The Detroit Lions entered Week 18 of the 2023 NFL regular season fresh off their first NFC North division title since 1993. The Lions, set to face the Minnesota Vikings, were in position to get the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Worse-case, Detroit was looking at the No. 3 seed and homefield advantage in the first round. But head coach Dan Campbell rolled out the starters against the Vikings in what could end up being a meaningless game.
And it might cost the Lions their Pro Bowl tight end after Sam LaPorta exited the game with a knee injury in the first half.
Now, you can’t blame Campbell for things like this. While he probably should have rested LaPorta, the tight end can get hurt at any time. For all we know, he goes down on the first play of the Wild Card Round or something. Injuries are unpredictable and you can’t be thinking like that in these situations. Give Campbell a break. It wasn’t the smartest decision but hindsight is 20/20.
We also don’t know how serious the injury is. It could be something where LaPorta can get back on the field by next weekend. But the fact it’s his knee and he won’t return, plus was carted off the field, is not encouraging. Because of that, it wouldn’t be surprising if LaPorta were to miss the first round of the playoffs. Again, we’ll have to wait and see after LaPorta is evaluated further.
If it is serious and LaPorta is out, that’s possibly the worst start to the postseason Detroit could ever have. LaPorta just broke the rookie TE receptions record with his 82nd this season. He also scored his 10th TD, one of just three rookie TEs all-time to score double-digit TDs in a single season (Rob Gronkowski, Mike Ditka). So losing essentially your top offensive weapon for a middle-of-the-pack QB in Jared Goff is not great. Can the Lions still win in the playoffs without LaPorta? Absolutely.
You can’t replace a player like LaPorta and don’t expect the Lions to try to with backups Brock Wright and/or James Mitchell. Detroit will need to use more three-wide sets with Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds and Jameson Williams, which doesn’t sound so awful. Williams has come on toward the end of the season after being suspended for the first four games. You’d also expect the Lions to stick to what they’re good at and run the ball with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. The potential loss of LaPorta would be huge, but not something the Lions can’t overcome.
It’ll be a big test for Campbell and the offensive coaching staff to make adjustments if LaPorta is out. There’s a chance the Lions face the Rams in the first round. Sean McVay has a Super Bowl ring. The Rams are hot. It won’t be an easy task to begin with and gets more difficult if LaPorta sits.
The Lions remain +2000 to win the Super Bowl as we await an update on LaPorta. You’d think if he’s ruled out for an extended period of time, that would impact Detroit’s chances of winning the Super Bowl. Again, the Lions can survive this setback and still win. It’s just a taller task.