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Jan 14, 2024 2:57 pm

Wild Card Weekend: Rams-Lions Preview, Props, Prediction

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.

PREDICTION
This is arguably the most intriguing matchup among the six wild-card games, and not just because of the quarterback plot line. The Rams are a dangerous opponent with rookies Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua providing a massive boost to the offense while a young defense has continued to improve throughout the season.

Detroit’s offense will give that unit fits, with the ability to move the ball on the ground or through the air. The game could come down to whether the Lions’ defense can get off the field on third downs and which team makes the most of its red-zone opportunities.

Prediction: Lions 27, Rams 24

TRENDING
The Lions opened as 3.5-point favorites at BetMGM, where it has shifted to 3.0 points with Detroit backed by 54 percent of the spread-line bets and 55 percent of the money. However, the public has been fond of the Rams’ +140 moneyline, which has drawn 60 and 59 percent of the action, respectively.

The line also has moved to 3.0 points at DraftKings and BetRivers, where it;s the Rams who have been slightly more popular with 53 percent of the spread-line bets and 51 percent of the money backing them.

BetMGM has the lowest Over/Under total among the three, sitting at 50.5 points on Sunday after opening at 48.5. The total was 52.5 points at BetRivers and 53.0 at DraftKings.

PROP PICK
Rams QB Matthew Stafford Over 1.5 Passing TDs (-150 at DraftKings): This has been the most popular player prop at the book for this matchup. Stafford has thrown multiple touchdown passes in five of his past six games and has a healthy Cooper Kupp pairing with Nacua for a dangerous tandem. The Lions had the 27th-ranked pass defense during the regular season.

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

The Rams (10-7) have won seven of their past eight games, with the lone loss coming in overtime to AFC top seed Baltimore in Week 14.

With a playoff berth secured, coach Sean McVay rested Stafford and numerous regulars in the regular-season finale — a win against the NFC’s top seed, the San Francisco 49ers, who also rested the starters. Stafford still finished with 3,965 passing yards and 24 touchdowns.

Nacua (105 receptions, 1,486 yards and six touchdowns) and 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 of Stafford.

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 rookie 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 in Detroit.

“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 said he 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 instead 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.”

INJURY REPORT
The big injury concern is Lions tight end Sam LaPorta, who hyperextended his left knee in the regular-season finale against Minnesota.

Campbell said LaPorta, who set an NFL rookie tight end record with 86 receptions, was “improving” on Wednesday. LaPorta boosted Campbell’s confidence on Thursday by going through live reps and coming out of the workout “optimistic” he can play with a knee brace this week. He is officially questionable for the game.

Detroit wide receiver and kick returner Kalif Raymond (knee) was ruled out, along with tight end James Mitchell (hand), linebacker James Houston (ankle) and cornerback Jerry Jacobs (tight/knee). Defensive end John Cominsky (illness) is questionable.

The Rams listed six players as questionable: tight end Tyler Higbee (shoulder), offensive linemen Joe Noteboom (foot) and Kevin Dotson (shoulder), nose tackle Bobby Brown III (illness), linebacker Troy Reeder (knee) and defensive back Jordan Fuller (ankle).

THEY SAID IT
Lions fans were generally thrilled to see Stafford reach the mountaintop when he led the Rams to the Super Bowl title. 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.”

–Field Level Media

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