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NFC playoff preview: The Seahawks are in a slump, too

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The Lions aren’t playing well, but they may be catching the Seahawks at the right time.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Not many people are giving the Detroit Lions a fighting chance to beat the Seattle Seahawks this weekend. Seattle is currently an eight-point favorite over Detroit. Heck, the Lions only have a one percent chance to make the Super Bowl, apparently.

But this matchup isn’t quite as bad as you may be expecting. This isn’t the Seahawks team of the past. In fact, they only won one more game than the Lions all season. The Lions may be slumping, but so are the Seahawks. Let’s take a closer look at this week’s opponent.

Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)

Schedule so far:

Week 1 - vs. Dolphins - Won, 12-10

Week 2 - at Rams - Lost, 3-9

Week 3 - vs. 49ers - Won, 37-18

Week 4 - at Jets - Won, 27-17

Week 6 - vs. Falcons - Won, 26-24

Week 7 - at Cardinals - Tied, 6-6

Week 8 - at Saints - Lost, 20-25

Week 9 - vs. Bills - Won, 31-25

Week 10 - at Patriots - Won, 31-24

Week 11 - vs. Eagles - Won, 26-15

Week 12 - at Buccaneers - Lost, 5-14

Week 13 - vs. Panthers - Won, 40-7

Week 14 - at Packers - Lost, 10-38

Week 15 - vs. Rams - Won, 24-3

Week 16 - vs. Cardinals - Lost, 31-34

Week 17 - at 49ers - Won, 25-23

Reasons the Lions should be optimistic:

The main reason teams have feared the Seattle Seahawks over the past decade or so has been their running game and their overall defense. Right now, the Seahawks are struggling to do both.

On defense, the loss of Earl Thomas has been devastating to the Seahawks defense. Cian Fahey of Football Outsiders has an excellent film breakdown of what’s going wrong without Thomas in the lineup. Here’s a snippet:

Thomas' absence is felt on a macro scale rather than a micro scale. Over the first 11 weeks of the season, when Thomas was healthy, the Seahawks had a pass defense DVOA of -6.8%. That ranked fifth over that time. Since Thomas was first injured, the Seahawks pass defense has a DVOA of 25.8%, 26th in the league over that time. That drop in pass defense resulted in a dropoff from third to 17th for the unit as a whole.

But maybe advanced metrics aren’t your thing. Here’s a breakdown of Seattle’s defense with and without Earl Thomas:

Opposing quarterbacks from game 1-12:
61.1 completion percentage, 7.0 YPA, 11 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 79.9 passer rating

Opposing quarterbacks from game 13-16
65.1 completion percentage, 8.6 YPA, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 107.9 passer rating

Keep in mind, that over the past four weeks, the Seahawks’ opponents have been the Packers, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers; hardly your murderer’s row of pass offenses.

As for their running game, injuries and poor offensive line play has turned this unit into a below average attack. The Seahawks are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry as a team, and their starting running back this week, Thomas Rawls, is only picking up 3.2 yards a clip.

To put that all in perspective, Football Outsiders ranks the Seahawks’ running attack as 23rd in DVOA. The much maligned Detroit Lions running game is 25th.

While the Lions are 0-3 in their past three games, they lost all three to really good opponents. The Seahawks are only 3-3 in their past six, and their schedule has been much, much kinder to them down the stretch. Their wins came against three teams not in the playoffs, and two of their three losses were against teams that failed to make the postseason. They aren’t playing all that well.

Reasons the Lions should be pessimistic:

Seattle is tough to beat at home. They have won seven straight there this season and haven’t lost a home playoff game since the 2004 season (9-0 since).

Although the Seahawks aren’t playing their best right now, they have some impressive wins on their resume this year, including a road victory over the Patriots and close win over the Falcons and the complete destruction of the Carolina Panthers. When the Seahawks are playing at their best, they can compete for a title. And when do the Seahawks play at their best? At home, in the playoffs.

Additionally, Russell Wilson is still playing pretty well, despite nagging leg injuries. He ranks seventh in yards per attempt (7.7), 13th in completion percentage (64.7) and 14th in passer rating (92.6). He’ll be going against a pass defense that ranks the worst in completion percentage and passer rating, and the bottom ten in yards per attempt. That’s a bad matchup for Detroit.

Oh, and that pass rush of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark? Still terrifying.

Overall:

This Seattle team is not like the teams the Lions have faced in the past three weeks. At this point in the season, they aren’t playing at an elite level in any facets of the game. The Lions offense should have a chance to put up some points, unlike last year’s trip to CenturyLink. Seattle’s offense isn’t multi-dimensional like it typically has been, and the offensive line is a clear weakness.

The Lions certainly have a real opportunity here to pull off an upset here, but it’ll take a heroic performance in a tough environment to pull it off.