O’HARA: Breaking down the Lions’ remaining games

There is no allowance for a break-in period for the Detroit Lions as they return from their bye week to rejoin the playoff race in the NFC North.

They have to hit the ground running at full speed to compete with their division opponents in what amounts to 12 one-game sprints that will decide their fate.

The Lions are in position to make a playoff run, with a 2-1-1 record they compiled in the first four games before the bye.

With all six home-and-away games still on the schedule against division rivals – Packers, Bears and Vikings – the Lions’ fate is in their own hands in their attempt to win their first division title since 1993.

The race to the finish begins with a Monday night game against the Packers on the road.

Linebacker Jarrad Davis looked at the bye as part of the preparation to resume the race.

“The bye week is huge,” he said. “It’s just a time to recalibrate, get our feet back underneath you, get your legs right, get your body right and come out.

“We’ve got to fire on all cylinders. We can’t let anything slip. We had games we should have won in the first quarter.”

The focus isn’t on the schedule or the individual opponents, Davis said.

“The biggest thing that we can do is continue to look in the mirror each and every week and focus on getting Detroit better, and make sure that every week we improve,” he said.

“At the end of the day, our opponent is going to be different every week, but at the same time we have to make sure we come out and match the intensity and win games.”

Following is a look at the Lions remaining 12 games, with the strength of the last 12 opponents ranked from 1 through 12. With division opponents, the strength is different for road and home games.

Week 6: Oct. 14 at Green Bay Packers (3-1)

Monday Night Football.

Last 12 rank, No. 1: The Packers have a new head coach in Matt LaFleur, a new defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine, and key additions to the defense. Most important, they still have quarterback Aaron Rodgers slinging it. The Lions have beaten the Packers four straight and three of the last four at Lambeau.

Spotlight: On the pass rush. Get to Rodgers, and don’t let him scramble. Defensive end Trey Flowers can lead the charge.

Week 7: Oct. 20, vs. Minnesota Vikings (2-2)

Last 12 rank, No. 7: In a second straight game against a division opponent the Lions need to score touchdowns – something they didn’t do in losing both games to the Vikings last year. All their points were on kicker Matt Prater’s field goals, three in each game. The Vikings are having problems on offense, and the finger of blame is pointed at quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Spotlight: Turnovers. Protect the ball on offense, take it away on defense. Cousins is susceptible to fumbles and inopportune picks.

Week 8: Oct. 27, vs. New York Giants (2-2)

Last 12 rank, No. 10: Facing another rookie quarterback – Daniel Jones this time -- brings back memories of losses to the Jets’ Sam Darnold and the Bills’ Josh Allen last season, and a tie with the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray this year. Jones has given the Giants a lift with wins in his first two starts since replacing Eli Manning.

Spotlight: Offense. Jump on the Giants and don’t stop. Put the pressure on the rookie to lead a comeback – with or without running back Saquon Barkley, who might be back from an injured ankle.

Week 9: Nov. 3, at Oakland Raiders (2-2)

Last 12 rank, No. 8: The Lions might catch a travel-weary Raiders team. A quirk in the schedule makes this their first game in their home stadium after playing four on the road and one in London, plus a bye. Oakland’s offense came alive in a win over the Colts in Game 2 of that five-game stretch.

Spotlight: Passing game. The Raiders don’t get to the quarterback, and they’re 26th in passing yards allowed per game.

Week 10: Nov. 10, at Chicago Bears (3-1)

Last 12 rank, No. 2: Two losses to the Bears in 11 days last season ended any slim playoff hopes for the Lions. They were convincing losses --- 34-22 at Soldier Field, and 23-16 at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day. The Bears have quarterback issues caused by Mitchell Trubisky ‘s shoulder injury in Week 4, and his general ineffectiveness.

Spotlight: Quarterback Matthew Stafford, ball security. He had two TD passes and four interceptions in two games vs. the Bears last year.

Week 11: Nov. 17, vs. Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

Last 12 rank, No. 5: The Lions face the chore of preparing for what could be the most balanced team they’ll face, assuming the Cowboys continue at the same pace – third on offense, seventh on defense after the first month. They run the ball and protect the passer. They’re eighth in points scored, and third in points allowed.

Spotlight: Defensive line. It’s supposed to be a strength, so stop the run, put heat on quarterback Dak Prescott. A vital combination.

Week 12: Nov. 24, at Washington Redskins (0-4)

Last 12 rank, No. 12: The Lions' focus should be on themselves, and what to do against a team with massive problems and changes potentially coming before this game. That’s not the Lions’ problem. Don’t make this a wasted opportunity -- like the Arizona debacle.

Spotlight: Matt Patricia. The head coach never looks ahead or takes anything for granted. Send the message (which I’m sure he will).

Week 13: Nov. 28, vs. Chicago Bears (3-1)

Thanksgiving Day.

Last 12 rank, No. 6: Note to Lions: Don’t forget the bitter taste of last year’s loss on Thanksgiving Day. Don’t have a second helping. The Bears won behind backup quarterback Chase Daniel. Stafford had two fourth-quarter interceptions. One was returned for the game-winning TD.

Spotlight: Running back Kerryon Johnson. The running game came together before the bye. Keep it up. Control the game and keep the pass rush off the quarterback.

Week 14: Dec. 8, at Minnesota Vikings

Last 12 rank, No. 7: Same story as the first game: Score touchdowns, not field goals, and create turnovers.

Spotlight: The trenches. The Vikings sacked Stafford 10 times on their home turf last year. It’s up to the Lions’ offensive line to keep anything close to that from happening again.

Week 15: Dec. 15, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)

Last 12 rank, 9: Finish. This game is about the Lions, not the opponent. They have to finish plays and games and take nothing for granted. The Lions should be in the playoff race. The finish line is in sight. Run through it.

Spotlight: Ford Field. It should be rocking, so take advantage of it.

Week 16: Dec. 21 or 22, at Denver Broncos (0-4)

Last 12 rank, 11: Finish. Just like last week vs. the Bucs. It’s on the road, but that doesn’t change the mandate. The Broncos already have lost to North rivals Chicago and Green Bay. Don’t let Broncos be the spoilers.

Spotlight: Altitude. Playing in the Mile High City has an effect on visiting teams. Patricia had his team prepared for hot-weather games in Miami last year and Philly this year, and they won both. He’s certain to do the same in Denver.

Week 17: Dec. 29, vs. Green Bay Packers

Last 12 rank. No. 3: Win when it counts. This will be the fourth time in six seasons that the Packers and Lions have met in the final game. Twice it was a showdown for first place in the division, and the Packers won both times – at Lambeau in 2014, and at Ford Field in 2016.

Whether it’s for the division title or a wild-card playoff berth, the mission for the Lions is clear-cut: Win the showdown.

Spotlight: On the 2019 Detroit Lions – every player, every coach. Win the big game.

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