Lions vs. Seahawks preview: 'D' has to rattle Wilson

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

James Hawkins breaks down Saturday's Lions-Seahawks NFC wild-card game at CenturyLink Field (8:15, NBC\WJR).

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked 41 times this season.

Seahawks to watch

Russell Wilson, QB: The fifth-year pro played through ankle, knee and pectoral injuries this season and still managed to throw for a career-high 4,219 yards, which ranks 10th in the league. Wilson wasn’t as effective as a dual threat QB due to his ailments, recording career lows in carries (72) and rushing yards (259). He finished the season with 23 total TDs, a career-high 11 INTs and career-worst passer rating (92.6).

Bobby Wagner, LB: The Pro Bowler anchors the middle of Seattle’s swarming defense and finished with a league-leading 167 tackles. Wagner has recorded at least 10 tackles in four of the past five games and is coming off a 12-tackle, two-sack performance against the 49ers. He also has 4.5 total sacks, three passes defensed, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Cliff Avril, DE: The former Lion is a menace up front and will be a handful for Detroit’s offensive line out on the edge with fellow bookend Michael Bennett. Avril recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks, which is tied for sixth in the league, to go along with 39 tackles, five forced fumbles and three passes defensed.

Intangibles

Anything is possible: Winning in Seattle seems like a monumental task after the Lions lost three straight and backed into the playoffs. But this isn’t the same dominant Seahawks team of years past. Seattle still has a formidable defense that has surrendered the third-fewest points (18.2), but it’s also middle of the pack in points scored (22.1; 18th), is without No. 2 WR Tyler Lockett and has gone 2-2 since losing All-Pro S Earl Thomas.

Detroit News predictions: Lions vs. Seahawks

Weak link: Seattle’s offensive line has struggled mightily this season. It has done a poor job protecting QB Russell Wilson, who was sacked 41 times for a league-high 293 yards, and hasn’t done much to open up holes for running game. RB Thomas Rawls (Central Michigan) is averaging 1.51 yards per carry (37 carries, 56 yards) over the last three games.

Ride the hot hand: RB Zach Zenner has injected life into Detroit’s dormant run game and played well in the first half against Dallas and Green Bay, only to see his usage dwindle in the third and fourth quarters. He’s averaging 4.25 yards per carry and 101 yards of total offense over the past two contests. In a game that could likely be a grind-it-out affair, the Lions will need to rely on Zenner’s gritty running and keep him involved.

Crowd factor: Detroit heads to one of the most raucous environments in all of sports in CenturyLink Field, where it will have to deal with the vaunted 12th man. The ear-shattering noise will make it difficult to communicate and hear play calls, making it all the more important for the Lions to score early and take the crowd out of it.

Facts and figures

■ The Lions have lost seven consecutive wild-card round playoff games since their last postseason win in 1991.

■ The Seahawks have won their last nine home playoff games. Seattle’s last postseason loss at home was Jan. 8, 2005 against the St. Louis Rams.

■ Since being drafted by Seattle in 2012, QB Russell Wilson has won at least one playoff game in each of his first four seasons.

■ QB Matthew Stafford is averaging 351.5 yards passing, two TDs and 1.5 INTs in two career playoff games.

■ Detroit is 0-5 against teams in the playoffs, with losses to Green Bay (twice), Houston, New York Giants and Dallas. Seattle is 3-1 with wins over Miami, Atlanta and New England and a loss to Green Bay.

■ Before losing S Earl Thomas to a leg injury, Seattle was giving up 16.2 points per game. In the four games he’s been sidelined, the Seahawks are surrendering 24.5 points per game.