Five things to watch: Lions at Titans

Detroit News

Matt Schoch
 |  Special to The Detroit News

The Lions are technically not eliminated from the playoffs.

The Upshot at the New York Times gives Detroit a 1% chance of earning a wildcard berth.

Independent of other results Sunday, a win against Tennessee moves it up to 3%. Then, beating Tampa Bay next weekend at home (again independent of other results) moves it up to 12%.

Finishing off with a three-game winning streak in Week 17 against Minnesota at home means a 28% chance of advancing to the postseason.

Of course, by then, other results could’ve already sealed their fate.

Lions fans are also rooting for Atlanta, Minnesota and Philadelphia to win Sunday, if you feel like dreaming of the playoffs.

For us realists, here are five things to watch as the Lions play in Nashville to play the Titans (1 p.m., CBS/760):

1. Can Arthur deliver? The son of the founder of FedEx, it’s about time for a guy like Arthur Smith to catch a break. Smith is the offensive coordinator for the Titans and is among the top names on head coaching lists around the NFL. For Tennessee, Smith uses Derrick Henry’s power running combined with downfield passing for Ryan Tannehill, which he could similarly unleash with Matthew Stafford. He’s worth a look.

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2. Stafford strong? From reports on Saturday, it sounds like Matthew Stafford is hoping to gut it out once again despite rib and thumb injuries. The hope here is that sanity prevails and No. 9 takes at least a week to get better. It’s understood that football players are wired quite a bit differently than us, as fighting through pain is an unchecked virtue. But for this team, this season, with Stafford’s offseason trade value possibly a factor, it’s irresponsible to put him out there. Not that we’d expect anything less.

3. Hammering Henry: For old-school fans, watching Derrick Henry run is a treat. He’s a throwback and will punish defenders all day. Another outing like last week, when he bulldozed his way to 215 yards against Jacksonville, puts a 2,000-yard season squarely within reach. The Lions could help or hurt that cause. Henry has 1,532 with three games to go, needing 156.0 yards per week to become the eighth player all-time to reach that plateau.

4. Big V back: With the offensive line shuffling resulting from Frank Ragnow’s scary throat injury, Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s return will help. The disappointing free-agent signing has been battling a foot injury all season which kept him out the last three weeks. Since we’re already in evaluation mode, “Big V” has a chance to prove he’s worth the five-year, $45-million contract he signed this offseason. The less you hear his name on Sunday’s telecast, the better.

5. Fantasy in focus: Probably most importantly, it’s fantasy football semifinals for most leagues this weekend. Henry is the top running back option in the entire league, according to all six fantasy experts at ESPN. Hopefully, you’re not going up against him. If so, at least his big performance is giving the Lions a better draft position next spring. 

Matt Schoch writes for and also freelances for The Detroit News.

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