EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Detroit Lions-New York Giants Final Thoughts: Putting the finger on Matthew Stafford's injury performance; glove work; linebacker DeAndre Levy's workload; Kerry Hyder on the rush and Picks Central – how experts see the game (with two bonus picks from yours truly)
Stafford's history: The guessing game on how Stafford will perform leading the Detroit Lions' offense against the New York Giants today with an injured middle finger on his right (passing) hand is just that – a guessing game.
What is not open to debate is the importance of the game. Both teams are 9-4 and can advance their playoff positions with a win – the Giants, most likely competing for a Wild Card, the Lions in their bid to at least maintain their two-game lead on first place in the NFC North.
Stafford has been an iron man for the last six years. He has started every game since opening day of 2011. His streak of consecutive regular-season starts will reach 94 today.
He has dealt with numerous injuries, which is a hazard of playing quarterback in the NFL. The vast majority have not caused him to miss practice time, and, thus, have not been posted on the official injury reports as required by NFL rules.
For Stafford, one valid apples to apples (or finger to fingers) injury comparison to some degree is the one he sustained to his right index finger in a 45-10 win over the Broncos in Game 8 of 2011.
One difference: Because of a bye there was a two-week interval before the next game at Chicago.
The results at Soldier Field were not good. Wearing a glove, and with a wrap on the finger, Stafford completed 33 of 63 passes for 329 yards, one TD and four interceptions in a 37-10 wipeout loss.
A mitigating factor was a wind of 22 miles an hour, with gusts. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler completed only nine of 19 passes for 123 yards.
It was a bad game all around for the Lions. On the first two possessions, Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson lost fumbles after receptions. The Bears converted them into a touchdown and a field goal for a 10-0 lead. Two interception returns for touchdowns in the first four minutes of the second half blew the game open.
How that relates to today's game five years later is anybody's guess – mine included. The weather forecast is for rain, and winds of 13 miles an hour – about half of what Stafford faced five years ago in Chicago.
Based on what analysts and retired quarterbacks have said, all the digits on a quarterback's hand are important, but the thumb and index finger are by far the most important.
In an interview earlier in the week, former Lions Pro Bowl quarterback Greg Landry offered this observation from watching last week's game:
"He proved he could (do it). He did it almost the whole game."
Glove work: The scrutiny and commentary on how Stafford performed in practice wearing the support on his right hand, and the adjustments he often made are fair game. The proof will be in how he performs.
One man's opinion: Fiddling with a glove is a natural reaction to get maximum comfort. A valid comparison is to a veteran baseball player who might get 600 at bats, face thousands of pitches, and fiddle, tug, yank and adjust both batting gloves between pitches.
They do it to get the best feel possible – real and imagined. I don't expect that it's any different for Stafford.
Levy's load: Levy practiced between consecutive games this week for the first time since the end of the 2014 season. That's a sign of his recovery from a knee injury that caused him to miss 11 games since playing in every snap in the opener.
Playing 18 of 56 snaps against the Bears, Levy was active and productive. Whether he starts or plays in a situation role today remains to be seen, but his presence upgraded a defense that was playing well without him. And practice time is invaluable because of his limited playing time this year.
"One of the things that I don't think should be discounted is the fact that in our business, reps are important," said head coach Jim Caldwell. "When you haven't played in a while, those are important, and I think they help you in terms of getting into the groove. It's been good for him.
"He's trending in the right direction, which is good."
Sack total: Nobody could have predicted at the start of the season that Kerry Hyder would have eight sacks, which is more than a third of the Lions' total of 22. Hyder needs two sacks in the last three games to reach the double-digit threshold of 10 for the season.
He'd love to get both today – but more because of what it would mean for the defense, not his personal stats total.
"The goal is to try to make plays and get after the quarterback," Hyder said. "If that adds up to 10, it benefits everybody involved. I try to make the plays that are there for me to make it."
The Lions didn't sack QB Matt Barkley on the Bears' last possession last week, but two straight holding penalties were as good as sacks because they forced the Bears into a first-and-30 situation.
"It shows how relentless we are," Hyder said. "To slow us down getting to the quarterback, they had to hold us."
My pick for today: Lions 17, Giants 16.
The Giants are close to the Vikings for overall talent on defense, but the Lions haven't let teams make many big plays, which is how the Giants thrive.
Two bonus picks in games involving the NFC North race:Vikings 17, Colts 9; Bears 23, Packers 20.
Home field and defense favors both teams. Rookie running back Jordan Howard helps the Bears at home.
ESPN panel: Giants 6, Lions 4.
CBSSports panel: Giants 5, Lions 3.
National columnist Pete Prisco: Giants 27, Lions 21.
USA Today: Giants 4, Lions 1.
National Columnist Jarrett Bell: Lions 27, Giants 23.
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Giants 26, Lions 24, with this comment: "Wow. Talk about a tough game to pick."