The Detroit Lions host the Los Angeles Rams tonight in a primetime Wild Card matchup at Ford Field. It's win or go home, and this game is full of interesting matchups.
Here are five things to watch out for tonight:
1. HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE
The atmosphere at Ford Field will be the most electric in the building's 22-year history, and that includes the Monday night game in 2011 where it was so loud the Chicago Bears false-started nine times and my ears didn't stop ringing until a few hours after the game.
Lions fans have been so hungry for a division title and a home playoff game they could threaten the NFL record for decibel level. Linebacker Alex Anzalone gave the Ford Field faithful a friendly reminder to be loud while the Rams are in the huddle to disrupt communication there and not just at the line of scrimmage.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has been doing this for a long time and has faced plenty of loud road environments and having to play with silent counts and hand communications, but it's always advantage defense in those situations. The Rams do a lot of pre-snap motions and have some young players upfront, and it just takes one miscommunication to lead to a big play on defense.
Can the crowd ramp up the noise to a level where it can have an effect on the game?
2. RELYING ON WHAT GOT THEM HERE
The Lions are top five in the NFL in every major statistical category on offense and a big reason for that is the offensive line. The Lions go as their offensive line goes. Detroit is at its best when they can establish the run and work their play action pass game off of it. Detroit had the second most 100-plus yard rushing games with a touchdown this year (14) and boasted the fourth lowest sack rate in the league (4.8 percent).
The Rams' 41 sacks on the season ranked in the bottom 10 in the league, but they had four players with at least six sacks and have the best defensive tackle duo the Lions have seen all season in Aaron Donald and Kobie Turner, who have 17.0 sacks between them from the interior. Playoff football can be won and lost in the trenches. Can Detroit's strength all year be one again tonight?
3. QUARTERBACK MATCHUP
Jared Goff and Stafford have played a lot of football in their careers. They've combined to start 323 NFL regular season contests and have 13 combined playoff games under their belts. Both have taken a team to a Super Bowl, with Stafford winning his in 2021 and Goff falling short in 2018. There's not a lot that defensive coordinators Aaron Glenn and Raheem Morris can throw at these two they haven't already seen.
Goff talked this week about playoff football usually coming down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. That will likely ring true tonight. Which quarterback can avoid the big mistake? Playing quarterback in the playoffs isn't just about making big plays but also limiting the big mistakes.
4. INJURY SITUATION
Detroit is hopeful rookie tight end Sam LaPorta will be able to give it a go after hyperextending his knee Week 18 in the Lions' win over Minnesota. LaPorta missed practice Wednesday and Thursday but was back as a full participant on Friday. He was officially listed as questionable. LaPorta accounted for 86 receptions, 889 yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season, finishing fourth among all tight ends this season in receptions, fifth in yards and first in touchdowns.
The news isn't as good for kick returner and wide receiver Kalif Raymond, who also suffered a knee injury vs. the Vikings, but wasn't able to make it back to practice this week. The Lions already ruled him out. Raymond 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. Donovan Peoples-Jones or Amon-Ra St. Brown could return punts.
5. PASS DEFENSE
Los Angeles might also have the best receiving duo the Lions have faced this season in Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp.
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. He has 59 catches 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 comes into this contest ranked 27th against the pass, allowing 247.4 yards per game on average through the air. They've given up the fourth most passing yards this season (4,562) and the sixth most touchdown passes (28).
Could Glenn have something up his sleeve with safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu seeing the field together? The Lions rotated the three last week in Gardner-Johnson's first game back from IR.