The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Lions need to beat Giants to have shot at playoffs after squandering control of NFC North race
DETROIT - The Detroit Lions threw away control of the NFC North race.
Detroit (7-7) dropped four of its last five games in large part because of 18 turnovers, including Matthew Stafford's 10 interceptions and two fumbles.
The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers took advantage, knocking Detroit down from first to third place and putting it on the brink of being eliminated from post-season contention. If the Lions lose to or tie the New York Giants on Sunday, Green Bay gets beat by Pittsburgh and the Bears win at Philadelphia later that night, Chicago will clinch the NFC North.
"Being one down with two to play, it's not our ideal situation," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.
The Giants (5-9) dashed their hopes of rallying for a spot in the playoffs by losing their last two games and three of four.
"This is no fun," New York coach Tom Coughlin acknowledged. "Up until even last week, we still had a chance to be a .500 team. "
Here are five things to watch when the Lions host the Giants on Sunday:
TURNOVER-PRONE QBS: New York's Eli Manning has thrown an NFL-high 25 interceptions — equaling his career high — and leads the league with 27 turnovers. Stafford ranks third in the NFL with 21 giveaways and leads the league with 12 turnovers since Week 11. Manning seems to have legitimate excuses. The two-time Super Bowl winner has been sacked a career-high 36 times behind a banged-up line, and hasn't had a reliable running game, but still has been criticized. "I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone or try to silence critics," Manning insisted.
Stafford, meanwhile, has thrown behind or over targets a lot this season and his decision-making has been questionable. An improved offensive line has opened holes for running back Reggie Bush and given Stafford time to throw to Calvin Johnson. Stafford will shoulder a lot of the blame if Detroit fails to make the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons. "A lot of that falls not just on him, but on all of us," Johnson said.
SCALDING SEAT: Schwartz started the season on the hot seat and it might be scalding after another collapse. The Lions lost their last eight games last year after having a .500 record midway through his fourth season.
Schwartz seemed to cool off his seat last month with a 6-3 record that set up the franchise to win its first division title since 1993 and to earn a spot in the playoffs for just the second time this century. Losing four of five has likely hurt his job security.
Bush said the Lions lack discipline, but insisted that's not Schwartz's fault. "It's not a coaches' thing, it's a players' thing," Bush said.
Coughlin has been through a lot in 18 seasons as an NFL head coach, winning 168 games in the regular season and post-season to tie Bud Grant for 15th on the all-time list. Coughlin coached the Jaguars when they were an expansion team and was fired in 2002 after three straight losing seasons and two trips to AFC championship games. Coughlin began leading the Giants in 2004, went on to win two Super Bowls. The Giants, though, will not be in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. "You have to realize that no one individual loses games," Coughlin said. "Blame it on the head coach, which is usually the way it is."
RUN-STUFFING Defence: If the Giants have anything to be proud of, it is how well they have usually done against the run. Seattle's Marshawn Lynch ran for fewer than 3 yards a carry and finished with just 47 yards last week. Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy easily leads the NFL in rushing, but two of the four times he has been held to fewer than 50 yards was against New York.
MISSING THE MARK: Running for 1,000 yards isn't the milestone it used to be in the NFL, but it has been an elusive benchmark in Detroit. Kevin Jones ran for 1,133 yards in 2004 as a Lions rookie, and the franchise hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since in what is the longest active drought in the league. Bush should be able to snap the streak with 940 yards rushing and two games remaining.
ADVANTAGE DETROIT: The Lions' defensive line has a shot to be a force at Ford Field against a shaky line. Giants tackles Will Beatty and Justin Pugh are the two offensive linemen who have started every game at the same position this year.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org
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