Los Angeles Rams vs. Detroit Lions Predictions: Keys to the Game, Plus Players To Watch

The Detroit Lions host the Los Angeles Rams in the Motor City's first home NFL playoff game since 1994. What are the keys to victory for both sides?

It’s history in the making, as the Detroit Lions are hosting their first playoff game since Jan. 8, 1994. The atmosphere promises to be one to remember as fans sporting the Honolulu Blue will descend onto Ford Field in an effort to help will their team to the next round of the 2023-2024 NFL Playoffs.

Football is a game of matchups, so what are the keys to victory for both the Lions and the Los Angeles Rams heading into this Sunday night Super Wild Card Weekend showdown?

The Los Angeles Rams’ Keys to Victory

Lean on the Passing Game

The Rams were discredited from being legitimate contenders by many media members coming into the season.

QB Matthew Stafford was coming off of an injury-riddled season, and the team was being forced to turn to many young players as core pieces on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

It wasn’t being viewed as a rebuild by those outside the organization, but many saw 2023 as a retooling year that could help set L.A. up to make a significant run again in 2024.

However, even the Rams probably didn’t expect to find the amount of success that they had this year.

Stafford caught fire and began to absolutely put on a show week in and week out over the latter half of the season. Thanks in large part to the receiving corps, the version of Stafford that helped carry Los Angeles to a Super Bowl seemed to be back at full strength and ready to compete at a high level.

Looking ahead to Super Wild Card Weekend, the Rams have a tough matchup on the ground. Detroit is allowing the second-fewest rushing yards per game this season, which is going to make life difficult for standout RB Kyren Williams.

However, the Lions have not been as stingy through the air, as they’re allowing the sixth-most passing yards per contest this season. In fact, over the last three weeks, they’re surrendering a staggering 351.7 passing yards per game, easily the highest mark across the NFL.

With Puka Nacua, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, Demarcus Robinson, and co. ready to help Stafford in a plus matchup, the Lions may not have an answer for this high-powered passing attack. Sean McVay and Stafford will need to attack this major weakness.

Attack Jared Goff’s Weaknesses

Speaking of weaknesses, there are very few human beings on the planet that have a better understanding of Lions QB Jared Goff than Rams head coach Sean McVay. The duo was partnered together from 2017-2020 and ended up reaching the Super Bowl in 2018, but ultimately fell short of their goal to walk away champions as a result of their loss to the New England Patriots.

Goff is a solid NFL QB. He’s able to deliver high-level performances and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, of which he has plenty in Detroit. However, he is not without his faults.

McVay knows these pressure points and will be doing everything he can in this game to put Goff into troublesome situations snap in and snap out. Goff is a different QB playing at home versus away, so there’s the potential that he can overcome these obstacles — the team will have the support of Ford Field behind them.

However, QB is the most important position in all of football for a reason. If Goff can’t rise to the occasion, the Rams stand a very good chance of advancing to the next round.

Eliminate Explosive Plays

The Rams defense has done a spectacular job so far this season of eliminating big plays to opposing RBs. Through the 2023-2024 NFL regular season, Los Angeles was tied for the second-fewest explosive opportunities — plays that gained 15+ yards or more — across the entire league.

However, they have a date with an explosive offense in Detroit that has made a habit of routinely picking up chunk gains with their RB duo of Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery.

As a team, the Lions have 25 plays from their backfield over the course of this season that have gone for 15 yards or more. That ranks fourth in the entire NFL, which means that this is setting up to be a major matchup to watch throughout the evening.

If the Rams can contain the thunder-and-lightning backfield that Detroit possesses, along with the aforementioned two other keys, they’ll stand a very good chance of advancing to the next round and walking out of Ford Field with the upset.

The Detroit Lions’ Keys to Victory

Create Pressure on Matthew Stafford

One of the biggest surprises for the Rams this season has been the stability of their offensive line. After consistently allowing Stafford to be under siege on a snap-by-snap basis in 2022, the Rams’ offensive line is a top-10 unit in pressures allowed per dropback.

When Stafford is under pressure, his average yards per attempt plummets down to 6.2 and he has a passer rating of 75.7. However, when he’s given time to operate and scan the field, his PR jumps up to 99.6 and his YPA skyrockets to 8.2, which is top-10 in the NFL for QBs that are not under pressure.

Alim McNeill returning, getting his sea legs back underneath him in Week 18, and being available for this matchup should help Aidan Hutchinson and co. on the edge make life difficult for the veteran QB.

Stafford is on a heater right now, and the Lions secondary has been gashed in recent weeks. If the pass rush can show up and give Stafford a long day at the office, it will go a long way to securing the victory.

Feed the RBs

Gibbs and Montgomery have turned out to be a special tandem for this Lions under offensive coordinator Ben Johnson this season. It took a while to unleash Gibbs, but he’s been nothing short of spectacular in his rookie campaign.

While Goff and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown have a special connection that promises to be on display Sunday night, the RBs may just hold the key to victory in this game. The Rams are allowing 106.8 rushing yards per contest and 0.8 rushing touchdowns on average this year.

Both are around middle-of-the-pack metrics around the NFL, but Los Angeles is encountering a top-five unit when it comes to rushing production on the ground on a per-game basis. Goff has a tough matchup in front of him — as discussed earlier — with the coach on the opposing sideline intimately knowing his strengths and weaknesses.

Whether or not Detroit can control the clock and lean on their thunder-and-lightning combo out of the backfield will be a determining factor in this game.

Replace Sam LaPorta

As of the time of writing, rookie TE Sam LaPorta (knee) is listed as questionable for this Super Wild Card Weekend showdown, and it’s still unknown which side of that tag he falls on going into Sunday. It seems crazy to say when you consider how infrequently rookie TEs become indispensable, but the absence of this rookie TE could be a massive factor.

LaPorta was banged up in the Lions’ Week 18 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, which forced him to miss practice on both Wednesday and Thursday leading into this matchup against the Rams. However, the dynamic TE did return to practice in a full fashion on Friday.

MORE: NFL Playoff Bracket

When discussing LaPorta’s availability and whether or not the team needs to create two game plans due to the uncertainty regarding his status, head coach Dan Campbell said:

“Yeah, you build a couple of different packages and one with, one without and you’re ready for both. And we’ve gotten enough reps of walkthrough to be able to adapt and adjust.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve got smart receivers between (St. Brown) Saint and (Josh) Reynolds and (Donovan) Peoples-Jones, and then we’ve got (Jameson Williams) Jamo, all those guys, so we can handle it all. We’ve got Brock (Wright) back, and so it’s a smart group. It won’t be too taxing, but we have the ability to adjust.”

If LaPorta is able to suit up, he’ll be utilized early and often as the Lions look to get the ball out of Goff’s hands quickly and avoid the pressure created by Aaron Donald. However, if he cannot make it back in time for this game, there will need to be other players that step up.

Reynolds, Williams, and Wright have all shown flashes here or there this year. And in the season’s biggest moment, they’ll be called upon to deliver with a major spotlight.

If Goff is only able to rely on St. Brown in this receiving corps, the Lions could be stuck waiting another extended period before they host another playoff game.

Prediction: Rams 24, Lions 21

PFN’s Players To Watch

Aaron Donald, DL, Los Angeles Rams

If you’ve followed the NFL for any length of time, you know Donald’s name. He’s a frequent game plan disruptor, and he promises to make life very difficult for the interior of the Lions’ offensive line all game long.

If Donald is kept in check, the Lions have a chance of advancing to the next round. If Donald is able to wreak havoc in the backfield frequently on Sunday night, it’s going to be difficult to see how the Lions walk away with the victory. He’s that impactful of a player.

Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Detroit Lions

Hutchinson’s not on the level of Donald for the Rams…yet. However, he is an absolute force on the edge of the defensive line that promises to give the offensive tackles of the Rams fits on a consistent basis.

He’s quickly developing into one of the league’s best edge defenders. A dominant performance on the national stage could move him into the next tier within that conversation.

Puka Nacua, WR, Los Angeles Rams

The Rams struck gold when they selected the BYU WR on Day 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft. Little did they know that he would go on to write his name in NFL record books in his rookie season, as he totaled 105 receptions for 1,486 yards, and six receiving touchdowns.

The Lions secondary has been struggling to contain opposing passing games recently, which puts Nacua — and Kupp — at the center of this matchup. Nacua is going to be a key player to watch as this game unfolds.

Want to predict the results of the 2023 NFL postseason with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? How about looking into in-depth breakdowns of team depth charts or the NFL playoff schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with all that and more!

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