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O'HARA: Breaking down the Lions' remaining games

Sometimes a team gains ground in the standings by not playing.

That's one thing we learned with the Detroit Lions on their bye Sunday.

They gained in the NFC North standings with the first-place Bears' loss to the Miami Dolphins. That dropped the Bears' won-loss record to 3-2, a game ahead of the Lions at 2-3.

But a team can lose ground while on a bye. We also learned that with the Vikings and Packers both winning to move closer to the Bears with 3-2-1 records, and further ahead of the Lions.

What we really learned, and should have already known, is that nothing would have been decided in the North after Week 6, bye or no bye for the Lions.

The race is on in the North, and the Lions are in it. What we've learned from recent seasons should be a refresher course for the last 11 games. The Lions are in control of their destiny as they restart their season Sunday in Miami against the Dolphins.

Following is a breakdown of the rest of the Lions' schedule. The remaining opponents are ranked 1 through 11, projecting the hardest to easiest, with the bottom line on the Lions' chances to win. Ratings are slightly different for the road and home games with the Bears and Vikings.

1. Sunday: at Miami Dolphins (4-2).

Last 11 rank, No. 8: The Dolphins showed some mettle in Sunday's win over the Bears behind backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. That ended a two-game losing streak after starting 3-0. Ageless running back Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards, which should be a concern for the Lions with their problems stopping the run. Head coach Adam Gase has to decide whether to ride Osweiler another week or go back to Ryan Tannehill, who missed Sunday's game with a shoulder injury.

Bottom line: A winnable game but not a gimme for the Lions, who should be refreshed coming off the bye.

2. Oct. 28: vs. Seattle Seahawks (3-3).

Last 11 rank, No. 9: Russell Wilson makes them dangerous – to a point. The Legion of Boom defense that destroyed offenses has been broken up, and a lot of the playmakers are missing on offense. Two of Seattle's wins are over the Cardinals and Raiders, both 1-5.

Bottom line: A game the Lions should win.

3. Nov. 4: at Minnesota Vikings (3-2-1).

Last 11 rank, No. 2: The Vikings haven't played up to projections, but they can – and probably will if their defense bounces back even close to last year's level. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has plenty of targets – Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph – and Latavius Murray ran for 155 yards in Sunday's win over the Cardinals. There are protection issues up front, though.

Bottom line: The Lions are 3-1 on the road vs. the Vikings in the last four seasons, but this would be an upset.

4. Nov. 11: at Chicago Bears (3-2).

Last 11 rank, No. 5: Four straight last-place finishes means the Bears have to prove they're for real, but the Monsters of the Midway, 2018 version, were reborn with the addition of Khalil Mack in a trade with the Raiders. Second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky benefits from that defense, and a good run game led by Jordan Howard.

Bottom line: A winnable game for the Lions, based on beating the Bears nine of the last 10, three of the last four and twice last year with Trubisky at QB.

5. Nov. 18: vs. Carolina Panthers (3-2).

Last 11 rank, No. 6: Power on both sides of the ball and key players returning make Carolina a formidable opponent. The Lions saw that last year when the Panthers ran off 24 straight points for a 27-24 win at Ford Field. There are matchup problems on offense with quarterback Cam Newton, nifty running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen back from an injury.

Bottom line: A winnable game if the Lions keep improving after the bye.

6. Thanksgiving Day: vs. Chicago Bears (3-2).

Last 11 rank, No. 7: Home field should be an advantage in the rematch.

Bottom line: The Lions have been Thanksgiving Day winners of late. A four-game win streak was snapped in last year's loss to the Vikings. Time to start a new win streak.

7. Dec. 2: vs. Los Angeles Rams (6-0).

Last 11 rank, No. 1: Problems, problems, problems. The league's top running back in Todd Gurley. Ascending quarterback in Jared Goff. Strong defense up the middle with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.

Bottom line: It's the toughest game of the last 11, and Suh no doubt will be fixated on getting to the quarterback.

8. Dec. 9: at Arizona Cardinals (1-5).

Last 11 rank, No. 11: If the Cardinals are going to make anything out of this season it will be what it means for the future. Rookie Josh Rosen has to show development as the quarterback of the future. That should not help the Cardinals in this game.

Bottom line: A whatever it takes, no excuses game for the Lions.

9. Dec. 16: at Buffalo Bills (2-4).

Last 11 rank, No. 10: Most experts think the Bills drafted the wrong Josh -- Josh Allen of Wyoming instead of Josh Rosen of UCLA. They have the real McCoy at running back – Shady McCoy. That's assuming he doesn't get traded.

Bottom line: A should-win game. The weather is a could-be factor. The Bills shouldn't be.

10. Dec. 23: vs. Minnesota Vikings (3-2-1).

Last 11 rank, No. 4: The Vikings should have their offense grooved and their defense improved by Week 16. They were in a groove last season, winning 11 of the last 12 to win the NFC North title by four games over the second-place Lions (9-7).

Bottom line: Home field was not an advantage last year. It has to be this year.

11. Dec. 30: at Green Bay Packers (3-2-1).

Last 11 rank, No. 3: If the Packers are in the playoff race and Aaron Rodgers is playing, this is the third toughest game left on the Lions' remaining schedule behind a Week 9 road game with the Vikings and a Week 13 home game with the Rams. If there's no Rodgers, it's a major advantage for the Lions.

Bottom line: If this is a game with something at stake, Rodgers makes the difference. He beat the Lions in Week 17 showdown games for the NFC North title in 2014 and 2016.

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