This week's Lions-Cardinals game has NFL Draft implications. Justin Rogers and John Niyo break the game down and talk about Detroit's offseason needs. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
If it seems like the Lions usually wilt in the Arizona heat, it’s because they do.
The Cardinals have defeated the Lions in seven of the last eight meetings and 12 of the last 16.
The Lions have not won in Arizona in 25 years, losing eight straight since 1993. That December day, Erik Kramer threw touchdown passes to Herman Moore, Willie Green and Rodney Holman and the Lions beat the Phoenix Cardinals 21-14, breaking a three-game losing streak and starting a push to the playoffs. It was the second meeting of the season between the teams, for some reason.
Here are five things to watch Sunday against Arizona (4:25 p.m., FOX, WJR 760):
1. Life without Stafford?
It’s been a disappointing season for quarterback Matthew Stafford, there’s no doubt about that.
But too many fans are forgetting what the pre-Stafford era was like in Detroit, a never-ending stretch without a competent quarterback you could believe in.
Contract realities aside — Stafford will be the Lions’ quarterback in 2019 and likely well beyond — take note of the painful development of rookie quarterbacks in Cleveland, Buffalo, Arizona and with the New York Jets (combined record: 14-33-1).
There's just not much to get excited about in the desert this year.
2. Chosen Rosen
That said, there’s certainly a lot to like about Arizona rookie Josh Rosen, the UCLA product.
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich — yes, that Byron Leftwich — has had the training wheels on Rosen so far, but at home against the struggling Lions could be the time to let ‘er rip.
He’s also a compelling guy: For the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative, Rosen will be wearing blue and teal cleats to promote Parley, an environmental organization hoping to bring awareness to the damage of climate change.
3. 2019 tryouts
This season ends with more question marks about the Lions’ roster than it began.
We knew coming into the season that the Lions would be thin at edge rusher and tight end. Devon Kennard has been a nice piece on the defense, but will anyone else even be back rushing the quarterback next year from this roster? Romeo Okwara has a chance to prove he’s worth bringing back.
And what about Luke Willson, Michael Roberts and Levine Toilolo? Roberts has shown enough to prove he’s worth bringing back at his low cap number, but the team likely needs more from the position, and the pair of unrestricted veterans and Roberts have four weeks to prove they already are that upgrade.
4. Fitz finale?
The Lions and Cardinals could meet again next season if they finish in the same position in their respective divisions.
But even if they do, there’s certainly a chance this is already the last go-round for Arizona veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni correctly called Fitzgerald a Hall of Famer this week, and he’s been one of the league’s most underappreciated stars for most of his career.
He’s third all-time in receptions and second in receiving yards, should’ve won a Heisman Trophy at Pittsburgh, and would be a Super Bowl champion and MVP if not for James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes.
He’s everything Lions’ fans hoped Calvin Johnson would be.
5. Draft position/fantasy playoffs
The Lions are back to their old December mode where all that matters is draft positioning (take a look at Justin Rogers’ big board for prospects to watch this bowl season).
But maybe you’ve worked your way into your fantasy playoffs and need a win this weekend to get in the money.
If that’s the case, and you need a boost at running back, maybe look in the Lions’ direction. With Kerryon Johnson out for the third straight game, Theo Riddick could be serviceable in the run and passing games.
Patrick Peterson could make Kenny Golladay force-feeding tough, meaning Stafford might throw lots of dump-offs to Riddick, giving him numbers that won’t lose your fantasy playoffs.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.