Five things to watch: Lions at Seahawks

Detroit News

Winless in Seattle.

That’s the script the Detroit Lions are trying to rewrite this weekend as they travel west for a showdown with the Seahawks, in a place they haven’t won since 1999.

It’s another matchup for the Lions without much to play for on either team, as the Seahawks are 5-10 and have been eliminated from playoff contention. And yet, this could have the chance to be somewhat of a ‘program-changing win’ for Detroit. The Lions close their season at home against Green Bay next Sunday, and the Packers could have the NFC’s No. 1 seed clinched by Sunday night.

Should the Packers do just that and opt to rest their starters in the season finale at Detroit, the Lions — with a win in Seattle — would be staring at an uninspired Packers team with the chance to close their season on a 4-2 run.

A lot would obviously have to go right for that scenario to play out in the Lions’ favor, but the point remains that there’s a chance for the Lions to close their first season under head coach Dan Campbell with their hair on fire — they just need to get past Seattle first.

Here are five things to watch as the Lions visit Seattle (4:25 p.m., Fox/97.1):

Boyle’s back again

Tim Boyle performed admirably last week in his second start of the season, throwing for 187 yards on 24-for-34 passing, with an interception and a touchdown. That’s not exactly lighting the world on fire, but it is a lot better than the sub-100-yard performance that he put together in Cleveland during his first start.

He looks poised to make his second straight start with a lingering knee injury keeping Jared Goff out, and from a big-picture standpoint, it’s actually not a terrible situation to be in. Boyle has proven that he can keep the Lions in games, and while it’s certain that Detroit would like to win another game or two this season, a loss to secure better draft position is probably the best outcome at this point. Boyle’s primary job is to make sure it’s not a demoralizing loss.

One thing working in his favor is the return of wide receiver Josh Reynolds. Reynolds has been the best downfield option for the Lions since Quintez Cephus went out for the season, and his presence has been able to open things up for the offense in the short and intermediate distances.

One thing working against him, however, will be the weather. With a 95% chance of precipitation expected to land in Seattle tomorrow, he’ll be facing conditions more similar to the ones in Cleveland than what he saw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Which Boyle will we get?

Swift settles in

D’Andre Swift is another offensive weapon that’s returning for the Lions this weekend, and he’s probably the most exciting. But here’s the thing: The run game was just fine without him. Detroit averaged 118.5 yards on the ground and 4.1 yards per carry in the four games that Swift was absent with a shoulder injury.

But even if the run game doesn’t get much of a boost with his return, the passing game sure will appreciate it. Swift has been one of the league’s best pass-catchers out of the backfield this season, currently owning the league’s third-best mark in receiving yards per game (39) behind only Christian McCaffrey (49) and Austin Ekeler (39.86).

Craig Reynolds has been a delightful story in a Lions’ season without many to speak of, and so it’ll be interesting to see how the rotation looks when fully healthy. For a time, it appeared that Jamaal Williams and Swift could be in danger of getting Wally Pipp’d. One should reasonably expect Swift to be motivated to reclaim the backfield before season’s end.

With each possessing a different set of skills, there’s a way that the three can live in the backfield harmoniously if the right balance is struck.

Dangeruss or not?

This could be the last home game in Seattle for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and his play is definitely one of the biggest things to watch in this one.

The Seahawks have lived and died with their playmaking quarterback for as long as he’s been around, and with an era looking like it’s coming to an end, there’s reason to believe he’ll be highly motivated to put on a show.

Wilson has slowly improved since a disastrous return from finger surgery in Week 10, but is coming off a loss to the Bears in inclement weather that limited his ability to hit his big receivers.

He’s thrown just six touchdowns and one interception in three career matchups with the Lions and is averaging 257 yards passing. He’s 2-1 against Detroit, with the lone loss coming in his rookie season.

Hungry dogs run faster

If you’re the gambling type, and one who likes to hedge emotional strain with financial gain, the Lions have surprisingly been a huge money-maker for you this year. Detroit is 10-5 against the spread this season and tied for the league’s third-best covering percentage at 66.67%, behind only Dallas and Green Bay.

That’s pretty solid company for a team that’s in-line for the second-overall pick, and the Lions have even picked up the pace of late: They’ve covered in six of their last seven, their lone loss against the spread during that span coming in the 38-10 loss to Denver (+12.5).

Despite only a seven-point spread against Seattle, the Lions are looking like a pretty solid bet again this week, as the Seahawks are trending in the opposite direction. They’re just 2-5 against the spread (and straight-up) since Wilson returned from injury.

Pressure cooker

If there’s one thing that we know about Campbell heading into Week 17, it’s that he’s not afraid to turn up the heat.

Campbell successfully ran a fake punt against the Falcons last weekend, attempted a first-quarter onside kick against the Arizona Cardinals a week prior — just two of many bold ploys this season — and has been the league’s most aggressive coach when it comes to going for it on fourth down.

Early in the season, he was chastised for taking chances he shouldn’t have. But he’s done it so often that confidence is finally in supply on Detroit’s sideline, and the law of averages have started to work in his favor. It’s even starting to become kind of fun.

What tricks does Campbell have up his sleeve for this week? It’s too early to tell, but at this point, you can be sure that he’s got them up there.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

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