But it’s the missing man that figures to have the biggest impact by far.
Three-time All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas has been reduced to a spectator since suffering a broken tibia Dec. 4 against Carolina. He ran into teammate Kam Chancellor as they were both leaping to pick off a Cam Newton pass.
Thomas is a game-changer, a player with staggering sideline-to-sideline speed who can clean up mistakes made by teammates and keep big plays from becoming huge plays. That’s especially important against a quarterback such as Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, who finished sixth in the NFL with 4,327 yards passing, and will lead his team in a first-round game at Seattle on Saturday night.
Since Thomas was injured, the Seahawks don’t have an interception. In their four games without Thomas, Seattle not only surrendered its first-place spot in fewest points allowed, but also gave up its first two 30-point games, yielding 38 to Green Bay and 34 to Arizona.
“Earl’s a unique player. He’s an extraordinary player. He’s proven that,” Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll told reporters. “No matter what position a guy plays, you miss that unique quality. We’re always talking about uniqueness, and Earl is a fantastic football player. You’re just going to miss him. He’s got leadership. He’s got playmaking in him. And he’s got great experience. That’s Earl.”
As the Detroit Free Press points out, the last time the Lions won a playoff game on the road, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, Elvis Presley had just moved into a place he called Graceland, and gas cost 24 cents a gallon.
It was Dec. 22, 1957, when the Lions pulled off a 31-27 upset victory at San Francisco. Since, the franchise has fallen in postseason road games 10 times in a row.
Detroit came close two years ago, however, leading most of the way in a playoff game at Dallas before a controversial pass-interference call was overturned, and the Cowboys went on to a 24-20 victory.
He’s great, for starters
Wilson, who has seven playoff victories, trails only New England’s Tom Brady (nine), Flacco (nine), and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (eight) in postseason wins among quarterbacks in their first five NFL seasons.
Saturday night marks the return of former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, who has had three consecutive seasons of at least 90 catches with the Lions. He admitted this week that this game is especially meaningful to him.
“Yeah, we just want to win,” he told reporters. “It’s deeper than me. I want to win because I think this organization deserves to win. I think we’ve earned our way into the playoffs… But I’d be lying if I said personally I don’t want to win as much.”
Tate was limited to three catches for 29 yards in a three-point loss at Seattle last season.
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
Category | DET | SEA
Points scored | 21.6 (20) | 22.1 (T18)
Points allowed | 22.4 (13) | 18.3 (3)
Pass offense | 256.9 (11) | 257.8 (10)
Rush offense | 81.9 (30) | 99.4 (25)
Pass defense | 248.4 (14) | 225.8 (25)
Rush defense | 106.3 (18) | 92.9 (7)
Sacks | 26 (30) | 42 (3)
Penalty yards | 53.8 (12) | 60.6 (24)
Turnovers | -1 (20) | +1 (16)
The Seahawks have lost only one game at home all season, and they’re so tough in the playoffs. Detroit needs to be physical and establish the run. Still, Seattle hangs on in a really close one.
SEAHAWKS 28, LIONS 27
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer