The Lions will begin what they hope is a long playoff run Saturday night in Seattle against the NFC West champion Seahawks.
Path to Super Bowl LI: The Lions were the No. 2 seed just three weeks ago, but losses in their last three contests to end the regular season bumped them into the No. 6 seed. That means they'll have to win in Seattle Saturday, and then in Dallas the following weekend to earn a right to play in the NFC Championship Game later this month. If they get there, they'll play at Atlanta, Green Bay or New York.
Reason to be optimistic: Detroit's found a way to win close games this season, which most playoff games are. Detroit's trailed in the fourth quarter of 15 games, and has found a way to win eight of those contests. All three phases have played a role in those eight wins as well. Their most complete performance of the season, a 28-13 win over the Saints in Week 13, was on the road in New Orleans.
Reason for concern: Detroit's nine wins this season are against teams with a combined record of 56-87-1. Only Washington (8-7-1) finished with a winning record. The record of the seven teams they lost to is 65-47. All but one (Bears, 3-13) finished with a winning record. The Lions were 0-5 in the regular season playing against teams that qualified for the playoffs.
Offensive player who needs to step up: **Quarterback Matthew Stafford
To think Stafford's injured right middle finger isn't affecting him at all would be a bit naïve. Stafford said he's had to make some changes, "but nothing drastic." Since injuring the finger early on vs. Chicago Week 14, Stafford's thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions with a passer rating of 74.1. Seattle's defense is one of the best in the business. Can Stafford find a way to regain some of his midseason magic, despite the injury?
Defensive player who needs to step up: Defensive End Ziggy Ansah
The Lions' defense had all sorts of problems getting a hand on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers last week, and also containing him in the pocket. It doesn't get much easier this week against the elusive Russell Wilson, who like Rodgers, can kill a defense just as easily with his feet as he can his arm. Ansah and the rest of those Lions edge rushers have to be better. Ansah recorded two sacks, two quarterback hits, forced a fumbled and picked up a fumble against Wilson and the Seahawks in last year's 13-10 loss in Seattle. The Lions will be looking for a similar effort on Saturday.
Key stat: The Seahawks haven't lost a home playoff game since 2004, a streak of nine straight.
Quotable: "Anytime that you have an opportunity to play in the playoffs, just look at the history, there's teams that you can rattle off – Giants, you can rattle off a number of different teams that have gone in and perhaps not had the best regular season that they'd like, but ended up getting themselves in position to really be a factor in the playoffs, so we're not limited to it," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said.
"It's just a mindset for the most part and what we want to do is you've got to shake this thing off rather quickly and you've got to go after it. That's exactly what I've been trying to preach to the guys. It's a huge quantum shift mentally and, you know, we've got to play like we're capable of playing."