Going into the first weekend of the NFL playoffs, is there a player under more pressure than Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford?
Acquired from the Lions last January as an upgrade over Jared Goff, Stafford has never won a playoff game, having gone 0-3 in his 12 seasons with Detroit. The 33-year-old has a chance to end that postseason drought on Monday night when the Rams meet the Cardinals in the wild-card-round finale at SoFi Stadium.
Let’s look at the reasons why this matchup is the most important game of Stafford’s 13-year NFL career.
Rams are all-in to win a title
For years, Stafford was known as the guy with the big arm but was stuck on a Lions team unable to maximize his talent as the No. 1 pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. Sure, he has had some great receivers over the years (namely, Calvin Johnson), but there wasn’t a time when Stafford had a good offensive line, a running game that could occasionally take pressure off of him and a defense that gave the offense a chance — all at the same time.
Now? He has the league’s receiving triple crown winner in Cooper Kupp, he’s being sacked less than twice a game and he has reliable running backs in Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson despite the Rams ranking 25th in rushing yards. He’s also aided by a defense, led by four-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Aaron Donald, that causes nightmares for quarterbacks. Stafford finally has everything he needs to succeed.
Failure could have consequences
The other reason Stafford has to perform now? He has a $10 million roster bonus due to him in March. In all likelihood, the Rams will cut Stafford to avoid paying that piece of the contract the Lions gave him if he can’t lead L.A. on a big playoff run. But if Stafford can deliver, a restructuring of that bonus, with a contract extension to remain with the Rams, is more likely. Or, if they still decide to cut him, his first taste of postseason success should make another NFL team want to sign a quarterback who’ll turn 34 on Feb. 7.
The Rams traded for Stafford and then invested in more big names during the season, adding wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and edge rusher Von Miller. They’ve increased their championship wager in an attempt to make owner Stan Kroenke’s dream of winning Super Bowl LVI in his $5.5 billion palace in Inglewood come true.
Monday night’s showdown between NFC West rivals is a must-watch because, well, it’s the playoffs. But it’s really worth watching to see how Stafford handles the biggest game of his life.