Most teams who have clinched a playoff spot will more often than not bench their starting players, avoiding injury before one of the most critical times during the NFL season. An injury of a key player can often make or break a team’s chance of advancing further into the playoffs. An example is the benching of Lamar Jackson and Zay Flowers by the Baltimore Ravens, Brock Purdy by the San Francisco 49ers’ and Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce by the Kansas City Chiefs.
In typical Dan Campbell fashion, he does not follow the standard response of benching players before a playoff run. Not only did Campbell want the Detroit Lions to redeem themselves after the tragic 19-20 loss against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago, but Campbell was playing starters in hopes that the Lions could clinch the No. 2 seed in the case of both the Philidelphia Eagles and Cowboys losing on Sunday.
But Campbell’s plan to play his starting lineup during the Week 18 game against the Minnesota Vikings fell victim to injuries. Here are five players whose injuries could affect the Lion’s playoff run.
Was Dan Campbell’s Week 18 Decisions Worth it?
Sam LaPorta’s presence on the Lion’s roster this past year has significantly affected the team’s success. LaPorta changed the game as a rookie, being the rookie tight end with the most receptions in a season since 1988. His stats are far beyond impressive, with 860 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. LaPorta has been a game-changer for the Lions this past season and a reliable target for Jared Goff.
His stellar performance in the first half was cut short when he was tackled during a five-yard catch by Josh Metellus. LaPorta lay motionless on the field, holding his knee. Eventually, he was carted off of the field by medical staff and ruled out of the rest of the game by the end of halftime. At the post-game press conference, Campbell was not able to tell us much about LaPorta’s injury, except that “It’s not as bad as it looked, but it’s not good news. We’ll know more tomorrow.” reported Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
It has now been recently confirmed that LaPorta has suffered from hyperextension of the knee and a bone bruise. The usual recovery time for a mild injury of this nature is two to four weeks. If this is genuinely what LaPorta obtained during the Vikings game, it will pose an issue regarding using him sometime next week during the playoff game. If this injury keeps him out of the playoffs, it will pose a significant roadblock in Goff’s passing game.
2. Amon-Ra St. Brown
Amon-Ra St. Brown is yet another weapon with a far more than impressive season. In St. Brown’s third season in the league, he has 1,445 yards and 10 touchdowns. St. Brown is very nimble on his feet, essential in dodging the opposing team’s defensive line.
Yet later on during the game, while attempting to tackle St. Brown, Harrison Phillips drove his knee into the ribcage of St. Brown. While spending some time on the sideline, it is evident that he was bothered by the injury, constantly grabbing his ribcage. But later in the game, St. Brown was cleared to enter the field again and eventually amassed his tenth touchdown of the season, which was the longest reception of his career.
During the Lions Postgame conference, Campbell commented on his injury, stating, “I think he’s [St. Brown] good…he may get something, but I think he’s okay”. This was not Phillips’s first case of roughness against the Lions, as, during week 16, he was fined 10,927 dollars for unnecessary roughness. St. Brown was upset about Phillips’s actions, stating, “what he [Harrison Phillips] was on” and he thought that his actions were “on purpose”. Yet ultimately, St. Brown injuries appear to be minor and no roadblock to him being able to play this coming week against the Rams.
3. Jameson Williams
Jameson Williams did not get the start he hoped for with the Lions when his rookie season was almost completely removed due to a torn ACL. Williams had an equally disappointing start to his second season, as his first six games were taken away due to a gambling violation. He is a highly talented wide receiver, yet the Lions needed help pinpointing how to use him most successfully, only amassing 354 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
Although Williams was not injured during the Vikings game, his ankle injury stopped him from being able to use his talents during last week’s game and possibly the Lions playoff game. Even though they have not been able to utilize Williams’s talent to his full potential, Williams would have showcased his talents against the Rams, proving an integral part of the Lions’ Offense.
4. Kalif Raymond
Kalif Raymond has been an excellent punt returner for the Detroit Lions this season. He has the sixth-best punt return in the NFL, with an 11.4-yard average. That is not the only impressive thing Raymond has accomplished this season. Raymond has 35 receptions for 489 yards, one receiving touchdown and seven carries for 75 yards. During the last game against the Vikings, Raymond sustained a knee injury and was unable to play for the rest of the game.
If Raymond cannot play during this week’s playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams, the Lions will likely have to play Donovan Peoples-Jones, whom they acquired at the beginning of October. Peoples-Jones is a good backup option in the scenario that he cannot play, with a 7.9 career-yard punt average, but if Raymond is available, he is a much more viable option.
5. Brian Branch
Brian Branch is one of the best rookies playing this season. During this past game against the Vikings, Branch sustained a knee injury and could not finish the rest of the second half. He has proved he was worth the 45th overall draft pick back in April last year.
Without Branch, the coverage of star receivers such as Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacau will be far weaker than usual. Coverage is crucial for this game with the explosive offense of the Rams.
Detriot’s roster must grow more healthy for it to go far in the playoffs, especially since it is against ex-Lions player Matthew Stafford. Without these key players, Detroit risks losing the strength that they have inhibited this entire season and unfortunately, it may mean a short playoff run for the Lions.
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