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Can Matthew Stafford win against his old team in return to Detroit?

How will Matthew Stafford perform against his old team on Wild Card Weekend?

Detroit Lions v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For the first time since arriving to California via trade in 2021, Los Angeles Rams starting quarterback Matthew Stafford will return to Michigan to play his former team, the Detroit Lions. There will be a lot of pressure on Stafford to do well, much like there was in 2021 when he started his first playoff game for the Rams.

However, this is different and there will be a lot of emotions involved. Unlike 2021, the Rams will enter the wild card round as the lower seed. It will be the first playoff game in Detroit in 30 years. The Rams will be a standard three-point underdog against the Lions according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

This could be a big game for Matthew Stafford’s legacy if he can win on the road in the playoffs. For a quarterback that was said to not show up in big games, it doesn’t get much bigger than Sunday’s playoff game against the Lions.

Rams Offense vs. Lions Defense

The Rams are going to need to lean on Matthew Stafford in this game and their quarterback must show up with some big-time throws. The Lions rank 25th in pass defense EPA. While aggressive, this is a Detroit secondary that can be taken advantage of through the air.

While Los Angeles will need to lean on Stafford, they also can’t get away from the run. The Lions do rank first in run defense DVOA, but 31st run-stop win-rate. They also give up the fourth-most EPA per rush on duo running concepts which the Rams run a lot of in their offense. Sean McVay and Mike LaFleur would be smart to take pressure off of Stafford with the run game and then get him in rhythm as the game progresses.

Matchup to Watch: LT Alaric Jackson vs. EDGE Aidan Hutchinson

The Lions have one spot where they can get pressure when they only rush four and that’s with Aidan Hutchinson. Hutchinson has over 100 pressures this season. The next closest Lions player has 34. Jackson and Hutchinson went up against each other in 2019 when Iowa played Michigan. The now Rams left tackle gave up four pressures in that game and Hutchinson finished with seven. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams give Jackson some chip help, but if he can hold up, Stafford should have plenty of time throwing the ball.

Rams Defense vs. Lions Offense

For the Rams defense to have success against this Lions offense, they need to be able to generate interior pressure. This is going to be a strength on strength matchup. Frank Ragnow is arguably the best center in the NFL and the Lions are strong on the interior. Meanwhile, the Rams interior defensive line leads the NFL in pressure rate. Ernest Jones also leads all linebackers in pressures. The Rams must make Goff uncomfortable in the pocket.

It’s also going to be crucial for the Rams defense to mitigate damage on explosive plays. The Lions offense ranks second in explosive plays while the Rams defense is 19th in explosive plays allowed. Ben Johnson is going to be able to design explosives, but it’s about turning those into field goals or empty possessions. If the Rams can do that, they’ll put the offense in a good position.

Matchup to Watch: LB Ernest Jones vs. RB Jahmyr Gibbs

Gibbs has been one of the more explosive and dynamic running backs in the NFL this season. He has 53 receptions out of the backfield and was just 55 yards shy of 1,000. These players will likely match up in coverage and when Jones blitzes. Gibbs has not been good in pass protection this year. Taking away Gibbs is going to be key is slowing down the Lions offense.

Prediction

This game could go either way. In one sense, this is going to be the first home playoff game for the Lions in 30 years. The atmosphere at Ford Field is going to be unmatched. Some Rams players will have experience in that sort of atmosphere when they played the New Orleans Saints in 2018. However, for many Rams players, this will be their first postseason experience.

There should be a lot of points in this game and it could come down to which secondary makes a play on the ball or a special teams gaffe. However, it could also come down to which quarterback makes the play in the big moment - positive or negative.

Score: Rams 38, Lions 34