I’m not sure Jim Caldwell, head coach of the Detroit Lions, understands the full magnitude what he’s getting into on Saturday.
Diplomatic as always, Caldwell’s response, when asked about the challenge of playing at CenturyLink Field, was flattering, if not a bit eschewing of the dominance the Seahawks have portrayed.
“It’s always rowdy. It’s always a lot of noise. I remember a few years back there was a visiting team that went in with six false starts in the game, maybe it was more than that, but it was six at a minimum. Those kinds of things stick out in your mind, but it’s difficult to hear. It’s certainly a team that you have to prepare for in that regard. We’ve been in some noisy stadiums, but this is a little different deal. It’s loud and a lot of electricity. I know it’ll be an exciting time.”
For Jim’s sake, let’s offer some reality into just how good the Seahawks have been at home in the playoffs:
- Since 2005, they’re undefeated (9-0).
- They’ve won those games by an average of 8.2 points, giving up just 18 points per game.
- Since Russell Wilson arrived, they’re 4-0, and are averaging over 26 points per game.
When Seattle (10-5-1) hosts the Lions (9-7) on Saturday night (5:15 PT, NBC), it may be as simple as that: The Seahawks, for as much as they have bumbled the last part of their season, still get the Lions at home; right where they want them – and, realistically, where they need them.
For as much as Seattle has skidded into the postseason, the Lions are that much worse. Losers of their past three, Detroit not only squandered an opportunity to enter their third playoff appearance since 1999 in style, they blew their NFC North crown in the process.
For his part, quarterback Matthew Stafford is taking it all in stride.
“It’s a total restart. You see teams that lose three of four or lose four or five and go win the Super Bowl,” he said. “You see teams get hot at the end of the season and go win it. Can’t really tell, it’s all matchups and a new season pretty much.”
Detroit has had one of the most inexplicable years on record: They’ve trailed in the fourth quarter in 15 of their 16 games; their first eight wins were late, come-from-behind.
But a fourth quarter rally is unlikely on the road against this experienced, if not a bit dinged-up, Seahawks squad. Seattle enters their fifth-straight postseason appearance confident, even if their play as of late (3-3 in the final six games) suggests otherwise.
“The voices that are really the strongest in the locker room are sending a message and helping guys understand how we’re going to get through it and how we approach it,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s just the leadership that comes from within that really helps us the most.”
Leadership will get you so far; play on the field will dictate the rest. And there is one matchup above all that could determine the outcome: Seattle’s suddenly sunken secondary against the right arm of Stafford.
With Earl Thomas roaming the outfield, Seattle’s defense was in-line with their past successes, holding QBs to a passer rating of 77.8; since Thomas went down for the season, that number has ballooned to 99.5.
Stafford finished the season with a rating of 93.3; when he gets rolling, however, there are few better. In a five-week stretch earlier in the season, Stafford's rating was 109, despite a horrendous outing at Chicago thrown in there.
If Seattle can keep Stafford in check – while moving the ball enough to keep their defense off the field – a combination of home-field advantage, experience, and a ferocious run defense (Seattle’s cornerbacks have 33 tackles against the run, most in the league) should be enough to advance to the second round for the fifth-straight year.
Seattle 24, Detroit 21