The stage is set for a dramatic NFL playoff showdown this Sunday as the Los Angeles Rams travel to Detroit to take on the Lions in the NFC Wild Card round. Headlining the game is Lions legend Matthew Stafford facing his former team for the first time since being traded in 2021.
Lead Up To The Game
The Lions clinched a playoff berth in Week 18 with a resurgent season under second-year coach Dan Campbell. Former Rams quarterback Jared Goff has led the Lions offense with efficiency, while rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson emerged as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Detroit will be seeking its first playoff win since 1991.
Meanwhile, the defending Super Bowl champion Rams navigated significant injuries en route to their fifth straight playoff appearance under Sean McVay. Stafford played through elbow issues but put together another strong statistical season. The Rams offense continued to operate at a high level, with WR Cooper Kupp and RB Cam Akers providing big plays.
This matchup carries no shortage of juicy storylines centered around Stafford’s return to Detroit after a 12-year run with the Lions to start his career. The Rams sent Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder to Detroit for their franchise quarterback, a deal that has paid dividends with last year’s Lombardi Trophy.
“I’m sure it will be emotional,” said Stafford. “A place I called home for 12 years and had a lot of great memories. But it’s a playoff game, it’s business time now.”
What To Watch For
Stafford’s Detroit Reception: The big question looming over this game is what kind of reception Stafford will receive in his return to Ford Field. While his departure was largely amicable at the time, Lions fans still need to reconcile cheering against their longtime QB. Stafford jerseys have been banned at some Detroit bars, but he says he’s ready for boo birds.
“I poured my heart and soul into that place for 12 years,” Stafford said. “I know what that place means, what those fans are like…I’ll be ready for whatever happens.”
Goff’s Revenge: Jared Goff has plenty of motivation facing the coach that lost confidence in him and traded him away last offseason. Goff has revived his career in Detroit, but a playoff win over his former team would be the ultimate revenge. The Lions QB downplayed the narrative but admitted the matchup gives him “a little extra fire.”
Meanwhile, Sean McVay had glowing praise for his former quarterback this week. But the Rams coach made clear “this game isn’t about Jared Goff or Matt Stafford. It’s about two teams competing to advance.”
Hutchinson vs Ramsey: This marquee matchup pits Detroit’s rookie phenom against LA’s shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey. Hutchinson moves all over the defensive front and leads the Lions with 9 sacks. But he will have his hands full against three-time All-Pro Ramsey. These two stars could battle all game in a critical matchup.
Battle of Big Plays: The Lions offense took a huge step forward by improving their explosive plays, while the Rams continue generating chunk gains better than almost any team. Detroit has three players with 60+ catches and 600+ yards in Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds. But LA counters with Cooper Kupp and Cam Akers making huge plays. This game could come down to which offense hits for a couple big punches.
|Big Pass Plays
|Big Run Plays
Injuries: The Rams have battled injuries all year, especially on the offensive line where they have used 13 different starting combos. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s knee injury bears watching this week. Detroit is relatively healthy, but leading tackler Alex Anzalone’s shoulder injury could impact an underrated Lions defense.
This game is about as even as it gets on paper. The Lions are a 3-point home underdog, which is basically a toss-up line for a playoff game. Detroit’s offensive resurgence gives them a chance, but the Rams have more high-end talent and big-game experience.
Look for Sean McVay to dial up an creative gameplan to keep the Lions defense off balance. Meanwhile, Aaron Donald and LA’s star-studded defense will focus on rattling Jared Goff. In a tightly contested game, the Rams will do just enough to fend off the feel-good Lions for a 27-24 road victory.
But regardless of the final score, this will be Stafford’s night as he returns to the house he built in Detroit. Emotions will run high amongst Lions fans seeing their former hero return home to Ford Field in another uniform.
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