NFC wildcard playoff: Seahawks in a walk? Don’t forget Week 4 | Nick Patterson

When the Seattle Seahawks drew the Detroit Lions in the first round of the playoffs, one interpretation was that the Seahawks won the lottery.

The Lions played the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 1 in the final game of the NFL’s regular season. The winner claimed the NFC North title and the No. 4 seed to the playoffs. The loser settled for the No. 6 seed and a date at CenturyLink Field to face the No. 3 Seahawks in the wild-card round. The Packers prevailed 31-24, and the Lions booked their flight to Seattle.

Meanwhile, sighs of relief could be heard throughout the Puget Sound region from Seahawks fans, considering the Lions:

  • Finished 9-7, which was tied for the worst record among the 12 NFL teams to qualify for the playoffs.
  • Lost their final three games heading into the postseason.
  • Were the only NFC team to have a negative point differential during the regular season.
  • Have a quarterback in Matthew Stafford who is dealing with an injured finger on his throwing hand.
  • Haven’t won a playoff game in 25 years, losing eight straight in the postseason.

Add in that the Seahawks avoided Green Bay, which thrashed Seattle 38-10 just four weeks ago, and it’s understandable if Seattle supporters headed out to their local convenience stores upon the completion of the Detroit-Green Bay game to purchase some Powerball tickets.

However, it would be wise not to sleep on the Lions. One need only look back to last season to understand why.

Flash back to Week 4 of the 2015 season. The Seahawks thought their season was back on track. Seattle, after losing its first two games, was coming off a convincing victory over the Chicago Bears. Next up was a game against the Lions that looked like a gimme. Detroit came into the game winless, and the contest took place in circumstances in which the Seahawks are virtually invulnerable: a night game at CenturyLink Field. The Lions would be little more than a footnote as Seattle got its push toward a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance further back on track.

But rather than Seattle brushing the Lions casually aside, what ensued was one of the great escapes in Seahawks history.

The game was uncomfortable throughout for Seattle. Quarterback Russell Wilson spent the game running for his life as he was sacked six times. The Seahawks didn’t get anything from their running game. The Lions, who were supposed to be cannon fodder, fought tooth and nail.

And just when it seemed Seattle was going to win anyway, Detroit found itself on the doorstep of an upset. Seattle needed a desperation play from strong safety Kam Chancellor, who punched the ball out of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson’s arm just before Johnson crossed the goal line in the final two minutes, to hang on and win 13-10.

Even then the Seahawks needed some help, as the officials blew a call by calling a touchback after Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright ushered the ball out of the back of the end zone, rather than penalize Wright for illegal batting and giving the Lions the ball at the 1-yard line.

“What do I remember most from that game?” Wright said with a wry smile on his face, drawing laughter from the assembled media earlier this week. “I don’t know. It was a fun game, of course. It’s going to be one of those games where it goes back and forth possibly, and if the ball does get fumbled I’ll just make sure I grab it and not bat it out.”

The Seahawks will have to remember not to take the Lions for granted, either. If Seattle pulled off a great escape against Detroit last season, it’s the Lions who have been Harry Houdini this season. Detroit trailed in the fourth quarter of 15 of their 16 games, yet rallied to win eight of those. Six times the Lions scored either the tying or winning points with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.

“They way they believe, you can see the energy change when they make a big play, whether it’s on defense, special teams or offense,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Something typically happens where they feed off that energy. Whether it’s Stafford throwing a touchdown or somebody getting a pick or forced fumble, they feed off that energy. Once you get that momentum, it’s kind of hard to stop.”

Yes, all the arrows point toward a Seahawks victory over the Lions on Saturday. Seattle has been installed as an eight-point favorite, a margin greater than any playoff contest last season. Prior to this week the last time a team was favored by that much in a playoff game was in the 2014, when the Seahawks were made 8.5-point favorites over Green Bay in the NFC championship game. But we all know how close that one turned out to be.

So wait until after the game before trying to redeem those scratch tickets. The Seahawks haven’t hit the jackpot just yet.

— Nick Patterson is a sports writer for the (Everett) Daily Herald. Read his blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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