The end is in sight for the Detroit Lions (5-10), which is a relief of sorts for a disgruntled fan base after Saturday’s 47-7 blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Matthew Stafford is hurt, interim coach Darrell Bevell and other staff members were forced to watch Saturday’s defeat at home because of COVID-19 protocols, and the Lions’ Week 17 matchup is meaningless except for determining Detroit’s 2021 draft position.
It’s hard to envision any reason to back the Lions for the season finale against the Minnesota Vikings (6-9), and sports bettors are taking the opportunity to fade Detroit one more time.
The Vikings opened as 3.5-point favorites, but the line moved all the way to -7 in Minnesota’s favor as of Tuesday afternoon. The total also went up from 53 to 54.5. Detroit’s moneyline was +240, while the Vikings were at -305.
Both Detroit and Minnesota are eliminated from playoff contention. A loss would give the Lions a better draft spot, which would seem beneficial for the organization’s future. But Bevell still gave the traditional coach-speak message during Monday’s media session.
”This is what we do. This is what we love,” he said. “This is why we’re in this business, is to play the game of football and play the game we love. We signed up for 16 games, they are giving us a 16th game and another opportunity regardless of scenario situations.
“We want to put our best foot forward and play the way we’re capable of playing and look for a win and go out the way we would like to go out.”
Monday was a restricted access day for the players and staff, meaning not all the coaches are at Allen Park anyway. Bevell didn’t expect to have the entire staff at the facility on Tuesday but planned on rejoining the team, along with defensive coordinator Cory Undlin.
Stafford’s availability (ankle) for Sunday’s game came up during the media session, and Bevell said the decision will be based on the quarterback’s health. It will be a question of if the medical staff believes he can protect himself or if there’s a chance he might aggravate his injury.
Stafford also met with the media on Monday and said if it were up to him, and his ankle progresses throughout the week, he would like to play in the season finale.
”I signed up to play this year and part of signing up is hopefully getting 16 games at that,” he said. “I signed up for it and so did my teammates, so if I’m healthy enough to get out there and do it, I want to be out there.”
Stafford left Saturday’s loss to Tampa Bay early in the first quarter after tweaking his ankle on a drop-back pass. He hobbled to the locker room and was eventually downgraded to out for the remainder of the game.
The offense floundered in his absence. Chase Daniel completed 13 of 18 passes for just 86 yards, while David Blough was 6 of 10 for 49 yards and an interception. Total, the team accumulated only 186 yards of total offense.
Detroit’s only score came in the third quarter on special teams when Jamal Agnew ran back a punt 74 yards for a touchdown. Agnew’s score cut the deficit to … 40-7.
It’s fair to wonder what there is to gain by letting an injured Stafford play in a meaningless game against Minnesota. He has battled injuries and dealt with an inept organization for 11 years, so it doesn’t seem worth it to put his body on the line for such little stakes.
If Stafford plays, there will be speculation on whether it would be his last appearance with the Lions. With a new general manager and head coach set to come to Detroit next season, rumors have swirled about Stafford’s future with the team.
If it is the end for Stafford, the Detroit fanbase might look back at his Lions tenure as a wasted opportunity by the organization to build something special around an elite offensive talent, similar to what happened when Detroit had Barry Sanders or Calvin Johnson.