The Time To Run The Table Is Now For The Detroit Lions.
It’s do or die for the city of Detroit and the Lions. Losing to the Baltimore Ravens last week was a gut punch to the team’s playoff chances, and the Atlanta Falcons win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night makes it even tougher for the team to see the field in January.
Their only option now is to run the table.
With the easiest schedule in the NFL, Detroit can’t choose to trip up this late in the season. Head coach Jim Caldwell’s seat is getting warmer and with the team getting eliminated from playoff chances, he could be removed after the 2017 season. Beating Tampa Bay won’t be easy, because, despite their 4-8 record, they are still an offense that can put up points, ranked 13th in the NFL.
Matt Stafford‘s Health
Teams live or die by the quarterback. Starting quarterback Matt Stafford left the game early last week with a hand injury. Stafford was limited in practice all week long, but odds are he can play. Even if Stafford does play, the hand injury will affect him. Reporters have said that his throwing motion and power doesn’t look affected, but we shall see on Sunday.
If Stafford goes down, then Jake Rudock steps into the role. He struggled against Baltimore as he threw a pick six out of the five passes he was asked to do. Confidence in Rudock has shrunk, and many have written the Lions off if Rudock is starting.
Tampa Bay is struggling when it comes to defense though, as they are ranked 31st in the NFL. Stafford playing or not will have an impact on the game, but it certainly helps when he is going up against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Offensive Line Has To Be Shown For Improvement, Despite Injuries
Starting right tackle Rick Wagner is already ruled out, so his replacement will most likely be Brian Mihalik. Corey Robinson and Emmett Cleary would be his other possible replacements, but both are injured are questionable for the game. Robinson might possibly play left guard if starting center Travis Swanson misses another game and forces starting left guard Graham Glasgow over.
Going up against one of the worst defenses could smell for disaster if the offensive line doesn’t hold up. While the Bucs do have the least amount of sacks in the NFL with only 17, it doesn’t guarantee that this offensive line won’t slip up, especially with one of their starters confirmed out.
This could also bring up the famous question of the 2017 season, will Detroit finally have a 100-yard rusher in a game? Out of the final four defenses that the Lions have to play, this is the easiest one of them all and their last real chance of ending the streak this season.
Darius Slay Has Another Big Test
A new challenger has approached. Starting star cornerback Darius Slay has been shadowing the opposing number one wide receiver mostly this season, and his next challenge is Mike Evans. Evans is having a down year this year with quarterback Jameis Winston missing time, but don’t let that get you to think that Evans is a pushover. At 6’5, Evans has 735 yards and four touchdowns on 53 catches. Height will be the biggest difference as the last time Slay took on a receiver that tall it was Kelvin Benjamin, and Slay had his worst game of the season.
The most interesting thing in the secondary is the loss of starting safety Tavon Wilson. Wilson had shoulder surgery and is done for the season. His replacement was assumed to be safety Miles Killebrew, but slot cornerback Quandre Diggs took the role and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said they would continue to run with Diggs at safety.
The biggest difference that jumps to mind between the two players is height. Diggs is 5’9 and possibly the best slot cornerback on the team, and Killebrew is 6’2. To take Diggs away from the slot cornerback position means rookie cornerback Teez Tabor might see more playing time. Either way, it is an interesting move and if Diggs is supposed to shadow the side of the field that Evans is on and Slay messes up, it’s a total mismatch for the Lions.
This isn’t how the fans projected the season to be after starting the season 3-1. To win only three out of the next eight games is rough for fans to see, and with a 6-6 record as of week 13, time is running out for this team.
While Tampa does have a horrendous defense, this team hasn’t been clicking on offense the past month as they have gone down by 10 in two games to come back and win, or come back and make it close. Detroit’s defense will be the biggest difference maker. If they can force turnovers then they could win this game, but if Tampa can hold onto the ball and keep scoring, they win this game.
Detroit loses to Tampa in a shootout 35-31.