While the Detroit Lions may not precisely be a marquee opponent, this is a game the Rams want to win for a couple of reasons. First of all, a win clinches the NFC West title, not that it is really in doubt at this point. However, maybe more importantly, with the New Orleans Saints upset loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night, the Rams have a chance to put themselves in the driver's seat for first seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That is a big opportunity because the Rams DON'T want to have to play the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome again in the playoffs.
Besides, while the Lions probably won't be a playoff team in 2018, they have beaten some likely playoff teams, including the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. Oddsmakers are favoring the Rams by 9.5 points on Sunday, but we cannot take anyone lightly, especially on the road. Try asking the Saints.
Rams Offense vs. Lions Defense
The Lions defense is not bad, ranked 14th in the NFL in total defense, and giving up about 26 points a game.
Those are not high numbers, but they are not terrible either. They have been outstanding against the run lately, giving up a little under 150 yards in the last three games combined. That is total yards, folks, not a per game average. They also have former New York Giant Damon "snacks" Harrison at defensive tackle, one of the league's premier run-stuffers. The Rams have probably the league's best running back in Todd Gurley and the league's second-ranked rushing offense. Gurley meanwhile is said to be healthy after suffering a minor ankle injury that kept his carries to a minimum in the shootout win over Kansas City Chiefs.
When the Rams go to the air, one of the key matchups will be Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth against Lions defensive ends Romeo Okwara and Ziggy Ansah. While Okwara is the nominal starter, Ansah (who is likely to come in on passing downs) concerns me more as a pass-rusher. He is a freakish athlete who is so-so defending the run but could make things uncomfortable for Jared Goff on passing plays. Even so, Whitworth is one of the game's premier left tackles, and we like this matchup for the Rams.
The Lions is rated 13th in the league in passing defense. The Rams, meanwhile seem to have discovered a new weapon in tight end Gerald Everett, who is coming off a phenomenal game against the Chiefs, including what turned out to be the game-winning catch. Wide receiver Josh Reynolds, who is seeing significant time in the absence of fellow receiver Cooper Kupp (on IR with a season-ending knee injury), also played well, and his height and wingspan give the Rams an added dimension, especially in the red zone. Thrown in top receivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods and think the Rams have too many weapons for a decent but not great Lions defense.
Detroit may (or may not) limit the Rams ground game, but I do not think they can shut down this offense.
Rams Defense vs. Lions Offense
The Rams defense has been a concern all season, and the 51 points they gave up in their last outing against the Chiefs did not do anything to change that fact. The Rams DID make some big plays, however, generating 21 points off of turnovers and getting a couple of crucial picks at the end to seal the win. Linebacker Samson Ebukam had his best day as a pro, including a pick-six. Was that his coming out party, or just a freakishly good game? However, anytime discussing the Rams, the conversation starts and ends with defensive tackle Aaron Donald, probably the best defensive player in the game right now. Donald leads the NFL with 14.5 sacks, despite being double-teamed on about 70 percent of his plays. The unenviable task of containing Donald will likely fall to Lions guard Frank Ragnow. Good luck with that matchup Detroit, they are going to need it. Hopefully, the referees will keep a close eye for holding penalties, which has been the only strategy that has slowed down Donald this season. Meanwhile, Rams d-lineman Ndamukong Suh may have little extra motivation for this game, as he holds a grudge against the organization which drafted him in the 2010 NFL Draft.
The hard feelings won't help the comments given by Lions running back LeGarrette Blount calling Suh a dirty player. Guessing the fact that Blount would know about dirty players, while at the University of Oregon, was suspended from the team for sucker-punching a Boise State player after the conclusion of the game. Blount and Suh will likely renew their, umm, ''friendship" on Sunday, since the Lions will be without running back Kerryon Johnson, who is ruled out, leaving Blount to carry the load. There's a hunch this will not be a joyous reunion.
The Rams are expecting cornerback Aqib Talib to see snaps after having missed eight games with an ankle injury. The Lions will be without one of their primary weapons, wide receiver Marvin Jones, and former Detroit wideout Golden Tate was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, so that leaves Kenny Golladay as their primary receiving threat. Golladay is a good player, having racked up over 800 yards this season, and an average of over 16 yards per catch. The problem for Detroit is the fact they do not have anybody else that frightens people as a pass catcher with Jones injured and the trade of Tate. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford is something of a mixed bag, with a history of putting up very good to great numbers but not all that many wins. He is capable of getting hot, but assume that Detroit will try to go ''ground and pound" and keep the ball away from an explosive Rams offense. Blount did rack up 88 yards last week against a good Chicago Bears defense but otherwise has been so-so this season. The Lions will probably need 100 rushing yards from him to have a chance in this game. If the Rams can keep him under control Sunday, they should win comfortably, barring Stafford going off. If they cannot, they will have to do what they usually do, score 30 plus points and get just enough big plays on defense to win.
Edge: Rams (but only slightly)
Johnny Hekker, Greg Zuerlein, Cory Littleton, and Coach John Fassell, need we say more? If so, may we mention that backup linebacker Ramik Wilson is quietly having an outstanding season on special teams too! Let us include he forced a key fumble on a kick return to seal the win against Green Bay Packers. The Rams have the best special teams in the league, in our opinion, which helps offset some of their deficiencies on defense. Also, for one of the few times this season, they are mostly healthy. That is good news for the Rams.
The Lions are a hard team to predict, with wins against some of the league's best teams and then some dismal outings in other weeks against such weaklings as the New York Jets. However, they are banged up, and I do not think they can play with the Rams, barring the Rams going into the turnover mode.