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Wild Card Weekend Playoff Preview: Detroit Lions vs. Seattle Seahawks Betting Advice

By Paul Wilson in Sports
| January 7, 2017 12:00 am PDT
Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks

Who: Detroit Lions (9–7) vs. Seattle Seahawks (10–5–1)

Where: CenturyLink Field. Seattle, Washington

When: Saturday, January 7, 2017. 8:15 PM (EST)

When the 2016/17 playoff picture came into view after the conclusion of the Green Bay/Detroit game on New Year’s Day, the NFL had a decision to make about which games to televise in which TV slot for Wild Card Weekend. The Detroit Lions visiting Washington state to take on the Seattle Seahawks has earned the second-most prominent position in this first round of the playoffs, being placed in the prime-time slot on Saturday night with Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth, and the rest of the NBC crew.

We agree with this assessment, and think that this game holds great entertainment value. While neither of these teams have the right to call themselves one of the two teams entering the playoffs ‘hot’ (those two teams being the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants), there is nonetheless lots of potential for this to be an exciting matchup.

Unfortunately, however, the biggest reason for this isn’t because we expect this matchup to be an old-school, ground-and-pound, classy, traditional type of game that’s reminiscent of the great NFL franchises of old. Far from it.

In fact, we’re anticipating this game to feel more like a video game than a classy sporting event: perhaps a combination of Madden and Mortal Kombat. Let’s take a look at why we think this will be the case.

Both of these franchises currently feature fan bases that are incredibly invested in the team’s success. For Seattle, the Seahawks’ rough-and-tumble identity has anchored strongly on the participation of the 12th Man, who provides a good portion of Seattle’s vaunted home field advantage. After setting the expectations so high with two Super Bowl appearances over the last three seasons, there’s no doubt that Seattle’s home crowd will be keeping the team honest for Saturday night’s game.

For Detroit, it’s essentially the opposite story, with double the pressure. The Lions were expected to win the NFC North for the first time in 25 years, only to choke during the last two games of the season and limp into the playoffs as a Wild Card team fresh off of a two-game losing streak. The city of Detroit hasn’t enjoyed a Lions playoff victory since 1991, and so the expectations for the 8-year veteran Matthew Stafford to finally deliver one are astronomically high.

And here’s the reason that we think all of this pressure amounts to a Madden-like experience. With both of these teams placing huge amounts of pressure on themselves, and both of these teams featuring heavily injured running games, there’s a good chance that this game could feature a lot of passing offense. Throw in the fact that both of these teams have seen tensions run high in recent weeks and we might even see an altercation or two, Mortal Kombat style.

But even if these two teams may both find themselves in a state of desperation in this first playoff game, there is certainly the potential for one or the other to get seriously hot. If the Seahawks win this game, they will be the highest seed continuing on from the Wild Card round in the NFC, and thus would get the honor to play the Atlanta Falcons. If the Lions win, they would have the lowest seed continuing on from the Wild Card round and would thus be matched up against the Dallas Cowboys in the second round.

Either way, though, both teams will first have to make it past the Wild Card round, and regardless of the quality of the game or the style of play, there is definitely always the potential to find value in the gambling odds for the game. Below we’ll take a look at all of the different ways you can bet on this game, including moneyline odds, against the spread betting, the total score over/under, and any prop bets that could hold value.

Lions vs. Seahawks Betting

MoneyLine

  • Lions +290
  • Seahawks -380

When we pick moneyline odds, our overarching goal is to try and determine which team will retain the will to win throughout the entire game. We believe strongly that whichever team remains focused and fundamentally sound in all three phases for the full 60 minutes generally ends up winning the game.

In the playoffs, of course, the motivation provided by the “win or go home” mentality is of course equal for both teams. Every player on the field knows that if they lose the game, their season is over: they pack up their locker and head home for the offseason.

Home field advantage should certainly play a role in which team is able to maintain focus in this matchup. The Seattle Seahawks lost out on the opportunity to boast of a perfect 8–0 home record this season with a Christmas Eve loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but nonetheless sport one of the strongest home field advantages in all of football.

The 12th Man is real in Seattle, and makes CenturyLink Field one of the loudest and most hostile environments around. The Lions play in a dome, so they are used to a loud environment, but in their dome the stadium goes quiet whenever they are on offense: Communication challenges will certainly be a factor for the Detroit Lions in Seattle on Saturday night.

But while the home crowd certainly provides a consistent boost throughout the game, galvanizing the team to continue to play with heart throughout the game, it remains difficult to tell which of these two teams will be able to keep their foot down even into crunch time.

When you consider the playoff experience of the two teams, it certainly gives an edge to the Seahawks. The Lions have not won a playoff game in over 25 years, so there is obviously no one on the roster (excepting free agent acquisitions who made it with other teams) who has that experience. They’ve also not won the division during that stretch as well, meaning that no one on the team has ever made it past the first round of the playoffs.

Coach Jim Caldwell has a record of 2–3 in the postseason, but the fact of the matter is that you can’t coach postseason poise and the grit that it takes to win games in January. On the other side, of course, the Seahawks have this ability in spades, having made it to the Super Bowl two out of the last three years, pulling off several unbelievable comebacks in the process.

So when considering the ability of these two teams to maintain discipline and focus throughout the game, the advantage certainly goes to Seattle, based on postseason experience and coaching.

But speaking of comebacks, this season it was Matthew Stafford and the Lions who gained the reputation of pulling off comebacks in the fourth quarter, with a league-leading 8 games won after trailing in the fourth quarter. One would think that this would give an advantage to the Lions, if you believe that these eight comebacks signify the ability to hang tough in games and pull off important plays in clutch moments.

However, we do not believe that this is the story told by the Lions’ comebacks this season. If you take a closer look at the teams that the Lions faced this season, the most amazing part of their large number of fourth-quarter comebacks is the fact that they were trailing in these games in the first place, when it’s clear that if they were truly a good team they would have run away with those games.

Furthermore, after two straight games to end the season in which the Lions got badly beaten and did very little at all to mount a comeback (against the Cowboys in Week 16 and against the Packers in Week 17), even if the fourth-quarter comeback mentality was a part of the Lions’ identity at one point, it has long since faded from memory.

So in summary, we believe that while neither team has a very strong claim to run away with this game, we believe that the seeds of doubt has been firmly planted in the Lions’ players’ minds, and that they will be wavering late in the game in front of the hostile Seattle fans. On the other side, we believe that the Seahawks will be able to leverage their wealth of postseason experience to tighten up their inconsistent play and rein themselves in enough to put together a complete game.

Pick: Seahawks to win

Spread

  • Lions +8 (-115)
  • Seahawks -8 (-105)

Now that we have determined that the Seahawks should be able to maintain their focus throughout the game and ultimately come out of this game with a victory and a trip to Atlanta next week, we now turn our attention to whether or not we believe that Seattle will be able to win by more than 8 points, ending up ahead by more than one possession and covering the spread.

In order to make this decision, we generally base our assessment around the offenses involved, and in particular the play of the quarterbacks. We find that in order to cover (or spoil) a point spread, generally what is required is for a team’s quarterback to demonstrate both the leadership as well as the capability to lead his offense into high pressure scoring situations and come away with points.

For this matchup, to preview, we do not feel very confident in either of these quarterback’s abilities to pull this off, but this is only because of the quarterback himself in one of the two cases.

Specifically, in the case of Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson, we do in fact believe that he has all of the physical attributes, leadership abilities, experience, and football IQ necessary to go into this game and win in front of the home crowd by two scores or more.

However, it takes all 11 guys on offense to be able to pull this off, and the fact of the matter is that Seattle currently has some serious personnel issues on the offensive side of the ball.

One of their issues that they were forced to address in a desperate move this past week was at return man. While technically a special teams position, the punt and kick return specialists they had been using were offensive (and defensive) personnel, so it is nonetheless important to monitor those snap counts.

After regular return specialist Tyler Lockett suffered a particularly gruesome leg injury (breaking both his tibia and fibula) against the Cardinals on Christmas Eve, in the following game against the 49ers the Seahawks employed star cornerback Richard Sherman on all punt returns, yielding one 6-yard return and four fair catches, and rotated new running back J. D. McKissic and #3 wide receiver Paul Richardson for kickoff returns.

In order to address their need for a return specialist, the Seahawks picked up free agent Devon Hester, whose primary asset at this stage in his career is name recognition. While Hester was an absolute stud in his time on the Chicago Bears, (particularly his first two seasons in the league when he ran back 11 kicks and punts for touchdowns), the man is now 34 years’ old, and had a very unproductive season with the Baltimore Ravens before being released after only 12 games.

While Hester will certainly be a serviceable stop-gap for the Seahawks in the return game, the more important thing that his acquisition illustrates about the Seattle Seahawks is how desperate they are from an offensive personnel standpoint.

After waiving leading rusher Christine Michael and then subsequently losing star rookie running back C. J. Prosise to a fractured scapula, the Seahawks were in a tenuous situation at running back. Ongoing injuries to second-year veteran Thomas Rawls (who was just removed from the injury report this week) forced them to pick up the aforementioned J. D. McKissic off of waivers, who had been on Atlanta’s squad. Running back Terrence Magee was also signed off of Cleveland’s practice squad in a similar situation after Troymaine Pope was placed in injured reserve.

But it’s not just the skill players of this Seattle offense that will make it difficult for Russell Wilson to move the ball, it’s also the well-documented struggles of the Seahawks’ offensive line. Going through a vast number of different combinations of linemen throughout the season and ultimately relying heavily on three rookies, Russell Wilson has been beleaguered in the backfield all season.

So, in summary, while Russell Wilson is a known entity and definitely has the personal characteristics necessary to turn this game against the Lions into a blowout, there are serious question marks in the health of the offense that make the team suspect.

On the side of the Lions, however, we see an even bigger set of question marks. Like the Seahawks, the Lions are relying on several rookies in their run game: rookie running back Zach Zenner, as well as two rookie offensive linemen.

The difficulty with the Lions offense hasn’t necessarily been the lack of personnel or lack of protection: In fact, they have been able to move the ball quite well during certain stretches of the last few games.

Rather, the difficulty ultimately lies in their versatility and staying power. Likely due in part to the fact that there is so little experience among the blockers, there are simply limited packages that the Lions are able to put out on the field, particularly in the run game. This means that after half time, the Lions offense starts to sputter and loses momentum in the 3rd and 4th quarter.

The packages and personnel groupings that the Lions are able to work during the week of practice generally sustain them throughout the first two quarters: Against the Cowboys and the Packers in the last two weeks of the season the Lions were able to move the ball and looked good on offense.

However, Detroit blew their lead in both of these games, giving up huge numbers against both of these teams in the second half. After the opposing defense makes their halftime adjustments, the Lions become much more one-dimensional and simply are not dynamic enough to make plays.

So in summary, there are some serious holes in both of these teams right now: The Seattle Seahawks are very short-handed on the offensive side of the ball, and the Detroit Lions have proven themselves to be a 30-minute offensive football team, lacking the experience and the personnel necessary to continue putting points on the board after the half-time adjustments are made.

Ultimately, though, an 8-point spread is simply too many points for a team that cannot block. If the Seahawks had a strong running game that would enable them to hold the ball on offense, ensure that drives are converted into points, and control the clock, we would feel a lot more comfortable in the idea that the Seahawks could cover the spread.

But given the fact that Seattle is in the bottom 10 this season in terms of time of possession, and further given how injured they are, we find it more likely that they win by less than 8 points. And if Seattle is up by more than one possession, even late into the fourth quarter, don’t sweat it out too much: Matthew Stafford has always been good for a garbage time touchdown to cover the spread at the last minute.

Pick: Seahawks to win by less than 8

Total Score

  • Over 44 (-110)
  • Under 44 (-110)

Now that we’ve established our prediction that the Seahawks will win this game at home against the Detroit Lions by less than 8 points, let’s now turn our attention to whether or not we believe the game will be generally high- or low-scoring, and specifically whether or not we believe that the total score of the game will be over or under the total posted by Vegas odds-makers of 44.

In making this decision about the total score, our approach is to look at the defenses involved in the game and determine whether or not they are well-disciplined enough to get off the field on third downs and prevent the other team from scoring points.

In the case of the Detroit Lions, we don’t find any argument via a statistical test or an eye test to believe that they will be able to stop the Seattle offense. The only real reason we like the matchup is because of how beat up the Seahawks offense is, as we discussed above.

The Detroit Lions have had a very easy schedule this season. While they were in the top half of teams this season in terms of the amount of points allowed, this was primarily because they played the Bears twice, the Vikings twice (both after their 5-game win streak), the Rams, the Texans, the Jaguars, and the Titans.

In the last two weeks of the season, the Lions’ true nature on defense was finally revealed, allowing 42 points against the Cowboys and subsequently 31 points against the Packers. While they were missing top corner Darius “Big Play” Slay in the matchup of the Cowboys, he was back and played the full game against the Packers.

We don’t think the Lions will be able to mount a whole lot of resistance against the Seahawks, particularly considering that the strength of the Lions team all season has been their sure tackling and pressure up front in the run game. With the Seahawks not relying very heavily on the run, there’s definite potential for the Seattle passing attack to find holes in the Lions’ secondary, which averaged just under 250 yards given up in the passing game throughout the season.

So, if we like the ability of the Seahawks to score points (if they are able) in this matchup, then it comes down to the ability of the Seattle defense to keep the Lions and their potent passing attack out of the end-zone in order to determine whether or not the game will go over or under 44 total points.

While based on reputation alone you would absolutely expect the Seahawks to have a lock-down defense like they’ve had over the last few years, the fact of the matter is that the Legion of Boom took a serious hit when safety Earl Thomas was lost for the season (and perhaps for good).

After Earl Thomas went out in Week 13 against the Carolina Panthers, the Seahawks’ defense was never the same again. After allowing 25 points or fewer in each of the first 13 games of the season, Seattle was torched by Green Bay the following week to the tune of 38 points, and gave up another 30+ point game to the Cardinals in Week 16.

But not only has Thomas’s absence hurt the Seahawks in terms of on the field production, it has also left a serious gap in leadership that, by all accounts, appears to have led to some fracturing in the defense’s identity.

Specifically, in a Week 17 game with serious playoff implications (the Seahawks were trying to lock down a first-round bye), the defense allowed a total of 23 points to the San Francisco 49ers, a team that had won only 2 games on the season and averaged only 19.3 points per game up to that point.

Tensions were high, and eventually boiled over when defensive tackle Jarran Reed was ejected from the game after his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. When Reed came back to the sideline, he was greeted by teammate and defensive end Frank Clark, with the two getting into a physical altercation and needing to be separated by teammates.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that the Seahawks’ defensive leaders – who of course have a reputation for being tough-nosed characters – have had to resort to sideline antics in order to pump up their fellow defenders and ensure that the unit sticks together and plays up to their considerable standards throughout the rest of the game.

This apparent fracturing in the locker room makes for a very volatile situation, which could go one of several ways. It’s possible that the defense and the team itself could be headed for an implosion, which they have been staving off for weeks by alternating between wins and losses.

On the other hand, given the amount of playoff experience present on both sides of the ball (as well as on the coaching staff) in Seattle, it could just as easily be the case that the defense pulls itself together in this game and begins reformulating its Legion of Boom identity during this game against the Lions.

While it is difficult to say, we do think that ultimately the storylines outlined above will combine together to provide a total score that is several points above the total provided by the odds-makers at the Bovada sportsbook. We believe that Seattle is good for at least 3 touchdowns, plus a field goal or two, and we further believe that Matthew Stafford and the Lions will once again start strong, getting two touchdowns in the first half, and will finally add another garbage time score.

Pick: Seahawks 27, Lions 22

Prop Bets

Now that we have supported our global picks for the game to be a one-possession win for the Seattle Seahawks at home, as well as hypothesized about how the game is likely to unfold, let’s now turn our attention to the ways in which interested gamblers can support these conjectures by placing wagers on individual prop bets.

In reviewing the future props, we only find one potentially valuable bet. We would not recommend placing any money at all on the Detroit Lions for future bets. Though their odds may be as good as 33-to-1 and 75-to-1 for the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl, respectively, we find it absolutely impossible that the Lions would both beat Seattle and win two subsequent games, much less the Super Bowl.

However, the Seattle Seahawks are currently +550 to win the NFC, at the Bovada sportsbook, and +1200 to win the Super Bowl. It’s very difficult for us to invest in a team that can’t block, can’t run the ball, and has very little momentum going into the playoffs, but there’s undoubtedly value to be found here. Particularly considering the possible outcomes for the NFC Championship, it’s worth consideration.

In terms of individual prop bets that might hold value in this matchup, the short answer is that this is one of the most classic examples of a stay-away in recent memory.

With the Lions offense very one-dimensional, the Seahawks’ offense very short-handed, the Lions defense generally suspect, and the Seahawks defense currently rather volatile and lacking a strong identity, the fact of the matter is that there’s very little certainty to be found in terms of individual players that will put up big numbers.

We would stay away from all individual prop bets in this matchup, and simply sit back and try to gain an understanding of what the best trends are for these two teams going forward into subsequent rounds.

Summary: Best Bets

In conclusion, we believe that the Seattle Seahawks will ultimately take care of business against the Detroit Lions in front of the home crowd. We think that the first half will be close, as the Seahawks iron out some of the bugs they’ve had over the last few weeks and the Lions play the 30 minutes of good football that they’ve shown themselves to be good for over the last few weeks. However, after the half-time adjustments are made we believe that the Seattle Seahawks will rally together and come out with a much better defense in the second half, ultimately pulling out a one-possession victory.

Here are our best bets:

  • Seahawks moneyline (-380)
  • Lions ATS (+8, -115)
  • Over 44 total points scored (-110)

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