O'Hara's Friday Focus: The player to watch, key matchups and stats

Posted Nov 2, 2012

This week’s prediction is strictly about matchups and the fact that the Lions have shown signs in the last three games of playing better ball in all three phases.

Crack open the cookie-jar college fund, Godfather. Pawn Mama Rose’s silver.

Take the rubber band off the travel wad.

Wait. Stop right here. Pretend I didn’t hit the send button, and forget what I just wrote - the words, not the intent  - and not because you might remember that I’ve written a variation on this theme in other places about a pro football game I rated as one-sided as a Rome plow cutting a path through soda straws.

For the first time this season, I have that feeling about a game.

I like the Lions in Sunday’s game. My prediction: Lions 30, Jaguars 13. Proceed at your own risk.

The NFL is touchy about references to gambling, and I’m just as touchy about losing a gig for violating the rules – especially when I’ve spent a lifetime slithering through loopholes. For Sunday, forget point spreads and anything that can be construed as advice on how someone’s financial status might be enhanced by picking the Lions to win by a healthy margin.

This week’s prediction is strictly about matchups and the fact that the Lions have shown signs in the last three games of playing better ball in all three phases.

Beating the Jags would make the Lions 4-4 and put them in position to make a reasonable run at a playoff berth. For a team that was 1-3 after the first quarter of the season, that qualifies as getting healthy.

Players and coaches would never say they expect an easy game. That’s for people like me to say, and the reality of the NFL is that there are no guarantees.

“We’re playing on the road,” Head coach Jim Schwartz said. “We’re playing a team that has played tough against everybody in our division, and we know how tough our division is. It doesn’t matter what any other kind of match-up or anything else says.

“We’re a 3-4 team that’s working hard to get back to .500."

“I think we all know this is a big one, not only for the record as far as being able to get back to .500, but it’s the next one,” Quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “People are going to look at their record and say they’re 1-6 or whatever, but this team can play, especially on the defensive side of the ball.”

Most of the matchups favor the Lions, and the re-emergence of tight end Brandon Pettigrew is one of them.

The following is the player to watch – Brandon Pettigrew – along with key matchups and stats in this week’s Friday Focus:

Player focus – Brandon Pettigrew: His stats are decent – 38 catches and one TD – but it’s been a hard season for Pettigrew. He has played through sore knees to start all seven games, and there have been some big drops.

Pettigrew had seven catches for 74 yards. Three of his catches converted third downs into first downs. On the game-winning drive, had had an 11-yard catch on second-and-five for a first down at Seattle’s 25.

Teams have played their safeties deep against the Lions to prevent Calvin Johnson from burning them. Defenses can’t cover everything, and Pettigrew can make them pay by working underneath over the middle.

“He’s a big time chai-mover,” Matthew Stafford said. “He’s feeling a little bit better, feeling a little more healthy, and I think that’s helping him out.”

Like most skilled-position players, momentum means something to Pettigrew. It sounds simple, but the better he plays, the better he plays.

“It definitely is a momentum deal,” Pettigrew said. “Being consistent helps you out. Doing the same thing all the time - it’s repetition. You get used to doing it. It becomes habit. I’ve had some drops. That thing comes back around. You have to keep your mind right and stick with it.”

Jags vs. NFC North: Sunday’s game will be their last against the four NFC North teams. They’ve had two tough losses - 26-23 at Minnesota in the opener and 24-15 at Green Bay last week. They also had a 41-3 wipeout to Chicago at home in Game 5.

Here’s how the games went:

Minnesota - Jacksonville had Minnesota beaten, scoring a TD with 20 seconds left for a 23-20 lead. Minnesota tied the game on a 55-yard field goal on the last play of regulation and won it with an overtime field goal.

Chicago –  The final score made it look like a 32-handicapper hitting tee shots into the famed Par 3 Island Green at nearby TPC of Sawgrass. The Bears broke a 3-3 tie in the last six minutes of the third quarter. That started a 38-0 blitz .

The Bears scored two touchdowns on interception returns, rushed for 214 yards, had a 26-10 advantage in first downs and 501-189 in yards gained.

Green Bay – A Jaguars field goal with 6:50 left cut the deficit to 21-15, and the defense forced a Packers punt. Jacksonville drove to midfield with a first down, but three incomplete passes and a short gain on another pass turned the ball over to the Packers, who drove to the clinching field goal in the last minute.

Stats pack: The Lions’ overall rankings don’t add up to a 3-4 record. Overall team rankings are based on yards, and the Lions are second on offense and ninth on defense. The only other team ranked in the top 10 on offense and defense and with a losing record is Dallas – seventh on offense, fourth on defense.

By comparison, the Falcons are the league’s only unbeaten team, and they’re 13th on offense and 20th on defense.

The Jaguars live up to their rankings – 32nd overall (and last) on offense, 23rd on defense.

In team rankings, the Jaguars rank last in five categories on defense and are not in the top 20 in any category on offense.

Matchups to watch: Stafford should have time to pass. The Jaguars’ defense ranks last in sacks per play while the Lions are sixth in sacks allowed per play and have faced two of the better pass-rush teams in the Bears and Vikings.

Jacksonville has seven total sacks, and no player has more than two.

One area were the Jaguars have been perfect is on field goals. Josh Scobee is 14-for-14, and six of his attempts have been from 40 yards or longer.

Caution flag: Don’t pawn all the silver, and after cracking open the cookie jar, roll the coins but leave them on the kitchen counter.

A guaranteed victory does not exist, and the Lions haven’t taken full advantage when they’ve been favored. A 20-13 loss at home to the Vikings and a 44-41 road loss to the Titans came in winnable games – and with the Lions favored in both.