Four Notes Ahead Of Lions’ Regular Season Finale

The Detroit Lions host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in the final week of the NFL’s regular season. Following Detroit’s controversial loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Lions are all but certain to be the conference’s three-seed in the playoffs starting next week. However, a Dallas and Philadelphia Eagles loss plus a Detroit win would bump the Lions to the two-seed. In other words, there’s still plenty to play for in Week 18. Below we’ll look at some notes ahead of the regular season finale.

Notes Ahead Of Lions’ Regular Season Finale

Key Defensive Players Returning

One of the bright spots for the Lions over the last few weeks has been their defense, and now the unit is expecting two of their premier players to return just in time for a postseason run.

CJ Gardner-Johnson has missed the last 14 games but is finally healthy and ready to return to Detroit’s secondary. One of Lions general manager Brad Holmes’ biggest off-season signings suffered a pectoral injury in the Lions’ Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and as a result, missed the majority of his first season in Detroit. The Lions have missed Gardner-Johnson on their defense but have gotten major contributions from Brian Branch, Kerby Joseph, and Ifeatu Melifonwu in his absence in recent weeks.

Alim McNeill is also set to return this weekend after suffering a knee sprain in the Lions’ Week 13 win over the New Orleans Saints. The third-year defensive tackle was in the midst of a breakout season before he went down, having already registered a career-high five sacks while also forcing one fumble and totaling 31 tackles. Gardner-Johnson and McNeill’s returns will strengthen a defensive unit that’s trending in the right direction at the right time.

Starters Set To Play

It’s not uncommon to see several teams rest their players in the final week of the NFL’s regular season. Whether they can’t improve their playoff seeding or they’ve already clinched a postseason berth, many teams’ fates have already been decided. As a result, plenty of teams’ starters will have Week 18 off to get some extra rest before the playoffs.

As for the Lions, they won’t be taking that approach. As mentioned above, Detroit still has something to play for — the two-seed. While it’s highly unlikely they clinch it, there’s still a chance, and it’d be silly to punt at the opportunity to potentially host two playoff games and have home-field advantage up until the NFC Championship game. The Lions won’t be stupid, though — if players are dealing with injuries then they won’t force anything, as head coach Dan Campbell already confirmed. After all, there’s a 95.6% they’ll remain the three-seed after this week. The odds aren’t in their favor.

Rams or Packers?

The most likely playoff opponents for the Lions in the Wild Card round are the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers. The outcome of their games this weekend will determine who Detroit will host:

  • If Los Angeles defeats the San Francisco 49ers, they will be the six-seed and travel to Detroit to face the Lions in the Wild Card round
  • If Green Bay defeats the Chicago Bears and San Francisco defeats Los Angeles, Green Bay will be the six-seed and travel to Detroit to face the Lions in the Wild Card round

The storylines will be there for either contest, but the Rams would make for the most poetic matchup. Former Lions quarterback and current Rams signal-caller Matthew Stafford would make his much-anticipated return to Detroit to face his former team in their first home playoff game in 30 years.

Current Lions quarterback Jared Goff would get a chance at revenge against his former team and coach who gave up on him just three years ago. And the architect that pulled off that blockbuster trade in 2021, Holmes, came to Detroit from the Rams organization after spending 17 years with the franchise. Ford Field would undoubtedly be full of a wide range of emotions that day.

“Controlled Fury”

Yes, the Lions got the short end of the stick in their loss against the Cowboys when they were incorrectly flagged for a penalty on a two-point conversion that would’ve given them a late lead — but it might be the best thing that could’ve happened.

A fiery Campbell spoke with the media a few days after Detroit’s heartbreaking loss, stating that he and his Lions have “controlled fury” as they look to finish the regular season with a victory before gearing up for a postseason run. Detroit knows they should’ve won that game, and Aidan Hutchinson confirmed his coach’s comments when he went on teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown‘s podcast this week and said it will only act as extra motivation.

There’s a chance the Lions get a chance at revenge, too; If Detroit and Dallas advance past the Wild Card round, there’s a possibility that Detroit would travel to AT&T Stadium in the divisional round and get another crack at taking down the Cowboys — when it matters most.

Detroit will look to end the season on a high note and tie the franchise record for regular season wins (12) when they host Minnesota on Sunday.

Main Image: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

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