While a rocky December did not leave the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions appearing to be playoff-ready, history provides an indication as to how their Saturday night NFC wild-card game might go at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks have never lost a playoff game there, the Lions have never won any game there, and Detroit has not won a playoff game anywhere in its past eight tries.
“Obviously, there’s a great opportunity in front of us being in the playoffs, one of 12 teams getting that opportunity this year, and (we’ve) got to take advantage of it,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said in a conference call this week.
Whether or not the Lions can debunk recent trends and come away with the upset might come down to how good Stafford can throw the ball. A legitimate MVP candidate for much of the season, Stafford has been hampered by an injured finger on his throwing hand. The injury is one reason Detroit stumbled down the stretch to lose its final three regular-season games.
“It wasn’t a huge challenge,” Stafford said of wearing a glove to protect the finger in Green Bay last week. “I had a bunch of gloves to choose from and obviously figured out one that works for me, and I’ve been using that one pretty much since.”
There are also plenty of issues with the Seahawks, despite their eight-game postseason home winning streak that dates back to January 2005, when they lost to the St. Louis Rams in a temporary home at the University of Washington’s football stadium. A 2-2 record since Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas went down has been disconcerting, and some sideline squabbles only added fodder to the idea that Seattle is a team in turmoil.
“Everything that’s already happened doesn’t matter at all,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose team suffered its only home loss of the season the last time it played at CenturyLink Field.
Despite the late-season fade, which is rare for the Seahawks during the Carroll era, Seattle has a lot on its side. The Seahawks’ six playoff wins since 2013 are the most in the NFL, and Seattle owns a 48-13 home record (including playoffs) since Carroll arrived in 2010.
Despite all the turmoil that weighed down the Seahawks over the final four games of the regular season, there is genuine optimism in that this franchise knows how to win in the postseason.
“The playoffs are something we’re used to around here now,” defensive end Michael Bennett told reporters this week, “and getting back to the Super Bowl is something we have to get back to.”
When asked what he likes most about this Seahawks team, Carroll said, “Mainly that we’re comfortable with this opportunity (to play in the postseason).”
On Tuesday night, the Seahawks added kick return specialist Devin Hester to help their playoff run. The 11-year veteran replaces Tyler Lockett, who broke his leg in a game against the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 24.
The 34-year-old Hester has an NFL-record 20 returns for touchdowns, including a record 14 on punts, five on kickoffs and one on a missed field goal attempt return.
The Lions, who lost their final three games to finish 9-7 and finish behind Green Bay in the NFC North standings, don’t have nearly the playoff experience — or success — upon which to fall back. Detroit made only two playoff appearances since 1999 and has not won a postseason game since 1991 — when Stafford was not yet 3 years old.
The team’s recent history was not pretty, either, as the three-game losing streak left the Lions searching for answers heading into the playoffs.
Detroit probably won’t blink if the Seahawks ride the wave of the home crowd to an early lead. The Lions trailed in the fourth quarter of every game during the regular season, and they overcame nine fourth-quarter deficits while streaking out to a 9-4 record before falling back to earth in December and early January.
“Our guys did a real nice job battling through some ups and downs,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who went to the Super Bowl in his first season as a head coach with the Colts in 2009 but hasn’t won a playoff game since then. “I think we’ve grown.”
Both teams, despite their late-season fades, are happy to still be playing.
“If you’re not enjoying this, you’re missing it,” Carroll said. “This is great stuff, every part of it, every phase of it. … . It’s all fun, and it’s really what we work for.”