The Giants have gone 19-29 the last three seasons. The Lions? They’ve had just two winning seasons since 1998. New York made head coaching change during the offseason while Detroit, coming off of a 7-9 campaign strongly considered it.
Now? Both teams are on the verge of making the playoffs, nightmares turned into new opportunities as they meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Giants, with a win and some help would clinch a playoff spot for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 2011-12. The Lions? A victory plus a Packers loss gives them their first NFC North title since 1993.
Ben McAdoo, in his first season coaching the Giants could be a Coach of the Year candidate if they win the NFC East. As for the Lions’ Jim Caldwell? He’s right up there, too with a potential MVP candidate in quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Not bad for two teams whose odds to make the Super Bowl this season were no better than 18/1.
Series History: Lions lead series 22-20-1.
Detroit at New York
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 18 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Giants -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How will Matthew Stafford’s performance be affected by his finger injury?
Stafford, having the best season of his career with the Lions, will spend the rest of the year throwing with a glove after dislocating his middle finger on his throwing hand Sunday against the Bears. Stafford, whose finger was reportedly drooping at a 90-degree angle, was seen wearing a fingerless glove in practice this week but will need to adjust based on the loss of muscle this injury creates.
“Working on it,” Stafford said through the Lions’ official website when asked on his progress. “But whatever I do in the game will not just be a guess. It will be something I’ve worked on.”
Stafford, who has reportedly told the coaches to keep the same game plan as usual for this weekend, has kept that confidence up. However, his completion percentage dipped to 60 percent last weekend, his lowest since Week 2 and the two interceptions thrown tied a season high.
The gap between Stafford and backup Dan Orlovsky is steep, to the point you’d have to carry the MVP candidate off on a stretcher before he’d come out of the game. The Giants’ defense should consider itself lucky because it’s unlikely he’ll be 100 percent. For the Lions, they’re hoping more than ever for an early playoff clinch because that gives them the opportunity to potentially rest their best player down the stretch.
2. Will the Giants D keep it up?
Here’s the line for Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott last week: a 45.9 completion percentage, two interceptions (double his season total) and just 165 passing yards. Landon Collins, the second-year safety out of Alabama, added a fumble recovery as the Giants made one of the best offenses in the NFL look completely inept.
Collins, whose five interceptions are second in the league, leads a defense who came out to the nation in its primetime performance last week. Only once in the last five games have the Giants allowed more than 20 points, keeping the team afloat during a few inconsistent games from the offense.
During that stretch, it’s this unit that has made the plays possible to win the game. In Week 11, Collins intercepted Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter, sealing the 22-16 win against the Bears. The following week, Jason Pierre-Paul had three sacks as Josh McCown and the Browns were under constant pressure. Across the board, New York’s defense is top 10 in the league in virtually every category you can think of: points allowed, forced fumbles, interceptions, and rushing yards allowed per game.
It’s the heart of this team and the likely key to a potential victory Sunday with the Lions’ offense coming in wounded to begin with. Can the Giants keep up their momentum on D?
3. Key offensive weapons must step up
For the Giants, their breakout moment last weekend was the 61-yard touchdown catch by Odell Beckham Jr. The star wide receiver accounted for 94 of Eli Manning’s 193 passing yards last Sunday and he will need to make his presence felt at home in what’s expected to be another low-scoring game.
For the Lions, their running game must pick up the pace. Detroit is still in search of its first 100-yard rushing game from any of its ball carriers, but rookie Dwayne Washington showed progress last week, gutting out 64 yards against the Bears after Stafford got hurt. There needs to be more of that to keep the pressure off, spread the field and allow wide receivers to get open.
Along those lines, it’s time for Marvin Jones to step up. After a 205-yard effort in Week 3 he hasn’t topped 100 yards since as Golden Tate has gradually assumed a greater role in the offense. But the Giants’ defense, as noted above, has done an exceptional job of shutting down key players. Dez Bryant was held to just one catch last week; Antonio Brown had only 54 yards the week before.
But the Steelers, besides using a heavy dose of Le’Veon Bell, turned to other pass catchers to torch the Giants. Tight end Ladarius Green had 110 yards and a score; Jesse James added three catches for 32 yards. It’ll be interesting to see if the Lions involve their own tight end, Eric Ebron, in the same way.
These cold-weather teams (although only one plays its home games outdoors) will find themselves part of a weird winter weather pattern on Sunday. The forecast calls for a temperature around 58 degrees, above normal for December with a 90 percent chance of heavy rain. The conditions should produce another low-scoring affair where turnovers, defense and one big play will make the difference.
Expect Odell Beckham Jr. to take care of the latter while Matthew Stafford’s bum finger leaves the Lions just short of another fourh-quarter comeback. Considering the issues in Dallas, don’t be surprised if the Giants end Week 15 just a game back of the NFC East leaders and potential No. 1 seed.
Prediction: Giants 13, Lions 10
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.