The Detroit Lions have done something unprecedented in franchise history: they won the NFC North.
The Lions booked their postseason ticket with a win on Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings, guaranteeing a home playoff game as the NFC North champion. While the playoffs are at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the regular season is far from over. The Lions have two remaining games: a tilt with the Dallas Cowboys and a rematch with the Vikings at Ford Field in Week 18.
These games will not affect the Lions’ standing within their division, but it could have implications on the rest of the NFL. Yet, with a playoff berth already secured, is there a chance the Lions play it safe and rest their starters?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Should the Lions rest any of their starters before the playoffs?
My answer: I think they should, specifically against the Vikings in Week 18.
The Lions are in the thick of the NFC seeding race, but they face a tough road ahead. The Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday sent them to a 10-5 record, bumping them below the 10-4 Philadelphia Eagles, who are slated to play the New York Giants on Monday. The San Francisco 49ers, meanwhile, sit at 11-3 with their own Monday night game still to come. These three teams are Detroit’s biggest threats for the first and second seeds.
Their remaining games are as follows:
Cowboys (10-5): vs. Lions, @ Commanders
Eagles (10-4): vs. Giants, vs. Cardinals, @Giants
49ers (11-3): vs. Ravens, @ Commanders, vs. Rams
On paper, the Eagles have the easiest route to win out, battling only the 3-12 Cardinals and 5-9 Giants (twice). However, they have lost three games in a row and look befuddled offensively. The Commanders should be pushovers for the Cowboys and 49ers, but the Lions, Ravens, and Rams should pose challenges.
This seems like a feasible route for the Lions to secure the top seed, and I agree. However, it all depends on the standings come Week 18. If the Lions beat the Cowboys and have a chance to lock up the top seed with a Week 18 win over the Vikings, then I think the Lions should play their starters. But if the 49ers still have a claim on the top seed and first round bye, then I think the Lions should rest their starters.
As it stands, the difference between the second and third seeds is marginal. There are two 8-7 teams (Seahawks and Rams) occupying the second and third Wild Card spots, while four teams sit at 7-8 (Vikings, Falcons, Packers, Saints). Any of those six teams could make the playoffs, and therefore predicting the Wild Card opponents will come down to the wire. The biggest difference between the second and third seeds isn’t the opponent, but home field advantage. By winning the second seed, you are guaranteed at least two home playoff games (assuming you win the first one, of course).
I think resting some starters would be more valuable than chasing the No. 2 seed. For one, the Lions should not jeopardize Jared Goff, since an injury to him would be devastating to their playoff run. Similarly, resting Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta, Jahmyr Gibbs, or David Montgomery would make sense to protect their playmakers. The Lions could use this opportunity to look at some of their other young players. Teddy Bridgewater is firmly entrenched as the backup behind Goff, but there would be a strong temptation to give Hendon Hooker a look if the Vikings game was meaningless. As Ryan Mathews and I noted back this summer, it would be a perfect low-risk chance to see what the Lions have. Other players that could get looks include Antoine Green, James Mitchell, and Jermar Jefferson.
It would also give players with nagging injuries one extra week of recovery. Frank Ragnow and Penei Sewell each popped up on the injury report this past week, and given how important this offensive line has been, it might be worth resting them so they are at full health for the first playoff game. If the Lions are to go on a playoff run, it will be carried by this dominant offensive line.
That being said, I do not expect the Lions to rest their starters, at least until the second half of the Vikings game if things are going well. While Dan Campbell undoubtedly cares about his players and their health, backing down from a challenge seems contrary to him as a coach—they do not back down from a challenge. I can’t fault the Lions for thinking this way if they opt for that route.
Should the Lions protect some key players before their playoff push? Let us know in the comments below.