Wildcard Weekend: Seattle Seahawks vs. Detroit Lions

Up in the Pacific Northwest the playoffs will be underway when the Lions enter Qwest Field as an underdog. After a 5 game winning streak against non playoff teams, Detroit fell to 3 straight teams who are in the postseason. In fact they went 0-4 against teams that made the playoffs so it begs the question… how will they win in Seattle??

Stafford's injured hand in a glove.

Stafford’s injured hand in a glove.

Interestingly Seattle isn’t exactly streaking into this match-up either. Not only did they finish 3-3 over the last 6 games but the vaunted defense gave up more than 30 points in the last two losses. Some may point to the loss of FS Earl Thomas who was lost for the season. Yet reality is setting in how plucked and depleted their defense has become over the last few years due to free agency.

Seattle comes in with the NFL’s 5th ranked defense however LB Bruce Irvin and Super Bowl MVP LB Malcolm Smith are playing in Oakland. CB Brandon Browner is out of football, DE Clemons is in Jacksonville just to name a few are missing from the XLVIII championship unit. Now Thomas injury adds to this mix although several holdovers remain.

Surprisingly 15 of the 37 sacks Detroit has allowed have come on the road. This tells us Matt Stafford will work the short passing game and keep the Seahawk pass rush at bay. The Lions haven’t won a game since Stafford injured the middle finger on his throwing hand and their last game outdoors?? They only scored 6 points in New York. They have to  possess the ball and own time of possession.

russellwilsonRussell Wilson and the Seattle offense has struggled to establish an identity all season. Without his scrambling to aid the offense in getting 1st downs they have run by committee and have yet to be inconsistent. Ever since CJ Prosise injured his shoulder the team has shuttled in a series of backs. In fact the Seahawks leading rusher is Christine Michael (469 yds) who has been cut and plays for the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks are vulnerable but Wilson should make a few plays to bail his team out today. He has a penchant to start scrambling before realizing his injured ankle hampers him and taking big sacks. He can’t do that today. One fumble on his side of the field can give the Lions life.

Seattle should squeak by in this game 23-12. Having lost 3 of their last 6 along with 3 road games where they couldn’t score 10 points, they are vulnerable. They may have a 1 week reprieve with a win this week.

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2015 NFC North Predictions

Whenever I think of the NFC North, I still envision the old black and blue division which was the NFC Central. The new division has given way to the new NFL and the heavy emphasis on passing.  With the reigning NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers averaging 41 TDs thrown over his last 3 complete seasons, you either take to the air or find a way to ground Green Bay. Over the last decade, this division has been the Packers to win or lose. However a small storm is blowing in from the northwest

minnesota-vikings-jerseys-uniforms-unveiled-22015 NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings 11-5 *
  2. Detroit Lions 11-5
  3. Green Bay Packers 8-8
  4. Chicago Bears 4-12

Armed with the return of the league’s best back in Adrian Peterson and a growing young QB in Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings are poised to steal the division. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz whose pass defense ranked 7th in the NFL. Peterson controlling the clock is the recipe needed to ground the Packers and Lions and vault Minnesota to the top of the division.

Even before the injury to wideout Jordy Nelson, it was clear the Packers needed to score to cover defensive deficiencies. After defections in LBs AJ Hawk, Brad Jones and reserve/suspended listing of DEs Letroy Guion and Datone Jones to start the season, Green Bay’s defense has yet to find itself. The Eagles thoroughly undressed Dom Caper’s defense in a 39-26 home loss in the 3rd preseason game. It looks like a season long odyssey as Rodgers will have to outscore opponents all year.

Stafford &Megatron

Stafford &Megatron

Returning the league’s second best defense is the Detroit Lions. Gone is Ndamukong Suh who has been replaced by former Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata to anchor the front 7. The pass rush looked more than formidable as they knocked RGIII from the starting lineup in the most physical preseason game of 2015 vs the Redskins. Matthew Stafford was one blown call away from his 1st playoff win in Dallas.  the Lions will make a return trip in 2015.

Stafford has a new weapon in rookie Ameer Abdullah out of the backfield. His explosive quickness on 3rd downs will move the chains. Where “Megatron” Johnson is the big offensive weapon, it’s Golden Tate that brought a gritty attitude to a finesse offense. The player that would make the tough block to spring a teammate or fight through Linebackers to get first downs.Tate is the catalyst to catapult the Lions back to the playoffs in the return of The Black and Blue Division.

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Detroit Lions v Arizona Cardinals

Make no mistake about it this is a big game. It’s a proving ground where the winner will make themselves out to be an NFC heavyweight. The winner of this game will make it as far as the divisional round of the playoffs. The team that falls today will make the playoffs but will fall in the wildcard game.

NFL: SEP 13 Lions at SaintsWhile it’s endearing to think the roll of the Cardinals will continue, but without Carson Palmer this team can’t make it to the Super Bowl. Truth is Drew Stanton is a very capable backup who is 3-0 this year and was 2-1 for the Lions in 2010 in the same capacity. However right now he’s completing just 49.5% of his passes. He hasn’t thrown an interception yet but he is going to go against the #1 defense in the Lions.

This is the game Matthew Stafford and the Lions will prove their mettle with a tight win. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson has beat Patrick Peterson like a drum since they have played in the NFL. The Cardinals may try Antonio Cromartie on him some today. Detroit hasn’t been stellar on offense this year but if they didn’t have kicking woes, they would be the 8-1 team and not the Cardinals. Although 7-2 isn’t bad.

They will win today 23-14 and cement their legitimacy as an NFC favorite heading into the 2014 playoffs.

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2012 Detroit Lions Preview

After more than a decade of futility, the Detroit Lions returned to the NFL playoffs. Yet they served notice in the season finale, a 44-41 loss to Green Bay, and their 45-28 loss to the Saints in the NFC Wild Card game, that they’re a team on the move. In those games they weren’t overwhelmed as much as just slightly outclassed by two teams that were NFL Champions in two of the last three years. Much like the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA, you’re watching a team grow right before you with a run against the best their sport has to offer which will allow them to mature into champions. Will it happen this year??? Do you realize they did it without their best offensive draft pick in RB Mikel LeShoure, who missed the season with an injured knee??

Quarterback: Now last year we told you a Lion turnaround was imminent yet couldn’t happen without a healthy season from Matthew Stafford. https://taylorblitztimes.com/2011/05/19/2011-detroit-lions-preview/ Yet who could foresee the type of record  setting season he turned in. For the season, his 421 of 663 for 5,038 yards for 41 touchdowns to just 16 interceptions shattered team records. He joined Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady as the only other quarterbacks who threw for more than  40 touchdowns in a season. Only three other quarterbacks in history had thrown for more than 5,000 yards either. Not bad for a QB completing his first healthy season.

One aspect of his value is how he improved as the season went on. In the Thanksgiving Day game where the Lions could make the leap to NFL elite status with a win over the Packers, Stafford turned in a subpar performance throwing for 276 yards & 3 interceptions in a 27-15 loss. Five weeks later he turned in a performance for the ages throwing for 520 yards and 5 TDs including a last minute touchdown drive in Lambeau Field. Although the Lions lost 44-41, he had come within 32 yards of breaking Norm Van Brocklin’s 62 year old record of 551 yards in a game. In this game he showed the go for broke moxie he displayed in bringing the Lions from behind as he had at Oakland two games prior. He grew as the season progressed and stands to come into 2012 as one of the NFL’s best. At quarterback the Lions are Super Bowl quality.

Versatile Jahvid Best

Offensive Backfield: Injuries forced this backfield to be in flux in 2011. When 2nd round draft pick Mikel Leshoure went down with an achille’s injury, Jahvid Best was forced to be a feature back when he’s more of a 3rd down guy. Best’s season was down production-wise in 2011 which saw him rush for only 390 yards and 2 scores, while catching 27 passes for 287 yards and another touchdown. He had 58 receptions in 2010 but a heavier workload saw him face time lost due to injury as well.

Although the team had to go running back by committee, each of the top three rushers on this team averaged 4 yards per carry or better. Kevin Smith #30 was the most productive back last year (72 car. 356 yds 4TDs) with a 4.9 yard average. Yet he also saw down time nicked with injuries. Lions’s brass must feel good about Mikel Leshoure’s recovery since they haven’t gone out to sign a more full time running back. http://prod.www.lions.clubs.nfl.com/news/lions-insider/article-1/RB-Mikel-Leshoure-participates-in-full-practice-for-first-time-since-Achilles-injury/ced9adaf-f263-4e05-a58d-66f0c3e3887d In fact he took several snaps in the June minicamp and came off looking like he was 100% healthy and ready for the new season. For those of you who can’t remember, he ran for over 300 yards in a game for the Illini and over 1,700 yards in his last collegiate season. He is 6’0 and 227 lbs, and an every down back. If he comes back 100% and takes the starting job, running back is average with a chance to be good. We have to wait and see… If he’s hurt and the backfield is thrown in flux again they drop back to below average…

Is a 2,000 yard season possible for Calvin Johnson?

Receivers: What else can be said of the electrifying talents of Calvin “Megatron” Johnson?? Going into last year, we felt he could possibly go for 90-100 receptions and 1,500 yards and he did not disappoint. Johnson’s 96 receptions for 1,681 yards  16 TDs made him a consensus All Pro. For the better part of the season he was on pace to break both Randy Moss’ touchdown record of 23 and Jerry Rice’s record of 1,808 receiving yards set in 1995. Do you realize he only needs 1,128 yards to hit the 7,000 yard mark for his career?? He’s the best weapon in the game today and his 11 catches for a team record 244 yards in the last game of the season put the Green Bay Packers and the rest of the league on notice. “Megatron” will flirt with a 2,000 yard season this year.

Last year this team received steady play from veteran Nate Burleson (73 rec / 757 yds) although he only caught 3 touchdowns. Will he be able to stay on the field with the Lions making Oklahoma wideout Ryan Broyles their 2nd round pick in the draft?? Keep in mind last year’s 2nd round pick Titus Young, from Boise St came on in the second half of the season. Of his 48 rec. for 607 yards and 6 touchdowns, 29 of those catches and 5 scores came in the second half of the season. All of this before we get to talented TE Brandon Pettigrew… No wonder this team couldn’t be stopped throwing the football. Even without a running game. This is already a Super Bowl caliber receiving corps. If Broyles can make the transition and come on late in the season…. dare we say it??

Offensive Line: This offensive line had mixed reviews last season as the team needs to protect Stafford better, they let him get hit 78 times last year along with 36 sacks. Too much for a quarterback who before last year had proven to be injury prone. To that avail the Lions made T Riley Reiff their #1 draft selection to help fortify the line. The question is will he fight for Left Tackle Jeff Backus’ job or Gosder Cherilus on the right?? Both tackles are  former #1 selections but Backus is going to be 34 years old when they go into camp. He will take over for Backus at Left Tackle later but he should unseat Cherilus as the starter on the right now. Why??

When you look at the statistics for this line everyone is expendable. On obvious rushing downs where it is 3rd or 4th and 2 or less, this team could only rush for the first down 57% of the time to the left, 54% of the time up the middle and 40% on the strong side. Are you serious?? Those rankings are 26th, 23rd, and 31st and have to improve. The strong side is your power rushing side and you need to have push. Have attitude about it. Yet how much can you attribute that to their not having their best running back out there for the season?? On second thought, it doesn’t matter we’re only talking 2 yards so the line has to take the blame for those short comings. This line had better play better or it could be the weak link that allows a promising team to fall to injury or short of it’s goal. Even with improvement this group still receives a below average grade.

Cliff Avril had a breakout year in 2011 and could hit the 15 sack plateau this year.

Defensive Line: This unit is one of the team’s strengths. Of the 41 sacks (10th in the NFL) last year, 19 came from Defensive Ends Cliff Avril with 11, and Kyle Vanden Bosch with 8. Avril has learned a tremendous amount from his counterpart and coming into his 5th season and 4th straight with improved sack totals, we see a Pro Bowl year for him with 15 sacks. The defensive ends did benefit from the attention DT Ndamukong Suh drew after his stellar rookie campaign. Suh suffered a sophomore slump though with 39 tackles and 4 sacks which was down from his 66 tackle 10 sack performance from a season before. The frustration for Suh boiled over with several personal foul calls when he lost his composure. The most visible was his ejection after kicking a Green Bay Packer lineman in a national televised game on Thanksgiving.

They need him to lead by example especially with fellow DT Nick Fairley coming into camp injury free and with the same temprament. Fairley needs to show up to back his high draft status and give Lions fans what they’ve been envisioning since his selection. If these two can channel that fire and brimstone energy into just going after running backs and quarterbacks, this group is good and can make the transition to Super Bowl quality if Fairley can start and make plays for the Lions. It’s critical to the team’s overall psyche and growth when players start to reach their potential

Former Tennessee Titan Stephen Tulloch fortified the middle of the Lions defense.

Linebackers: This is an uninspiring group at first glance and just like we said before last year they could use a free agent pick-up here. In space, The Chancellor doesn’t like the play of DeAndre Levy he seems stiff out in the open and a step slow reacting to plays. His great speed masks it to the layman football watcher but coaches can and do take advantage of that with intermediate passing routes to his flank. He moved back from the middle after playing inside for 2010. He did make a respectable 109 tackles but only forced 1 fumble and only defensed 1 pass. He needs to play more instinctive, especially behind this line. In Super Bowl XXXV, Ray Lewis playing in a 4-3, defensed 5 passes in that game himself!! So asking for more than 1 pass defensed over an entire season isn’t being difficult. Hopefully he can play more instinctive in his second season back outside.

Now one player who did play well last year was Middle Linebacker Stephen Tulloch #55. Of the Lions’ back 7 on defense, he was the most consistent performer with 127 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 7 passes defensed. He’s in his prime and for management’s sake should hope his improvement can be mirrored by Levy. The Lions are looking to shake things up at linebacker and selected two in the draft who seem to be paying dividends in OTAs already. Fifth round pick Tahir Whitehead out of Temple, and seventh round pick Travis Lewis from Sooner Nation. We think Travis Lewis will get on the field and replace Justin Durant by season’s end. If the Lions can get these young linebackers making plays this could be an above average group. As of right now we have to give them a below average grade and see how the position battles of summer camp pan out.

Houston had a big year in 2011. Pro Bowl in 2012??

Secondary: What is FS Louis Delmas back there reading?? Although he missed 5 games, he made 61 total tackles yet didn’t register 1 interception for a second straight season. This is one of the reasons the team finished with 21 interceptions while giving up 26 touchdowns and finished 22nd against the pass. With a pass rush this strong more plays needed to be made by the safeties. Delmas makes big hits but needs to arrive two steps before and make the interception. He has to show up this season. Amari Spivey improved in 2011 yet needs to step it up just a little bit more. In 2011 he made 75 tackles (up from 33 in 2010) intercepted 3 passes and had 1 sack. At cornerback Chris Houston (56 tackles / 5 ints) was solid although Houston missed 3 games. Chris proved to be the playmaker on this defense returning those 5 interceptions for a whopping 225 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The Lions made a serious statement in the draft taking 3 secondary players: CB Dwight Bentley in round 3, CB Chris Greenwood in round 5, and Jonte Green in round 7. They were prepared to replace CB Eric Wright, who departed via free agency and penciled nickel back Aaron Berry as the starter. Competition should be fierce for this cornerback spot with the signing of former Indianapolis Colt Jacob Lacey. This team has a few “ifs” in the secondary yet if they can stay healthy and Delmas can begin to read quarterbacks this secondary can be good. We have to wait until after training camp to find that out so they get a slightly below average grade for now.

Stafford needs to be healthy to take the Lions deep in the playoffs.

Overall: This team grew up in a major way last season. However, Head Coach Jim Schwartz has to get his team’s head out of the clouds and clean up the off the field issues. He has to keep his players from thinking they have arrived because of a little success. This is where he has to prove his mettle this year. One thing the Lions have this year is a relatively easy schedule, http://www.detroitlions.com/assets/pdf/2012_Det_Schedule.pdf They don’t play the bulk of their division rivals until we get to the second half of the season. More important they play 5 of their last 7 at home and the team should have growing pains ironed out by then.  One game to circle is the week 6 matchup with Philadelphia. Each team wants to prove they are among the NFC elite and this game will have wildcard ramifications if either doesn’t finish strong. The winner of this game will have a championship building block level of confidence come playoff time.

The health of Mikel Leshoure and the running game, an explosive Nick Fairley to add nastiness to the defense and further bolster a strong pass rush, and an improved Delmas could pay huge dividends if all come to pass. How huge?? A trip to Super Bowl XLVII down in New Orleans awaits them if they do. Last year they went 10-6 and fought tooth and nail in their final games and playoff loss.  We shall see how the preseason shakes out but this season just like last year, should end in the Super Dome.

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NEXT: Baltimore Ravens

Wild Card Week: Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints

Don’t you just love this time of year?? The chase is over for most NFL teams while the elite are gearing up for the real race to Super Bowl XLVI. Tonight’s game between the Detroit Lions and the NFC South champion Saints is shaping up to be a dandy. The league has celebrated Drew Brees and his record breaking 5,476 yards passing this season, yet no one is hailing Matthew Stafford for his 5,038 yard season. http://www.nfl.com/stats/player In his first full season as a starter, Stafford completed 63.5% of his passes for the aforementioned yardage, 41TDs to only 16 interceptions. Do you realize that in the last 3 games he’s thrown for 1,284 yards 12 TDs and only 2 interceptions?? One of those was a desperation heave at the tail end of the 44-41 season finale against the Green Bay Packers. The bottom line is he’s improved as this season has concluded and comes into this contest red hot.

He is throwing to Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, who had a tremendous season, finished with a 244 yard receiving performance in the finale against the Packers. That performance propelled Megatron ot overtake Wes Welker for the league lead in receiving yards with 1,681. What has been impressive with these two has been the fearlessness shown in the 4th quarter. The 98 yard drive on the road in Oakland in week 16 featured a 45 yard bomb to Johnson with less than 2 minutes on the clock. Even the finale against the Packers, Stafford threw for his 5th touchdown and what was thought to be the game winner, with less than 2 minutes to go in that one.

Standing in their way on the Bayou are the Saints, just one year removed from being Super Bowl champions. Drew Brees and the Saints have come down the stretch on fire. They are in the midst of an 8 game winning streak and scored over 40 in their last 3 contests. Yikes!! Something has to give. One major loss is the fact the Saints have to go into the playoffs without Mark Ingram. In a single game scenario Darren Sproles can fill the void but can he carry the load through the playoffs. At least Pierre Thomas is still there and is one of the best running backs on screen passes in case they can’t run effectively.

Both teams come in deficient on the defensive side of the ball ranking 23rd (Lions) and 24th (Saints) respectively. However there is a huge discrepancy between the two when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Saints have only forced an anemic 16 turnovers for the season where the Lions have forced 34. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/det/2011.htm How will the Saints respond if they find themselves in a tight contest after cruising for the past 6 weeks?? What happens if Drew Brees gets off to a slow start or if the Lions force a few turnovers early?? Can the Saint defense do anything to turn the game around if this happens?? By the way Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter have to deal with Megatron… Can they??

To win the Lions have to force a few early turnovers and get ahead of the Saints. The Lions learned to win on the road early this year with the twin twelve point comebacks in Minnesota and Dallas in the 4th quarter. Even the last week of the season we witnessed valor in their 44-41 loss to the Packers. Stafford threw for 520 yards and came within 22 yards of the all time record set by Norm Van Brocklin in the early 50’s. In the playoffs you win with stars and the Lions have several in Stafford, Megatron, and Ndamukong Suh. To win the Saints need Will Smith, Roman Harper, and Jonathon Vilma to have spectacular games. In this one, the Lions are ripe for the upset. We just don’t believe in the Saints defense.

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