- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jim Schwartz did not want to discuss his job status for almost the entirety of this week, despite the fact that it was the hottest topic surrounding the Detroit Lions after they were eliminated from the playoffs last Sunday.
Instead, he wanted to keep the focus on Detroit’s season finale against Minnesota, another franchise going through a disappointing season that could end with a coaching search.
So since Schwartz wants to keep the focus on the game, here’s four things to watch for Sunday when the Lions close out their season against Minnesota, where a win would give Detroit an 8-8 record this season.
Veterans' last stand: There is a chance this could be it for veteran players like Dominic Raiola, Nate Burleson and Rashean Mathis -- three guys who have played well for the Lions this season. Willie Young is also a free agent after the season and has been an emerging defensive end for the Lions. There are also a bunch of players who could be fighting for jobs this season, either with Detroit or with another team down the road. So this could be the final time a lot of these guys play for the Lions.
None of the three main vets, Raiola, Burleson or Mathis, has expressed an intention to retire after the season, but they all know if there are changes within the Lions organization, they may not have a choice when it comes to Detroit.
Mathis, for one, isn’t looking at Sunday as it for him.
“I don’t see it that way. I understand what you’re saying,” Mathis said. In that way, I haven’t viewed it in that sense. You’re not going to make me view it in that sense. The reason why is I wasn’t healthy last year in Jacksonville and I’ve been healthy this year and I put enough on film to say, ‘OK, I can still play good football.’ So that’s why I’m not looking at it like that.
“But if I was viewing it the way you just said, it would mean a lot more.”
Play for themselves and each other: There has not been any feeling of win one for Jim Schwartz around the Lions this week. If anything, it has kind of been business as usual, and a lot of talk about playing for pride and their careers. So use that to try and win a game one final time to try and reverse the feeling of a rough second half of the season.
Find confidence for Matthew Stafford: The quarterback needs some -- or at least needs to have a turnover-free game. That would be big for Stafford as he heads into an offseason where there are a lot of questions and he has to make improvements to both his accuracy and the decisions he makes on the field. He’s had a brutal second half of the season, one of the worst of any quarterbacks in the league, and could use a final good game to have some confidence for the offseason.
Control the emotions: This goes to the first point for the veterans, but also how Minnesota deals with the last game in the Metrodome. That is a big deal for the Vikings, so they have built-in desire to win this game. The Lions only have, as mentioned earlier, themselves to play for with playoff hopes extinguished. The Vikings are probably going to come out strong and take an early lead, so be able to withstand that, stay within their own emotions and wait for that to calm down after a quarter.