A festive Ford Field will be rocking on Christmas Eve, and Matthew Stafford will lead his Detroit Lions to a playoff-clinching victory over the San Diego Chargers.
Though there’s already a layer of snow of the ground in Detroit, the temperature-controlled dome will be a perfect environment for two high-flying passing attacks.
Ryan Mathews has been very effective for the Chargers in recent weeks, and Kevin Smith has given the Lions a great spark since re-signing with the team at midseason, but this game will definitely be decided through the air.
Detroit ranks fifth and San Diego ranks sixth NFL in passing, with both offenses averaging over 270 yards per game.
There will be plenty of points scored in this game but ultimately, the Lions’ defense and home-field advantage will lead Detroit back to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Philip Rivers has struggled this season, especially when he’s come under pressure. Rivers’ quick release has kept him from being sacked too often, but without the ability to set his feet and put his body behind his throws, he’s thrown 17 interceptions, fourth-worst in the NFL.
Ndamukong Suh and the Lions pass-rushers already pose a challenge for the Chargers’ injury-depleted offensive line, but with a voracious Forld Field crowd behind them, the Detroit defenders will be unstoppable.
The last time there was this much excitement at Ford Field, the Lions sacked Jay Cutler three times, knocked him down on six other occasions and forced the Chicago Bears’ offensive line into a whopping nine false starts.
Matthew Stafford has been able to throw the ball against just about everybody, but the Chargers should be an especially easy target.
San Diego ranks sixth in the league in pass yards allowed, but the Chargers’ opponents have attempted an NFL-low 399 passes. When that seemingly stout pass defense is broken down into yards per pass, San Diego ranks a less impressive 21st in the league, allowing 7.5 yards per attempt.
On top of that, the Chargers struggle to pressure the passer, ranking 22nd in football with just 29 sacks on the season.
With his deep stable of receivers and plenty of time to throw, Stafford will have no problem moving the ball downfield against the Chargers.
As they showed in last Sunday’s shellacking of the Baltimore Ravens, the Chargers are at their best when they can get the ball deep to Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Brown. Unfortunately for San Diego, things won’t be so easy this week.
With the Detroit pass-rush bearing down on him, Philip Rivers likely won’t have enough time to allow downfield routes to develop. Partly for that reason, the Lions are one of the best in the league at preventing the deep ball, allowing just 6.6 yards per pass attempt.
When the ball does get into the air, Detroit’s defense can make a play. The Lions rank fourth in the NFL in interceptions and have a penchant for turning picks into touchdowns.
A nearly nonexistent running game limits Detroit’s short-yardage options, and consequently, the Lions have struggled to extend drives on third down. Defenses can see the quick pass coming and clamp down on Detroit’s receivers. Though this has been a problem for the Lions all season, don’t expect it to hinder them much against the Chargers.
San Diego is the worst defense in the NFL when it comes to getting off the field. The Chargers allow opponents to convert on third down 47 percent of the time. With Brandon Pettigrew working against a slow-footed group of inside linebackers, the Lions will be able to wear down the San Diego defense and grind out long scoring drives.
For the first time in a decade, the Lions have something to play for in Week 16. A win on Christmas Eve would secure a playoff berth for the once hapless Lions, and even with the late start, Ford Field will be packed and loud. With a road matchup in Green Bay looming next week, the Detroit fans know it’s now or never for the Lions playoff hopes.
It’s always tough to quantify the emotional element of a game, but this Lions team seems to share a particularly strong connection with its fans. The defense, especially, feeds off of the crowd noise, reveling in the havoc it creates for opposing offenses.
San Diego is playing for its playoff life as well, but coming across the country for a road game on a holiday weekend, it’s fair to say that the Chargers might be a little distracted.
The Lions and their fans will bring it from start to finish, but something tells me that they’ll leave a little something in the tank for a post-game celebration.