The Detroit Lions will host the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field Sunday night in the Wild Card round of playoffs. The Lions are the No. 3 seed as the NFC North champions and the Rams come in as the No. 6 seed.
There is no shortage of storylines ahead of this intriguing matchup. Here are five of them to kick off the week:
1. JARED GOFF VS. HIS OLD TEAM
Goff was the No. 1 overall pick by the Rams in 2016 in their first season after moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles. He spent his first five seasons in Los Angeles before being traded to Detroit ahead of the 2021 season.
In his second season with the Rams, Goff led them to an 11-4 record and an NFC West title. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl but lost in the first round of the playoffs to Atlanta (26-13). In 2018 Goff was again a Pro Bowler, leading LA to a 13-3 record and another division title. He guided the Rams all the way to the Super Bowl, losing to the Patriots, 13-3.
After 9-7 and 9-6 seasons in 2019 and 2020, the Rams opted to move on from Goff and traded for Matthew Stafford, sending Goff, two first-round picks and a third-round pick to Detroit.
In Detroit, Goff's been a perfect fit for Dan Campbell and Ben Johnson's offensive system, and his resilience and grit reflects the culture here in Detroit. He's thrown for 4,575 yards and 30 touchdowns with a 97.9 passer rating this season, leading Detroit to its first division title in 30 years. Now he gets a chance to end his old team's season and give the Lions their first playoff win since 1991.
2. MATTHEW STAFFORD VS. HIS OLD TEAM
Stafford was the No. 1 pick by Detroit in 2009. He spent his first 12 seasons in Detroit leading the Lions to three playoff appearances in 2011, 2014 and 2016 – all first-round losses – and holds just about every passing record in franchise history.
In his first season in LA in 2021 he threw for 4,886 yards with 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and had a passer rating of 102.9 capping off the season with a 23-20 win in the Super Bowl over Cincinnati.
Sunday will mark the first time Stafford has been back to Ford Field since the trade. The Lions played at Los Angeles in Week 7 of 2021 in a game Stafford and the Rams won 28-19.
3. LIONS INJURIES
In their Week 18 win over Minnesota that gave the Lions a franchise-tying 12th win of the season, rookie tight end Sam LaPorta and veteran wide receiver Kalif Raymond suffered knee injuries that could impact their availability for Sunday night's matchup.
LaPorta's knee bent awkwardly making a 5-yard reception on a 3rd & 4 play late in the second quarter. Lions head coach Dan Campbell said LaPorta avoided a significant injury and there's an outside chance he can play Sunday night. Campbell said it's a day-to-day injury and not week-to-week, which is obviously good news.
"LaPorta has an outside shot now," Campbell said Monday. "We'll know a lot in 48 hours with him. He's got an outside shot."
LaPorta notched 86 receptions for 889 yards (10.3 avg.) and 10 touchdowns during the regular season. He set a new single-season record for receptions by a rookie tight end and his 10 touchdowns tied Rob Gronkowski for the second most touchdown receptions by a rookie tight end in NFL history.
The good news is veteran tight end Brock Wright is expected back at practice this week, per Campbell, after he's missed the last month with a hip injury. The team also has James Mitchell and Anthony Firkser on the roster at tight end.
Raymond, who was also injured while being tackled Sunday, has been Detroit's punt returner all season. His 11.4-yard average per return was sixth best in the NFL this season. He also chipped in 35 receptions for 489 yards and a receiving touchdown and seven carries for 75 yards. The Lions could use Donovan Peoples-Jones or Amon-Ra St. Brown in a return role Sunday night if Raymond can't go. Campbell said Raymond is also day-to-day but a little farther off than LaPorta.
View photos of the starters for the Los Angeles Rams.
4. AIDAN HUTCHINSON VS. AARON DONALD
Which defensive playmaker can make the bigger impact Sunday night?
Donald is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, who is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Even in his 10th season he's still an impact player with 8.0 sacks, 23 quarterback hits and 16 tackles for loss. Donald and rookie nose tackle Kobie Turner form a dynamic duo along the interior of the Rams' defensive front. Turner has 9.0 sacks and 16 quarterback hits on the season. The Rams have four players with at least six sacks this season – Turner (9.0), Donald (8.0), Byron Young (8.0) and Michael Hoecht (6.0).
Hutchinson's had a breakout second season that's earned him the first of what should be many Pro Bowl nods in the future. He has 11.5 sacks on the year and finished first in the NFL with 33 quarterback hits and second in total pressures (101). He's also the first player since 1995 (Bryce Paup) to produce 20.0 sacks and four interceptions in any two-year span.
Hutchinson and Donald are the two best players on each defense. They are usually right in the thick of things when a momentum-swinging defensive play occurs. Who can make the bigger impact Sunday? It might go a long way in deciding which team moves on and which team heads home for the year.
5. DETROIT'S PASS DEFENSE
Over the last three weeks, the Lions' defense has allowed passing performances of 411 yards, 345 yards and 396 yards. Detroit was 2-1 in those contests and can make a case they should have been 3-0. Still, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson had 141 and 192 receiving yards, respectively, with two touchdowns. Dallas' CeeDee Lamb put up 227 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson and Lamb are two of the best receivers in the game, but Los Angeles receivers Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp might be the best receiving duo the Lions have faced all season.
Nacua is a Pro Bowler in his first season after racking up 105 receptions for 1,486 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. Kupp missed five games this season due to injury but is now healthy and has a track record of success in this league. He has 59 receptions for 737 yards and five touchdowns on the year.
Wide receiver Tutu Atwell (39 catches), tight end Tyler Higbee (47) and running back Kyren Williams (32) have also proven to be weapons in the pass game. Detroit's given up the fourth most passing yards this season (4,562) and the sixth most touchdown passes (28).