Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks

Detroit lost 13-10 at CenturyLink Field the last time they played in Seattle but last season’s Monday Night Football game was more memorable for its controversial ending when K.J Wright batted a fumble through the end-zone than any of the Offensive play.  The Lions notched up just 10 first downs as they only managed 256 yards on Offence (Jay Ajayi ran for 214 yards for the Dolphins in week 7 of this season against Buffalo).  Ameer Abdullah was Detroit’s leading rusher with a measly 33 yards as he averaged just 2.5 yards per carry and they weren’t much more successful through the air as Matt Stafford averaged just 5.8 yards per pass despite targeting the since retired Calvin Johnson 11 times.  On the plus side for Stafford he did finish the game with a completion rate of 69% and he managed to avoid being sacked by the Seahawks aggressive Defence.  Conversely on that might the Lions managed to sack Russell Wilson 6 times and forced him to fumble 3 times.  When Wilson stayed upright he dissected the Lions pass defence though and he finished the game with a completion rate of 77% and a passer rating of 125.0.

This season Detroit are averaging 21.6 points per game on the Offensive side of the ball which is 0.5 fewer than the Seattle’s 22.1 (which is the 9th best average in the NFC), so both Offence’s appear well matched.  However, on the other side of the ball there is a vast chasm of difference, the Lions Defence has struggled to contain opposing Offences and against Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers Offence many of them appeared to have lost the ability to tackle anyone in possession of the ball.  The Lions have conceded an average of 22.4 points per game, the 13th best number in the league and whilst Seattle Defence hasn’t been as airtight as they have been in the past (and they have missed Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett through injury) they have only conceded a miserly 18.3 points per game, the 3rd stingiest total in the league.  Essentially for the Lions to win a game they have to score 3 touchdowns and the Seahawks haven’t allowed many teams to score more than 2 against them this season.

Earl Thomas’ injury has proved a significant hindrance for the Seahawks defence and it’s caused them to concede an average of 24.5 points per game in the last 4 games of the season, strangely though given that Earl Thomas is the Free Safety the real problem of late has been stopping Rushing Touchdowns.  They’ve allowed 7 in 4 games compared to 5 pass touchdowns in the same period of time.  Feasibly the loss of a Free Safety like Thomas would make a Defence increasingly susceptible to a pass heavy attack, but in their last 4 games the Seahawks have only allowed on average 216 yards through the air (and one of those games was against Aaron Rodger’s Packers).  They have though given up Touchdown passes of 66 yards to Davante Adams and 80 yards to J.J Nelson over that period, the Lions longest pass completion this season is a 77 yarder to Marvin Jones but that happened way back in week 3 which was also the last time Jones recorded 100 yard receiving yards in a game.

The Seahawks Offence has hardly been a thing of beauty, or consistency, or stability as indicated by the fact they’ve had 18 different people carry the ball for them so far this season including Christine Michael (who has also played for the Cowboys and Packers this year <he clearly loves the NFC>), C.J. Prosise, C.J. Spiller and Thomas Rawls who is currently listed as the number 1 Running Back on their depth chart.  Their depth chart also includes Terrance Magee (who they released on the 28th September 4 days after they promoted him from the Practice Squad) and the rookie from Arkansas J.D McKissic who both signed on the 12th of December.  The Seahawks passing Offence has been severely disrupted by elite pass rushers this season with the Bills, Buccaneers and Cardinals combining for a total of 17 sacks on Russell Wilson in just 3 games, the Lions Defence however have recorded just 26 sacks this season and are ranked joint 30th in the NFL.

The Lions appear to game plan (either accidentally, or by design) for Matt Stafford to be the deciding factor in games, Zak Zenner has had impressive first halves in both of their last 2 games but as the clock runs down Lions Offensive Co-ordinator Jim Bob Cooter seems to almost panic and abandon the run game.  They’ve been behind heading into the 4th quarter of 16 games this season and the Matt’s, Stafford and Prater have won 9 of those games to get them this far.  However with Seattle’s Defence and Richard Sherman’s predatory instinct for interceptions in particular the chances of a late scoring run in the Pacific Northwest are incredibly slim.

If the Lions can keep it close on the scoreboard (and use Zenner to keep the Seahawks Defence honest) then they will have a chance to cause an upset.  Their main advantage is in the place kicking stakes where Matt Prater has a 90% rate of success, missing just 7 all season compared to Steven Haushka who has missed 10 all season and has an 86% success rate.  Allied to that is the fact Prater is 7/7 on field goals over 50 yards long this season and his longest has been a whopping 58 yards to take a game to overtime, Haushka has made just 1 field goal from 50 yards or further all season and his longest is a 53 yarder, the only one that he’s attempted from this distance.

Bookmakers have the Seahawks as favourites to win by more than a touchdown and while the chilly and potentially damp weather could make ball handling difficult (another reason to keep an eye on the special teams) the Lions would need to find something pretty spectacular to reverse their 3 game losing streak.  Matt Stafford’s finger injury has made it difficult for him to throw and even the return of Darius “big play” Slay didn’t fix their defensive frailties against the Packers.  If the game does come down to who can grind their opponent down more effectively the Seahawks and particularly their Defence will love it.  Were Marshawn Lynch were still on Seahawks roster the result would be a foregone conclusion, but he isn’t so it’ll be worth watching if only because any Offence featuring Jimmy Graham has the potential to explode.

Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans

Spinal injuries and broken fibula’s are never good but JJ Watt’s herniated disk and Derek Carr’s broken leg will surely be the hot topics surrounding this game.  Watt injured his back (which he had surgery on in the offseason) way back in September whereas Carr’s injury was a crushing blow in the build up to the playoffs when it happened in week 16, to compound Raiders fans anguish they lost their second string Quarterback Matt McGloin before half time in week 17.  The Raiders reliance on a third string Quarterback will almost certainly the deciding factor in the game and while the Raiders Offensive line could allow them to adopt a run heavy Offence and with 3 productive Running Backs (provided Jalen Richard is healthy) and a Fullback who is more than capable of carrying effectively it wouldn’t be a problem for them.  Pragmatism isn’t really their style though and Head Coach Jack Del Rio would probably prefer to chance his (and Connor Cook’s) arm to provide a repeat of the Raiders 27-20 victory of the Texans in Mexico City back in November.  Derek Carr was responsible for 3 of their Touchdowns in that game though as he launched a comeback and the Raiders outscored their opponents 17 -10 in the second half.  They had real trouble running against the Texans Defence too and as a team only recorded 30 rushing yards on 20 carries, the longest being a 6 yard Latavius Murray in the last minute of the game.

The Texans Offence hasn’t been particularly outstanding this year either and has had its own Quarterback issues, although not as a result of injuries.  Their issues have been a result of their personnel decision to offer Brock Osweiler a $72 million contract in free agency and the expectancy that a contract of the magnitude brings with it.  Osweiler has struggled and has thrown 16 interceptions in 15 starts alongside 15 touchdowns with a completion rate of 59%, only Ryan Fitzpatrick has a worse passer rating in the NFL this season.  Osweiler was replaced by Tom Savage in week 15 and he started in week 16 but left the game with a concussion and his participation in the post season is far from certain (he also didn’t look to be much of an improvement from Osweiler, none of his73 attempts have resulted in Touchdowns).  Osweiler has been the focal point of Texans fans ire but a more generous view would be that the Texans have built an Offensive line that’s more adept at run blocking and their 1,850 yards on the ground (the 8th most in the NFL) and the 32 sacks they’ve allowed (5 on Savage in 73 drop back’s <hence the concussion>) would attest to that.  Despite their success at running the ball (they’ve averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 116.2 yards per game) 56% of the Texans Offensive snaps have been pass attempts this season and 16 players have caught passes for the Texans this season, so there could be some questions about the Offensive play calling (even if Osweiler is getting the big bucks they’re clearly more comfortable running).  10 different players have rushed for the Texans and while Osweiler might not feel comfortable as a runner (and he’s certainly not quick enough to be considered a running Quarterback) he has rushed for 2 Touchdowns and averages 4.37 yards per carry so he does provide a threat when he pulls the ball down.

While the Texans will be missing their Defensive superstar the Raiders will have Khalil Mack and he will terrorise the Texans Offensive line.  Mack has 73 total tackles, 11 sacks and forced 5 fumbles this season to add to one of the most outrageous interceptions anyone had ever seen against Cam Newton.  It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Raiders could win this game with their Defence alone.  Khalil Mack is not the only playmaker in their ranks, Bruce Irvin has won the Super Bowl with the Seahawks and this season he has notched up 7 sacks and 6 forced fumbles of his own, as a team the Raiders have made 25 sacks so they could tee off on the Texans Quarterback (whoever it is) unless the Texans trust their Running Backs a bit more.  The Raiders have also made 16, the second highest number in the NFL during the regular season with 9 year veteran Reggie Nelson grabbing 5 of them, with Brock’s propensity for throwing one a game he’ll certainly be spying the Quarterback.  The Texans have managed just 17 defensive turnovers all season which ranks them 26th in the league so they’ll be more reliant on their inconsistent Offence to decide this game for them.

It would be a huge upset of the Raiders were to win this game on the road and while it’s not completely impossible the way they played in week 17 the loss of Derek Carr has not only effected how they play but also how confident they are on the field, he’s a vital cog in their machine and the absence of his leadership and personality have left them flat.  The loss of their 2nd string Quarterback at the weekend left them looking shell shocked and almost dejected, if Jack Del Rio can rejuvenate them in the coming days then they should have enough firepower to beat an unconvincing Texans who have their own problems but you’d have to agree with the bookmakers who are currently favouring the Texans to win a close game.