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Lions vs. Seahawks preview, prediction: On Paper

A statistical breakdown of how the Detroit Lions match up against the Seattle Seahawks. Plus a prediction for Week 17.

Wild Card Round - Detroit Lions v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks are not good. They may not be as bad as their 5-10 record suggests, but this wasn’t a Super Bowl contender that was derailed by injury or a team that just has an unlucky record in close games. Okay, there is a little truth to both of those. Russell Wilson’s injury certainly didn’t help, and the Seahawks are 2-5 in one-score games. But Seattle was just 2-2 when Wilson went down, and this team has some fundamental flaws that we’ll get into in a second here.

Point being, this shouldn’t be a team that strikes fear in their opponents, but that doesn’t mean the Detroit Lions are in for an easy win in Seattle.

Let’s take a closer look at this matchup with our On Paper Week 17 preview.

Lions pass offense (29th) vs. Seahawks pass defense (28th)

*Tim Boyle starts

It’s clear to see the Lions’ improvement in the passing game, starting with the Thanksgiving game against the Chicago Bears. During that stretch, the Lions have outperformed defense’s passer rating average in three of five games. It’s a modest improvement, but it’s clear as day when you’re watching.

Of course, the caveat here is that backup quarterback Tim Boyle limits some of that improvement, as we saw last week. The offense wasn’t completely ineffective, but when it came to the red zone, it was rough. And to further complicate things, Detroit could be out another three starters on offense: wide receivers Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, as well as right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, all of whom are on reserve/COVID-19. That’s not even mentioning the crater at tight end.

But like the Falcons last week, this is not a good pass defense. Only one team all year was significantly held below their passer rating average—the Packers a couple months ago.

Seattle hasn’t held a single pass offense under 200 yards. For reference, the Lions have done that four times this year. All but three teams managed a passer rating of 90 or above this Seahawks defense.

Part of the problem is Seattle’s lack of pressure. they rank 27th in pressure percentage, 29th in PFF’s pass rush grade, and 21st in ESPN’s pass rush win rate.

They also have issues at cornerback. Injuries and COVID have left them shorthanded at the position. It does look like they’ll have D.J. Reed back, which is big for them, but on the other side, Sidney Jones has had an up-and-down season.

Overall, the Seahawks rank 23rd in yards per attempt allowed (7.3), 23rd in passer rating (95.2), and 25th in completion percentage (67.5).

Player to watch: Quandre Diggs. The former Lions' safety is now a two-time Pro Bowler in Seattle, with 13 interceptions in 2.5 seasons with the Seahawks. He had six in 4.5 years in Detroit. Sigh.

Advantage: Draw if it’s Boyle, +1 Lions if it’s Jared Goff. This is just about as even as a matchup as you can find, but the Lions are trending upward while the Seahawks remain pretty bad. So if Goff is in the game, I’ll give Detroit a slight advantage. If not, it’s weakness vs. weakness.

Lions run offense (26th) vs. Seahawks run defense (9th)

The Lions' run offense isn’t quite as bad as the DVOA numbers suggest, but there is still very much room for improvement. They aren’t very good in short-yardage situations (66% conversion rate, 20th in NFL), and they get stopped for zero or negative yardage far too often (18 percent “stuffed” rank, 24th in NFL).

That said, they’re still a very efficient team on the ground. Their 4.5 yards per carry ranks ninth in the NFL, and that’s mostly without the benefit of big plays.

This week, they get back D’Andre Swift, who was coming off back-to-back 130-yard performances before suffering a shoulder injury on Thanksgiving against the Bears. If you look back at that chart, those two games—vs. the Steelers and Browns—were Detroit’s two best performances of the year. Can Swift bring that back or has the identity of the offense changed too much in the past month?

Unfortunately for Swift, he’s coming back just in time to face one of the hottest run defenses in the league. Seattle hasn’t allowed a rushing offense to significantly outgain their yards per carry average since Week 4. They’ve allowed just three teams in the past nine games to reach 100 yards, and only two have averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry.

Overall, they’re allowing a league-low 3.7 yards per carry, and just 24 percent of rushes against this defense earn first downs (11th best). And those short-yardage woes the Lions are having? Don’t expect that to change this week. The Seahawks are fifth-best in the league at stopping short-yardage situations, allowing just a 58 percent conversion rate.

Player to watch: Al Woods. The defensive tackle ranks fifth in PFF’s run defense grade among interior defenders. The Lions will likely be without their starting center (Frank Ragnow) and right guard (Vaitai).

Advantage: Seahawks +2. It’s hard to know what to expect out of Swift’s return, considering Detroit’s offense has been much different—and more efficient—in the passing game. But even if he slides right back in without any problem, this is just a tough matchup for him this week.

Seahawks pass offense (12th) vs. Lions pass defense (26th)

*Russell Wilson + Geno Smith
** Geno Smith starts

The Seahawks managed to keep their head above water when Wilson went down with his finger injury, but it’s been his return to play that has clearly had a negative impact on the Seahawks' passing game. It’s clear he’s not 100 percent and may have actually returned a bit too early.

Still, Wilson is capable of doing some amazing things, and the raw statistics show that. Seattle still ranks ninth in yards per pass attempt (7.6) and seventh in passer rating (100.2).

Where they are the most vulnerable in pass protection. Whether you blame Wilson for his scrambling or the offensive line, the Seahawks have allowed 44 sacks on the year (fifth-most) and a pressure rate of 27.2 percent (fourth highest).

And, yeah, they’ve got a couple of ballers at wide receiver in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

Injuries have been the story of the Lions' pass defense. Their best edge defenders—Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara—combined for just 11 total games played. At cornerback, Jeff Okudah played one game before being lost for the season. Ifeatu Melifonwu missed 10 games after suffering an injury in Week 2. Jerry Jacobs was lost for the season two weeks ago, and Amani Oruwariye was lost for the season the week after that.

Now the Lions have a converted safety at outside corner and Melifonwu, who is poised to make his third career start as a rookie. It’s not great.

Player to watch: TE Gerald Everett. As pointed out by our First Byte guest, Everett has been on a bit of a tear lately. posting 128 yards and a touchdown in the past two games. Detroit struggled to find an answer for Kyle Pitts last week, and while Everett isn’t as talented, Metcalf and Lockett may draw so much attention that it’ll leave Everett open.

Advantage: Seahawks +2. Wilson may not be what he was earlier in the season, but he’s getting better and he has just way too many weapons for the Lions’ beat-up defense to handle. If Aaron Glenn can pull out a good performance this week, he’s a magician.

Seahawks run offense (7th) vs. Lions run defense (28th)

After a midseason lull, the Seahawks rushing attack has come alive again, thanks to *checks notes* ... Rashaad Penny? The former first-round pick has seen his career revived over the past three weeks, rushing for 311 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an eye-popping 7.1 yards per carry.

As a team, Seattle is averaging 4.7 yards per carry (fifth), but they do struggle in short-yardage situations, converting just 60 percent of the time (25th).

Last week’s roll of the Lions' run defense dice landed in their favor, but they still remain a terribly unpredictable unit. It has been better as of late, but with Michael Brockers currently on reserve/COVID-19, it may be up to the Lions’ young players to keep this unit afloat this week.

Detroit, overall, does rank ninth in yards per carry allowed (4.2), but they’ve allowed 16 rushing touchdowns (t-23rd) and are ceding first downs on 25.3 percent of carries (23rd).

Player to watch: Jalen Reeves-Maybin. The Lions coaching staff clearly loves Reeves-Maybin, and as he’s taken over a huge role over the past two weeks, he’s thrived as a run defender. Last week—playing 100 percent of the snaps Detroit’s MIKE linebacker, he posted an 83.9 PFF run defense grade.

Advantage: Seahawks +1.5. Both teams are trending in the right direction, but Seattle has been far more consistent than Detroit.

Last week’s prediction:

Even though I picked the Lions last week, I don’t think anything about my prediction was wrong, honestly. I only gave the Lions a +0.5 advantage if Boyle was going to play, so it makes sense that the game was as close as it was. In fact, if Boyle had thrown a game-winning touchdown from the 9-yard line instead of the game-losing interception, the final score would’ve been 23-20 Lions, and I predicted 24-20 Lions. I’m gonna take that as a win.

In the comment section, we had a ton of great guesses. “Sit Up Straight Rothstein” appropriately nearly nailed the Rothstein Bowl with their 19-17 Falcons prediction. However, it was METH CHEF JEFF who came home with the victories for an unheard-of TWO-PEAT of On Paper Champions with a 20-17 prediction. Congrats on your two-Pete:

This week’s prediction:

The Seahawks come out with a 4.5 or 5.5 advantage depending on whether Goff plays this week or not. This is why I said earlier in the week the Seahawks aren’t a good team, but they match up poorly with the Lions. Offensively, they have weapons that exploit Detroit’s weaknesses. Defensively, they can stop the run, which could destroy Detroit’s offensive momentum, especially if Boyle is at quarterback.

Seattle is a tough place to play as is, and it’s hard to see Detroit outdueling this Seahawks team this week, despite their improved play as of late. Seahawks 27, Lions 13.