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Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford on his return to Detroit: 'I'm the bad guy coming to town'

Matthew Stafford's ready to wear the black hat.

The No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford spent 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, but he doesn't expect a warm reception Sunday when his current squad clashes with his former team in an NFC Wild Card Game.

"I'm not expecting anything, to be honest with you," Stafford told reporters Wednesday. "I was asked this question a couple times just by friends and family, and I think the biggest thing for me is just to go and experience whatever that experience is gonna be. I understand what the people of Detroit and the city of Detroit meant to me in my time and my career, what they meant to my family. I hope they feel that back, but at the same time I'm not a stranger to the situation and understanding that I'm the bad guy coming to town."

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Stafford is coming to town as an opposing player for the very first time.

He led the Rams to a regular-season win over the Lions in October of the 2021 season, throwing for 334 yards and three touchdowns during Los Angeles' Super Bowl season. That was in L.A., though.

Sunday will offer a new story and setting.

Stafford will play his fifth postseason game for the Rams -- he played in just three during his dozen years in Detroit, coming away on the losing end in each of them.

He never played a home playoff game. It's the Lions' first time hosting a postseason game in 30 years, after all. And Stafford, who for so long endeavored to lead the Lions into prominence, will be striving to stop Detroit from celebrating its first playoff win since 1991 -- the longest active drought in the NFL.

His performance and box score will be paired with that of his counterpart Jared Goff. Team game or not, the Goff-versus-Stafford narrative will be prevalent considering Stafford was sent to L.A. in exchange for Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder in the 2021 offseason. Stafford and Goff will be the centerpieces of the first playoff game in NFL history to feature starting quarterbacks who previously played for the opposing team, per NFL Research.

The history and histrionics are compelling, but it is just as much a chance for Stafford to be appreciated by a home crowd that will no doubt be jacked up for a long-awaited postseason game, but will see a familiar face who remains atop the club's record books.

"I think the big deal is all the great things he did for that city, for that organization," Rams head coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. "I think there's a lot of appreciation on both ends. I know he feels that way, I know they do about him, it's pretty unique to get the opportunity to go back there and play them in the playoffs, but I would imagine the appreciation that that city has for football and for the human being that he is, it'll be where they're saying 'Hey, we appreciate everything,' and then 'We're rooting for the Lions to try to beat the Rams.'"

Stafford's 45,109 passing yards, 282 passing touchdowns and 74 QB wins are all atop the Lions leaderboards.

He was unable to lead them to playoff success, though. He requested a trade and found Super Bowl glory upon his first season with the Rams. Now, he'll be looking to stop the Lions from achieving postseason triumph after more than a decade of doing just the opposite.

It's not just any other game, even though he's wishing it could be approached as such.

"I'm excited to go play anybody, anywhere in the playoffs at this point," Stafford said. "We were a team that at the beginning of the season nobody gave us a chance to be at the position that we're in. I'm proud of the work that the players, the coaches, everybody that's involved in getting this thing right, proud of the work we've put into it. It's gotten us to this point, we've got to continue to work to try and get better, and we have an opportunity to go play a game on Sunday."

Still, even Stafford can't completely downplay what a big night Sunday will be for Detroit. And his involvement will make it all the larger.

"Yeah, it's an amazing city, it's an amazing group of fans, you know the organization does a heck of a job, and I know that they're going to be excited," he said. "I mean it's going to be a great atmosphere, probably one of the best we've played in in a long time, and it's a group of people that from my experience, I loved the Lions, wanted what was best for them, and now they're playing really good football, had the opportunity to host a playoff game, and they've earned that opportunity.

"It'll be a tough place to play, it'll be loud, it'll be really tough for us to communicate as an offense, and we understand that, but those are the kind of fun experiences you want as a player in the NFL and I'm sure Sunday will be that way."

Stafford's getting ready to be the bad guy in Detroit, though it's an arduous heel turn to fathom.

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