Wildcard Preview: Notes Ahead of Lions vs Rams

The NFL scriptwriters truly outdid themselves.

The Jared Goff-led Detroit Lions host the Matthew Stafford-led Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night in the former’s first home playoff game in 30 years. The Rams have won seven of their last eight while the Lions are coming off their best regular season in three decades. Something’s got to give. Below are four notes ahead of what’s sure to be an emotional game from Ford Field this weekend.

Notes Ahead of Lions vs Rams

Organizational Ties

The biggest storyline heading into this game is undoubtedly the trade in 2021 that sent Stafford to Los Angeles and Goff to Detroit.

After becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 during the 2008 campaign, the Lions took Stafford first overall in the 2009 draft three months later. In 2011, he led Detroit to its first playoff appearance since 1999, throwing for over 5,000 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 16 games. Stafford would lead the Lions to two more playoff appearances during his time in Detroit, however, he was unable to guide the team to a postseason victory. Goff, whom the Rams selected first overall in 2016, led Los Angeles to a Super Bowl LIII appearance and was a two-time Pro Bowler with the Rams in 2018 and 2019.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a trade — which former Rams executive and current Lions general manager Brad Holmes orchestrated — that benefited both teams more. The Rams won Super Bowl LVI in Stafford’s first season in Los Angeles while Goff just led Detroit to its first 12-win season since 1991 and first division title in 30 years. On Sunday, they’ll square off for the first time since 2021, with much more at stake.

Top 10 Offenses

Despite the off-the-field storylines dominating the headlines this week, there’s still a football game to be played. If you like points, this game’s for you.

Detroit and Los Angeles both enter Wildcard Weekend boasting top 10 total offenses. The Lions average 27.1 points per game while the Rams are putting up 23.8 points per contest, good enough for fifth and eighth in the league, respectively. Detroit and Los Angeles are also in the top seven in total yards per game — the Lions average 394.8 and Rams 359.3. Both teams take advantage when they’re in the red zone; Detroit scores at a 64.1% clip while the Rams capitalize at 63.6%, both top-five in that category. This game has all the makings of a shootout and could come down to who has the ball last.

Detroit’s Special Teams Advantage

Often, special teams are overlooked in the game of football, but certain aspects of it like field goals and field position can decide games. While the Lions and Rams rank similarly in a lot of areas, Detroit has a clear edge here.

Los Angeles ranks toward the bottom of the NFL in many special teams categories:

  • 27th in punt return average
  • 29th in field goal percentage
  • 31st in net punting average
  • 32nd in kickoff return average

Yes, Detroit’s speedy punt return specialist Kalif Raymond will most likely miss Sunday’s contest after suffering a knee injury in Week 18, but the Lions have other contributors on their unit who’ve made their mark in 2023, led by punter Jack Fox and Pro Bowler Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

Sam LaPorta…Could Play?

After suffering what looked like a gruesome knee injury in Detroit’s Week 18 win, it looked as though Sam LaPorta‘s historic rookie campaign was all but over.

Miraculously, LaPorta and the Lions received fantastic news that the tight end had only suffered a bone bruise after hyperextending his knee. As far as LaPorta’s status goes for Sunday’s game, head coach Dan Campbell said earlier in the week that there was an outside chance that LaPorta would be available. However, on Thursday LaPorta said he was “optimistic” about playing in Detroit’s first playoff game since the 2016 season. It’d be a big boost for the Lions’ offense if he can suit up, and even if it’s only for a few snaps as a decoy, having LaPorta on the field is better than him being off of it. His injury designation for Sunday’s game will be something to look for in Friday’s practice report.

The Lions have made history this season. They’ve checked plenty of boxes and passed plenty of tests. But Sunday remains their biggest challenge: winning a playoff game. At home. Against their former franchise quarterback.

Buckle up.

Main Image: © David Rodriguez Munoz / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Lori Grant

Outstanding article by Joey Z.! Absolutely outdid himself this week ! If his work is any indication of what is to come Sunday night for the Lions, it will be wildly exciting !! My seatbelt will be on! Let’s Gooo !!!!!

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