Perhaps you’ve heard by now Matthew Stafford will be facing his former team Sunday night in the Detroit Lions’ first home playoff game in three decades.

It’s true.

After hours of meticulously running multiple comprehensive codes, our supercomputer has confirmed it.

Much has been made of the fact that Stafford is playing in his first game at Ford Field since Detroit traded him to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and some draft picks prior to the 2021 season. And there’s the narrative that the Lions are hosting a playoff game for the first time since 1994 after Stafford was winless in three road postseason games during his 12 years in Detroit since the franchise drafted him first overall in 2009.

Yes, lots of juicy storylines in this NFL wild-card contest in Detroit, Michigan, on NBC.

But all subplots aside, the actual game on the field has the making of being one of the better matchups of Super Wild Card Weekend – and possibly of the season.

In what should be a raucous atmosphere at Ford Field with a berth in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs on the line between the upstart Lions and red-hot Rams, our supercomputer has tabulated a SmartRatings score of 86 – the highest of any game the entire season.

wild card weekend smartratings

It pits two of the NFL’s top offenses over the past few months up against one another, so buckle up.

NFL offensive ranks

The Lions have been the darling of the league, capturing their first division crown in 30 years. With last Sunday’s 30-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, they matched a franchise mark with 12 wins and set a single-season team record with a ninth 30-point game.

The Rams are just two years removed from a Super Bowl title but aren’t the same team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February 2022.

Sure, they still have Stafford, 2021 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. But now Stafford also has rookie receiver Puka Nacua and second-year running back Kyren Williams at his disposal. And Donald gets to play alongside rookies Kobie Turner and Byron Young to take some of the focus off him and free up the seven-time All-Pro.

The Rams are surging into the playoffs, riding a four-game winning streak and going 7-1 since emerging from their Week 10 bye. Their lone blemish over that stretch came in overtime on the road against the AFC-best Baltimore Ravens.

They also should arrive in Detroit well rested after head coach Sean McVay opted to sit several of his top playmakers in Week 18 with a playoff berth already secured, though their seeding still unsettled.

Lions coach Dan Campbell took the opposite approach in the season finale, deciding to play his starters in hopes of moving up to the NFC’s second seed – which didn’t happen – and that decision could come back to bite him.

For the Lions to snap an NFL-record nine-game losing streak in the playoffs and to secure their first postseason win since a 38-6 drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 5, 1992, they’ll need to neutralize Donald, Turner and the Los Angeles pass rush to give Goff time to throw.

Detroit’s Key: Protect Goff

In the blockbuster trade between the Lions and Rams three years ago, Goff played second fiddle to Stafford as the headliner, despite the fact both QBs were No. 1 overall picks.

Goff had earned a pair of Pro Bowl selections with the Rams and helped the team reach the 2018 Super Bowl, but Stafford had the label of being a strong-armed quarterback stuck on a losing franchise.

He proved to his critics he was a winner by promptly leading the Rams to a Super Bowl championship in his first season. Meanwhile, in Goff’s first season in Detroit, the Lions went 3-13-1.

Now in his third season with the Lions, Goff accomplished something Stafford was never able to achieve – win an NFC North title.

Goff earned a Pro Bowl selection for his play this season, ranking second in passing yards (4,575), fourth in touchdown passes (30), seventh in completion percentage (67.3) and ninth in passer rating (97.9).

He’s got the speedy Amon-Ra St. Brown as a receiver capable of breaking off a big play but seems unlikely to have his No. 2 target available after Pro Bowl tight end Sam LaPorta injured his knee in the regular-season finale.

With 86 receptions, LaPorta set an NFL rookie record for a tight end, and his potential absence would be a big loss for Goff if he is under pressure and needs to get rid of the ball quickly.

Only the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (292) had more pass attempts thrown between 1-10 yards than Goff’s 284, and while St. Brown caught 67 passes thrown in that range (sixth in the NFL), LaPorta wasn’t far behind with 61 (ninth most).

Goff and the Lions will be facing one of the league’s most dangerous interior defensive line combos in Donald and Turner.

A third-round pick out of Wake Forest, Turner is in the conversation for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading all first-year players with 9.0 sacks. Eight of those have come since Week 9, and his emergence over the last two months has been a boon for the Rams’ pass rush.

Since Week 9, the Rams are sacking opposing QBs on 7.1% of passing plays after registering a sack rate of 5.4 % through the first eight weeks – the fifth-lowest rate in the NFL.

Pressure Rate Among Defensive Tackles Since Week 9 (Min. 90 Rushes)

  1. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs (23.3)
  2. Quinnen Williams, New York Jets (19.5)
  3. Kobie Turner, Los Angeles Rams (18.8)
  4. Sheldon Rankins, Houston Texans (18.4)
  5. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams (17.4)

Turner’s ability to apply pressure is creating opportunities for teammates to take down the quarterback, as his adjusted sack rate of 5.2 is the fourth highest among the 45 defensive tackles with a minimum of 90 pass rushes since Week 9.

His QB knockdown percentage of 8.3 ranks third in that span, while his QB hit rate of 10.4 ranks ninth. Donald, meanwhile, has the seventh-highest QB hit rate at 11.3.

The Lions, though, are stout against pressure coming from the inside, and Goff has proven to be capable of dealing with the heat.

Right guard Graham Glasgow has an adjusted sack-allowed percentage of 0.6, while the NFL average for right guards is 1.4. Center Frank Ragnow, who has been named to his third Pro Bowl, has a pressure-allowed percentage of 3.6 – sixth best among the 32 centers with at least 200 plays in pass protection.

Playing behind a stellar line, Goff is only being sacked on 4.7% of passing plays – the third-lowest rate in the NFL. He’s also done a solid job of avoiding being sacked despite the fact he’s thrown more passes while being blitzed than any other QB in the NFL with 190 such attempts.

And when he’s blitzed, Goff isn’t making mistakes.

Goff’s open-target percentage against the blitz of 81.6 ranks fifth while his completion percentage of 69.5 ranks sixth among the 34 QBs with 50 such attempts. His pickable pass rate of 3.16 is also below the league average of 3.43.

Along with the talented running back duo of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs, the Lions boast one of the most explosive offenses in the league, as their 85 plays of 20 or more yards were one fewer than the San Francisco 49ers for the most in the NFL.

If the line can keep Donald and Turner at bay and give Goff time to throw, it could be a long day for the Los Angeles defense.

LA’s Key: Find the Soft Spots

While the Rams’ defense has one of the best interior combos, the offense possesses one of the top wide receiver tandems in Kupp and Nacua. It also has one of the best ground attacks with the emergence of Williams, as Los Angeles averaged 145.6 rushing yards in its final seven games – fifth in the NFL since Week 12 – after averaging 102.6 rushing yards in its first 10.

Williams missed five games with an ankle injury and was rested in the season finale, but still finished third in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,144. Among the 36 running backs with a minimum of 150 rushes, his average of 95.3 rushing yards per game led the NFL.

Kupp has been his normal productive self since missing the season’s first four games with a hamstring injury, catching 59 passes for 737 receiving yards with five touchdowns. Since Kupp began playing with Stafford in 2021, Stafford is completing 74.6% of his 366 passes thrown to Kupp – the fourth-highest completion percentage among the 30 QB-receiver combos with a minimum of 200 targets.

Nacua has come out of nowhere to put together the best season ever by rookie receiver, hauling in 105 receptions for 1,486 yards. His 38 receptions of 15+ yards were fourth in the NFL.

Stafford is throwing him the ball with regularity and trusts him to make the catch even though he isn’t creating much separation.

Since Kupp’s return to the field, Nacua has an open percentage of 62.6 – the third lowest among the 39 receivers targeted at least 70 times since Week 5. Despite tight coverage, he’s still a big-play threat to break free, averaging 7.1 yards after a catch – the NFL’s fifth-highest rate.

The Rams are able to move the ball through the air despite the fact their top receiver isn’t even open all that much, and now they’re going to face a Detroit secondary that didn’t exude much confidence down the stretch.

In the final three weeks of the regular season, the Lions permitted an NFL-worst 1,055 passing yards, as well as a league-high 14 passing plays of 25+ yards.

It’s one thing to allow Dak Prescott to throw for 345 yards like he did in Detroit’s 20-19 loss to Dallas in Week 17, but it’s another thing to let Nick Mullens throw for 411 yards in Week 16 and follow that up with 396 yards in the season finale. Luckily for the Lions, there’s a reason Mullens is a backup quarterback and he put the ball in harm’s way, throwing six interceptions in those two games to help Detroit escape with wins in each.

Stafford, meanwhile, has thrown the same number of interceptions in 355 attempts since Kupp returned from injured reserve. His interception percentage of 1.7 is the sixth lowest among QBs with a minimum of 200 pass attempts since Week 5.

Detroit’s secondary has been soft in coverage, and Cameron Sutton is right in the middle of Detroit’s struggles – and opposing offenses are fully aware of his shortcomings.

In the final three weeks of the season, Sutton was targeted 25 times and was burned on a whopping 18 of those throws.

Being burned and giving up big plays have been a season-long issue for Sutton, whose big play-allowed percentage of 38.6 was the worst among the 59 cornerbacks with a minimum of 60 targets.

cameron sutton NFL ranks

Not trying to pick on Sutton, but he’s been getting picked on plenty by opposing offenses, and the Rams would be wise to do the same.

Sutton isn’t the only weakness in Detroit’s secondary.

Signed from the practice squad just over a month ago, Kindle Vildor has started the last two games at corner after supplanting an ineffective Jerry Jacobs.

It’s a small sample size, but Vildor hasn’t been any better. Among the 47 corners targeted at least eight times in Weeks 17 and 18, Vildor’s 20.38 burn yards-allowed per target was the worst.

On the season, Detroit has registered an NFL-worst burn-allowed percentage of 54.0.

A major concern with the Lions is that they’ve been picked apart in matchups with the league’s top-tier quarterbacks. In games against Prescott two weeks ago, Patrick Mahomes in the season opener, MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson in Week 7 and Justin Herbert three weeks later, Detroit surrendered a total of 1,251 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and a 110.0 QB rating.

The Cowboys, Chiefs, Ravens and Chargers ran successful passing plays 50.9% of the time and gained an average of 8.2 yards per pass play.

Stafford might not be considered among the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, but he’s more comparable to that group than he is to Mullens.

He also enters the NFC wild-card game on a bit of a heater. Since Week 12, he ranks second in average passing yards per game (284.2), third in touchdown passes (15), fourth in yards per attempt (8.04) and fourth in passer rating (109.5).

It will likely be an emotional homecoming for Stafford, who finally gets to play a postseason game in Detroit. After trying for so long to lead the Lions to the promise land, he now is in position to send the long-suffering franchise to another gut-wrenching loss.

While all eyes will be on Stafford in the wild-card round, his eyes will be surveying Detroit’s shoddy secondary as he looks to extend the Lions’ playoff futility.

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