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NFC Wild Card primer: Lions vs. Seahawks on Saturday

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The Backstory


It's Detroit against the world.

Having not won a playoff game since 1991, the Lions are aiming to correct that ill after dropping their final three tilts of the season to the Giants, Cowboys and Packers. That ugly feat made the Lions the first team since 1970 to enter the postseason after dropping three straight to playoff teams within their own conference.

The loss to Green Bay was especially rugged, coming at home before of a frothing Lions crowd hoping to see their star-crossed club win its first division title since 1993. Instead, Detroit is being asked to hit the road and win a January tussle with the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, perhaps the grittiest venue league-wide.

Unless you've been hidden away in a secret government bunker, you know how Detroit got here: Despite trailing in the fourth quarter during a league-leading 15 of 16 games, the Lions leaned on quarterback/magician Matthew Stafford to deliver eight fourth-quarter comebacks, the most by any passer in a single season since 1950.

Authoring an upset would require Stafford and friends to outmaneuver Seattle's third-ranked scoring defense. The 'Hawks haven't been the same without All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, but this remains a top-10 defense that knows how to make life hell for opposing quarterbacks.

Concerns about Seattle's offense linger -- especially a once-mighty ground attack that has been held below 100 yards in 10 games. But coach Pete Carroll's charges have earned our trust in January, and certainly at home against a Lions team that has redefined "backing into the playoffs."

Under Pressure


Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: Ask any visiting signal-caller about playing in Seattle. It's a rough-and-tumble assignment, especially for a passer who remains winless in the playoffs (0-2) and holds a 5-45 record against teams finishing the season with a winning record. By comparison, Cowboys rookie Dak Prescott already has six victories against winning clubs. That said, Stafford has thrived under creative play-caller Jim Bob Cooter, replacing past mechanical flaws and moments of high frustration with his finest season to date in terms of pure game film. Stafford deserves credit for authoring clutch wins inside an offense that hasn't seen a running back plow for 100 yards in a game since 2013. The Lions desperately need pass-catchers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones to deliver as a tandem alongside the ageless Anquan Boldin and emerging tight end Eric Ebron.

Seahawks running backs: After ranking as the NFL's most dangerous ground game from 2012 through 2015, Seattle ranked 25th in 2016. A whopping 18 different players had a rushing attempt for the 'Hawks in 2016, the most by any team since the 1987 strike year. With C.J. Prosise (shoulder) unlikely to play, Thomas Rawls should see plenty of action. Alex Collins also came in and played well against the Niners last week, but the Seahawks lack a reliable workhorse to take advantage of a Lions defense that has allowed 158.5 yards per game over their last two tilts.

Matchup to Watch


Russell Wilson vs. Detroit's defense: Prior to back-to-back whipping by the Cowboys and Packers, the Lions had held opponents to 20 or fewer points in eight straight games -- a figure that certainly helped Stafford command a handful of his brilliant fourth-quarter comebacks. Wilson's Seahawks, meanwhile, have been a mixed bag on offense, but one that could benefit from a Detroit club that has allowed opponents to complete 72.7 percent of their passes this season, the worst finish by an NFL squad since the 1970 merger. Wilson has been badgered all season behind a ramshackle Seahawks line, but the Lions, on paper, don't match up well with just six sacks over their past seven games and 20 all season, second lowest league-wide.

Prediction


It's easy to dismiss the Lions, but this team has the makings of a roster that could do damage in 2017 and beyond. Stafford's season has been incredibly promising, while gaining playoff experience on the road is invaluable. Had they beaten the Packers to set up a home playoff tilt, Detroit would have been a sneaky choice to make waves in the wild-card round. I can't go there, though, with this game taking place in Seattle. Wilson threw some beautiful long strikes to Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and tight end Jimmy Graham in Week 17. If the running game remains stagnant, I still trust Seattle's passing game to do enough to put this contest out of reach by the fourth quarter. No magic for Matthew this time around.

Seattle Seahawks 30, Detroit Lions 20

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