saturday, the absence of Tyler Lockett leaves the Seahawks shallow at the position. Jermaine Kearse’s poor performance this season and Paul Richardson’s failure to break out leave Baldwin as the only argument for Seattle’s wide receivers. Meanwhile, the lions have a fairly deep wide receiver unit. Marvin Jones had a few prolific performances this season while Anquan Boldin proved to be his constant and reliable self. This gives Stafford a wealth of receivers that he can trust in the game’s biggest moments.
Advantage: Lions. The Lions’ three core receivers are proven and a threat to a weakened Seattle secondary. A Seattle receiving corps without Lockett cannot say the same, though Baldwin will likely play a key role in the game.
Breakdown: Would you rather have Jimmy Graham or Eric Ebron catching passes for your favorite team? If you answered with the latter, you are flatly wrong. Jimmy Graham had splits of 65/923/6 while Ebron’s splits were 61/711/1. Graham’s superstar reputation is not unwarranted. Meanwhile, Ebron is still trying to justify his draft pick. In terms of the run game, Graham and Ebron are both below average blockers but Graham’s athleticism allows him to create creases at the second and third level at times.
Advantage: Seahawks. Just having Jimmy Graham on the roster gives Seattle a clear advantage. He is Seattle’s second best pass catcher this season.
Breakdown: Both Seattle and Detroit were lambasted for having subpar offensive lines this season. Seattle allowed 40 sacks on the season and gained under 100 rushing yards per game. For the Lions, Stafford was sacked 37 times and the offensive line led a rushing attack that earned just 81.9 yards per game. Both squads showcase young offensive lines, but Detroit’s has more experience. Offensive line play will not be the highlight of Saturday night’s performance with two young units on the field.
Advantage: Lions. Riley Reiff and Larry Warford are both talented linemen that anchor the right side of Detroit’s offensive line.
Breakdown: Seattle had one of the league’s best pass rushes this season. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark led a 42 sack effort from the Seahawks defense this season. Inside, Jarran Reed and company are stout run stoppers. For the Lions, Ezekiel Ansah and company combined for just 26 sacks. Kerry Harder led the unit with 8 sacks on the season. Meanwhile, The Seahawks had two players on their defensive line with more than 10 sacks.
Advantage: Seahawks. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark are all the explanation that is needed to make such a claim.
Breakdown: The Seahawks have two of the league’s best linebackers in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. The Lion’s defense is centered around Tahir Whitehead. Bobby Wagner is having a career year with 167 tackles and 4 sacks making a legitimate push for Defensive Player of the Year. The Lion’s linebacker unit would be more comparable, but Deandre Levy’s injury riddled season has been problematic.
Advantage: Seahawks. They have one of the best linebacker units in the league and are a clear favorite in this contest.
Breakdown: The Legion of Boom may not be what it once was, but Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are still formidable playmakers in the Seahawks’ secondary. The pass defense was proficient in limiting explosive pass plays, which contributed greatly to Seattle’s low scoring defense. Losing Earl Thomas does leave the secondary vulnerable however, and Seattle is without strong cornerback depth. For the Lions, Darius Slay headlines a Lions secondary that boasts some talent. Still, they allowed more yards per pass attempt than the Seahawks and intercepted fewer passes on the season.
Advantage: Seahawks. Sherman and Chancellor hold up the Legion of Boom name heading into the playoffs and are cause for concern for Stafford.
Breakdown: Many coaches highlight that special teams are 1/3 of the football game, but it does not stop that facet of the game from being overlooked. The Seahawks and Lions are nearly identical in their kicking and punting games. Steven Hauschka and Matt Prater are both solid options at kicker. Likewise, Jon Ryan and Sam Martin are both very good punters. Seattle does have a disadvantage in that they were forced to sign a new long snapper this week. It could lead to errant snaps on Saturday. In the return game this year, Lockett’s injury riddled season left Seattle lacking and ultimately influenced them to sign Devin Hester. Hester is one of the best return men of all time, but his age has showed with his previous stints this season. Seattle is hoping they can milk the last bit of explosiveness out of him for this year’s playoffs. Meanwhile, the Lions were able to find an explosive return game. Andre Roberts returned two punts to the house for touchdowns on the season.
Advantage: Lions. Roberts’s explosiveness as a punt returner gives the Lions the edge in the special teams game and Seattle’s new long snapper Tyler Ott makes field goals and punts terrifyingly unpredictable.
Breakdown: Pete Carroll is an elite NFL head coach, plain and simple. Jim Caldwell still needs to prove himself as a head coach. Until he does so, it would be a nearly impossible argument to say that Caldwell is better than Carroll who has Seattle set up as perennial super bowl contenders. This does not mean that Carroll is infallible. He has been outcoached and it could happen Saturday, but it would certainly be a surprise.
Advantage: Seahawks. As long as Pete Carroll is the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, they will rarely be outcoached.