MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S FRIDAY FOCUS: Take the Lions, but don't predict a score

Posted Dec 20, 2013

Columnist Mike O'Hara breaks down the Lions' up-and-down season and why he thinks Detroit will win Sunday

Louis DelmasS Louis Delmas. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

Playing the New York Giants with one eye on the scoreboard can only make the Lions' playoff hopes dimmer more than they already are.

The Lions have done enough damage to themselves with their performance in the last month to drop from first place to third in the NFC North and in need of help to win the division.

They have to take care of their own business in the last two games. That means beating the Giants at Ford Field on Sunday and the Minnesota Vikings on the road in the final regular season game next week.

Anything less than that, and it won't matter what the Bears and Packers do in their last two games. The Packers are home against the Steelers while the Bears play a night game at Philadelphia.

The Bears are first in the North with an 8-6 record followed by the Packers (7-6-1) and Lions (7-7).

It's not the position the Lions want to be in, but it's what they're stuck with for losing four of their last five games.

"I just know the thing that we need to have happen is just get these last two games," Calvin Johnson said Thursday. "You can't control everything that is going on outside of here. That's all we can control is what's going on here, and how we practice and how we prepare and how we feel on Sunday."

On paper, and based on records, the Lions ought to beat the Giants. The Giants are 5-9 and coming off a 23-0 loss at Seattle. As maddening as the Lions have been in the skid that has seen them go 1-4, they've been competitive in every game and had a fourth-quarter lead in all five.

If motivation means anything, it favors the Lions. They still have a chance to win the NFC North while the Giants are out of playoff contention.

But paper, motivation and won-loss records mean nothing. The Lions were favored to beat the Bucs and Ravens in home games and lost to both.

In this week's Friday Focus for the Lions-Giants game, most key statistics favor the Lions. So should home-field advantage, being heavily favored and the playoff possibility.

Logic dictates that the Lions should win, even if it's by one point.

My prediction for Sunday: take the Lions, but don't predict a score, and count on nothing. A hawk might swoop out of the Ford Field rafters and snatch away the ball on a game-winning field-goal attempt just before it clears the cross bar.

It's been that kind of season for the Lions.

Lions' matchup focus:

Justin TuckJustin Tuck (Photo: AP Images)

Giants defensive end Justin Tuck: Tuck gave mostly short answers when he spoke to the media during the week. There isn't a lot good to say about the way the Giants' season has gone. They're 5-9 and out of the race in the NFC East.

Tuck has been one of their bright spots. He has nine sacks, which matches his total of the last two seasons combined, and he has a chance to beat his single-season best of 12, set in 2008.

Tuck is finishing strong, even if his team isn't. He's had 7.5 sacks in the last four games, with four coming in a victory at Washington three weeks ago.

Tuck plays left end, which matches him against LaAdrian Waddle, the Lions' rookie offensive right tackle.

Tuck was asked by reporters if there is anything different about playing after being eliminated from playoff contention.

"Nope," he said.

Why not?

"Because we play to play football, and we have two more games on our schedule."

Does he have to talk to teammates about effort and focus?

"No. Focus maybe, not effort. I think the effort was good. I just think the execution last week was not there."

Does he expect things to change this week from last week's 23-0 loss at Seattle?

"Yes."

Tuck spoke more extensively when asked about running back Reggie Bush and Matthew Stafford. Bush is closing in on a 1,000-yard rushing season, and Stafford, despite his recent struggles, has been tough to sack.

"I think Stafford has done a good job of getting the ball out of his hands, almost to a fault," Tuck told reporters. "They're not giving up a lot of sacks, and a lot of the reason why is because he's getting it out. Sometimes he just chucks it, so I think a lot of times you see guys being able to make plays on him because of that, but I think he's playing well."

Ground gains:

Reggie Bush isn't playing for personal accomplishments, but he can hit a milestone that is still meaningful to running backs against the Giants.

Bush has rushed for 940 yards, which leaves him 60 short of the 1,000-yard mark, which is still a benchmark for running backs.

Nine backs already have hit the 1,000-yard mark this season, led by the Eagles' LeSean McCoy with 1,343. Bush is one of three others with at least 900.

Reaching the 1,000-yard mark is still a meaningful accomplishment for a back.

"Yeah, I think so," Bush said. "I think it's tough to run the ball in this League and to be able to gain a 1,000 yards."

Bush has done it despite missing two full games and half of another because of injuries. He ranks seventh in the league in total yards from scrimmage with 1,403. He has caught 47 passes for 463 yards.

Only five backs in Lions history have reached the 1,000-yard mark. Steve Owens was the first, with 1,035 yards in 1971. Billy Sims did it in 1980, '81 and '83. Barry Sanders did it in all 10 of his seasons as a Lions, 1989-998. James Jones did it twice, in 2000 and '02, and Kevin Jones once in '04.

Stats pack:

Series history: The Lions have a 20-19 series lead with one tie and are 12-8-1 at home. The teams have played only one game at Ford Field – a 16-10 Giants victory in 2007.

Giants stats: Offense – 28 rushing (83.5), 18 passing (228.1), 28 total (311.6). Defense – 13 rushing (107.4), 12 passing (229), 10 total (336.4).

Giants key stats: 32nd in giveaways with 39 and 31st in turnover ratio at minus 17.

Third-down conversions: Defense 24th, 75- 80-195, 41 pct.; Offense 30th, 60-180 33.3 pct.

Lions stats: Offense – 18 rushing (112.9), 3 passing (292.4), 3 total (405.3); Defense – 4 rushing (98.6) 23 passing (252.9), 16 total (351.6).

Lions' key stats: 31st in giveaways with 31 and 29th in turnover ratio at minus 13.

Third-down conversions: Offense 6th, 82-189, 43 pct.; Defense 1st, 55-183, 30 pct.

Lions getting kicked: It was not an aberration that the Ravens' Justin Tucker went 6-for-6 on field goals against the Lions and won the game with a 61-yarder. Opposing kickers have been deadly against the Lions all season from short and long range.

Opponents have made 34 of 37 field goal attempts and eight of nine from 50 yards or longer.