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Five things to watch: Lions at Buccaneers

The Detroit Lions begin the fourth and final quarter of their season Sunday on the road in Tampa Bay. After playing to a .500 record through the first three quarters, the formula is pretty simple the rest of the way for Detroit if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive – keep on winning.

Can Detroit snap the two-game losing streak and keep their playoff hopes alive?

Here are five things to watch out for in today's contest.


The Lions listed Matthew Stafford as questionable on Friday's injury report, but the expectation is that he plays after practicing this week and progressively doing more as the week went on.

It's an injury to his throwing hand, and for a quarterback, there's always a concern about velocity and ball protection with those kinds of injuries.

Stafford injured his middle finger on his throwing hand last year. He finished the season (including the playoffs) with four straight losses, while completing just 59 percent of his passes with two touchdowns, three interceptions and one fumble lost. That was against the New York Giants, Dallas, Green Bay and Seattle, who were all playoff teams.

Stafford has Tampa Bay (4-8), Chicago (3-9), Cincinnati (5-7) and Green Bay (6-6) this time around, so it's a little easier road.

Still, how much will the hand injury affect him, if at all?


Kickoff is 1 p.m. for this one. Not 1:30 p.m. or 2 o'clock.

It's been an ongoing theme in Detroit over the last month with the slow starts. In each of their last four contests, Detroit has fallen behind by double digits in the first half. They've been outscored 36-3 in the first quarter over their last four games.

The Lions have come from behind to win two of those games, but they can't continue to play catchup all the time. The margin for error is razor thin when the deficit starts to reach double digits. We've seen that to be the case the last two weeks in losses to Minnesota and Baltimore.

On the road, against a team that has some nice weapons on offense, Detroit can't afford another slow start.


After playing two of the best overall defenses in the NFL the last two weeks in Minnesota and Baltimore, the matchup today actually favors the Lions' offense.

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Dec. 7, 2017.

Tampa Bay ranks 31st in total defense and is 31st against the pass and 23rd against the run. This is a game where Detroit should be able to move the football, maybe even on the ground, and score points.

Protecting Stafford has been an issue all year long. Only Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been sacked more times (47) than Stafford (39). The Bucs, however, have a league-low 17 sacks on the year.

The Lions are banged up along their offensive line, so maybe that evens things out, but the numbers say Stafford should have time to throw against a Bucs defense that hasn't been able to get their pass rush and coverage units in sync most of the season.


Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard are one of the best tight end duos in the NFL. Howard is extremely gifted athletically, and is a matchup problem for defenses most weeks. All Brate does is catch touchdowns. He leads the Bucs with six on the year.

The Lions have given up at least one touchdown pass to the tight end position in each of their last three games. Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph had two touchdowns against the Lions on Thanksgiving.

Quandre Diggs' move from nickel corner to strong safety could match him up with a tight end from time to time. This will be a good test for Diggs, who is likely to make just his second start at strong safety today.


This is one of those 'no kidding' kind of categories, but turnovers are one of the ways a struggling 4-8 football team can win a game against a more talented football team.

Tampa Bay is certainly no slouch in this department, either. Since the beginning of last year, only Baltimore (57) has more takeaways than Tampa Bay's 50. The Bucs have 21 takeaways this season and are a plus-six in turnover differential, which is a bit surprising given their record.

The Lions turned the ball over three times in Baltimore last week, and didn't generate any for themselves. Another week like that, and the Lions could find themselves out of the playoff hunt in early December.

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