There might be no better illustration of the perceived mediocrity -- or "parity," if you wish -- of this year's NFL playoffs that the appearance of the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks in their respective slots. The Lions didn't beat a single team with a winning record and, in their lone "big game" against the Green Bay Packers, they fell on their face with a chance to win their first NFC North title ever on national television against a hated division rival.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks won the NFC West despite having the worst offensive line in the NFL and never quite figuring out what kind of team it has on that side of the ball. (It helped that they were the only team in the NFC West with a winning record.) Neither of one these squads feels like a Super Bowl contender, even though the Seahawks have the pedigree to convince you otherwise. But one of them is going to be one of the final eight. And once you get there, strange things tend to happen.
No. 6 Detroit Lions (9-7) at No. 4 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
When: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wa.
Most recent meeting: Oct. 5, 2015: Seahawks 13, Lions 10. The Lions had a chance to win this but an officiating error cost them possession late in the game.
Simple Rating System numbers: Seattle -1.7, Detroit -0.6
Current line: Seahawks by 8.
Ranking among four first-round matchups: Second. A night game in Seattle is always a show, though this still feels like a game that, during the regular season, NBC would flex out.
How the Seahawks can win
1. Unleash the 12th Man. The Seahawks haven't lost a home playoff game in the Pete Carroll era, and the Lions hardly feel like the type of team that's going to break that streak. Particularly with a full day to get themselves properly lubricated -- and the real possibility that this is the last home game the Seahawks will get this year -- the crowd at CenturyLink should be ablaze.
2. Don't try to establish the run game just yet. The struggles of the Seahawks' offensive line have been well-documented, but the Lions have all sorts of secondary problems, even if there was some improvement against Green Bay. The main issue for Detroit is a lack of pressure up front, so if the line can at least give Russell Wilson an average amount of time to throw, there should be all sorts of possibilities.
3. Pressure Matthew Stafford. Stafford has been an improved quarterback this year largely because he hasn't had Calvin Johnson to rely on: He's had to become better at reading defenses and checking off his options without Megatron to bail him out. That's all well and good, but even without Earl Thomas, this is a solid Seahawks secondary, and Stafford's finger injury has him more inaccurate than any other time this year. Make him make decisions quickly, with a bum finger, and there will be plenty of chances for game-changing plays.
How the Lions can win
1. Magically fix Stafford's finger. We may never know how the Lions might have done in the second half of the season had Stafford's injury not happened, but it doesn't matter: He's still hurt. The Seahawks might have some vulnerability to the deep ball in this game without Thomas, but not if Stafford can't make the throw. He needs to make the throw: They don't have a chance without the possibility of the home run.
2. BLIIIIIIIITZ. No joke about the Seahawks' offensive line: It legitimately might be the worst in the game and is definitely the worst in the playoffs. The reason Seattle never quite gotten its act together this year is that offensive line, and it has made the whole team feel out of sync: The running game can't get going, Wilson can't get comfortable, receivers don't have time to get open. At its worst, the line can make the Seahawks look downright dysfunctional. This is a rare opportunity: You don't typically come across lines this bad in the playoffs.
3. Pretend that history doesn't exist. Seriously, check out the Lions' records:
In playoff road games: 0-10.
In Wild Card games: 0-8.
In games played outdoors in 2016: 0-3.
In games played at night in 2016: 0-2. (Hat tip)
Maybe the Lions can buck this. They basically just need to forget they are the Lions.
It's strange to feel so confident in the Seahawks, who are missing Thomas and have that awful offensive line. But the Lions' main advantage is Stafford, who is hurt, and everything seems to be lining up against them. There's still some upset potential here: The 2016 Seahawks always carry with them the chance of total collapse. But they drew the right team in the first round.
Seahawks 23, Lions 14.