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O'HARA: Lions need a complete game in Seattle

The postseason is a new realm that is unlike anything the Detroit Lions encountered in a regular season marked by streaks of wins and losses and performances that were up and down.

There were chances to regroup and adjust in the 16-game regular season. That's not the case in the Lions' Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field Saturday night.

"Sudden death" the win-or-go-home urgency in the postseason. For the loser, the next game that counts is in September.

One mistake – a tipped pass for an interception, a defensive breakdown that gives up a cheap touchdown, turnovers or special-teams miscues can prove fatal.

"If you don't win, it comes to an abrupt halt," head coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday. "That's not pleasant, so that's what makes it obviously even more of a challenge.

"Every game is a challenge. I'm not trying to kid anybody about it. Every single game is really important to us, but these (playoff games) have a little bit of added value to them."

This is the Lions' third trip to the postseason since 2011, and the second in Caldwell's three seasons as head coach. They've given representative performances both years, but failed to advance.

As a Wild Card with a 10-6 record in 2011, they took a 14-10 lead into the second half against the Saints but wilted under the relentless pressure of the Saints' offense and lost, 45-28. The Saints never punted.

It was a different story in 2014. As a Wild Card with an 11-5 record, the Lions bolted to a 14-0 lead with two first-quarter touchdowns and had a 20-7 lead in the third quarter. The Cowboys rallied to a 24-20 victory, scoring the winning TD in the last three minutes.

It remains to be seen what the Lions will draw from those experiences. As defensive coordinator Teryl Austin put it: "You don't have next week to get it right."

Under the pressure of the playoff format, it's all about Saturday night.

Here are key issues in the game – quarterback play, pass rush, running games, intangibles – and a prediction with the Lions decided underdogs:

Matthew Stafford: He has come out firing in his two playoff appearances. The moment was not too big for him. He threw for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Saints in 2011 and for 323 yards with a TD and one pick in the loss to Dallas. That pick was on a deflection at the line of scrimmage.

However, unlike the New Orleans game, when the Lions scored a touchdown in every quarter, Stafford could not get the Lions to the end zone in the second half against Dallas, when they scored only three points.

There were too many scoring droughts in the 2016 regular season. A repeat could be fatal if the Seahawks get on top and force the Lions to throw against a pass rush that feeds on its own momentum.

In the absence of a pure deep threat in the receiving corps, someone needs to emerge as a complement to wide receiver Golden Tate, whose had three straight seasons of at least 90 catches.

A likely candidate is tight end Eric Ebron. He finished strong, with 14 catches on 18 targets against Dallas and Green Bay. He'll go inside and make tough catches.

Contain Russell Wilson: Wilson can beat a defense with his arm and leg, although not quite to the degree Aaron Rodgers did for the Packers in their showdown win against the Lions. Wilson is dangerous outside the pocket, but he also can deliver big passes in the pocket.

Wilson finished strong after suffering through ankle and knee injuries early in the year. Wilson ran for a career-low 259 yards, but after midseason he showed that on a given play he can escape the rush and either gain yards with his legs or buy time to hit open receivers. When he runs, he runs effectively.

"Absolutely, he still does," Austin said.

Lions' run game: Zach Zenner has sparked the long-dormant run game the last two weeks. He rushed for 67 yards and two TDs in the loss to Dallas in the penultimate game and had 20 carries for 69 yards and a TD against Green Bay.

Those are modest numbers – 136 yards in two games – and they represent how desperately the Lions have searched to find something to hang their hat on in the run game. Zenner has provided quality carries, and he's a solid blocker as a pass protector for Stafford and a good outlet receiver.

If the run game can't threaten the Seahawks' defense, the offense can get overwhelmed by the pass rush.

"When the run game is going," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said, "the whole offense goes."

And when it doesn't  ...

Pass rush, containment: The Seahawks have a clear edge on defense. They were tied for third in the league with 42 sacks. The Lions were next-to-last with 26. Only Oakland, with 25, had fewer sacks.

Stafford and Wilson both are operating behind offensive lines that have been patched together because of injuries. The Lions have done a better job on pass protection, allowing 37 sacks to rank 18th in sacks allowed per play. The Seahawks have allowed 42 sacks, and are 27th in sacks allowed per play.

Former Lion Cliff Avril led the Seahawks with 11.5 sacks to make the Pro Bowl for the first time. The Lions' sack leader is Kerry Hyder with eight. Five of Hyder's sacks were in the first four games, and he had just one in the last seven.

Containing Wilson could be as important as sacking him. Austin does not want Wilson to repeat what Rodgers did to the rush.

"When we put that rush plan together, all intents and purposes are to keep him in the pocket," Austin said.

Intangibles: Seattle's home-field advantage is not a myth. It's real. The noise level makes it hard for visiting teams to communicate. Playing at CenturyLink favors them.

The Seahawks are good to begin with, and they feed off their crowd. They were 7-1 this year for the third time in the last five years. In other years they've been 8-0 and 5-3.

Prediction: The Seahawks should win. They've favored by more than a touchdown for a reason. They didn't finish strong, going 3-3 in their last six games, but playing at home is a huge advantage.

The Lions could win, but a lot of things will have to go their way, and they'd have to reverse some recent trends. One is not scoring offensive touchdowns in the third quarter. Another is losing the turnover battle. They were minus one against the Packers, minus two against the Cowboys and minus two against the Giants. That adds up to minus five in their three-game losing streak.

Don't expect the Lions to flinch, but don't expect the Seahawks to fold at home, either.

Seahawks 27, Lions 24.

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