Detroit Lions vs. Los Angeles Rams Pick & Prediction JANUARY 14th 2024

Matthew Stafford returns to Detroit in a Los Angeles Rams uniform. Jared Goff faces the team that gave up on him. The Lions are hosting a playoff game for the first time in 30 years.

The preamble to Sunday night’s first-round playoff matchup has all the fixings of a script, but neither team wants to discuss much more than the primetime wild-card meeting and the spot in the conference semifinals at stake.

The Rams are two seasons removed from winning a Super Bowl with Stafford after the Lions traded him for Goff and several high draft picks.

Lions fans were generally thrilled to see Stafford reach the mountaintop. Now, they’ll be rooting hard for his season to end.

“I understand what the people of Detroit, what the city of Detroit, meant to me in my time and my career. What they meant to my family. I hope they feel that back,” Stafford said. “But at the same time I’m not a stranger to the situation and understanding I’m the bad guy coming to town.”

The “bad guys” have been rolling along since their bye week.

The Rams (10-7) have won seven of their last eight games, with the lone loss coming in overtime to AFC top seed Baltimore.

With a playoff berth secured, coach Sean McVay rested Stafford and numerous regulars in the regular season finale. Stafford still finished with 3,965 passing yards and 24 touchdowns.

Rookie Puca Nucua (105 receptions, 1,486 yards and six touchdowns) and Cooper Kupp (59 receptions, 737 yards, 5 TDs in 12 games) provide formidable targets for Stafford.

“He’s put our team in a position to go play a meaningful game,” McVay said.

Running back Kyren Williams gives the offense balance. He racked up 1,350 combined rushing and receiving yards and scored 15 touchdowns despite missing five games.

Goff piled up 4,575 passing yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Lions (12-5) to the NFC North title. He’s got a star wideout in Amon-Ra St. Brown (119 receptions, 1,515 yards, 10 TDs) supported by the running back duo of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs.

Goff admits he had his differences with McVay in his final season with the Rams but is focused on taking the Lions franchise to new heights. That includes earning a playoff win that Stafford never recorded with the Lions.

“I so badly want to win a playoff game for this city, that hasn’t had one in so long,” Goff said. “That’s so much more important than anything personally for me.”

The Lions have played well in primetime games this season, so coach Dan Campbell isn’t concerned about the team feeling the pressure.

“I’m not worried about that — the stage, all of those things, because we’ve dealt with that for a while now. I feel like we’re prepared for that,” he said.

Campbell also expects Goff to remain calm and poised.

“He’s wired the right way,” he said. “He’s been through this. He’s been to the Big One. He’s dealt with this a number of times.”

Campbell is concerned that his players might try to do too much, instead of focusing on their assignments.

“You want to make a play so bad, you jump out of your gap,” he said. “All of a sudden, they hit you on a run.”

The big injury concern is Lions tight end Sam LaPorta, who suffered a hyperextended knee in the regular season finale against Minnesota.

Campbell said LaPorta, who set an NFL rookie tight end record with 86 receptions, was “improving” but isn’t sure whether he’ll suit up. Wide receiver and kick returner Kalif Raymond is also dealing with a knee injury.

–Field Level Media

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