By Curt Macysyn
After teasing their fans in 2011, with a rare playoff appearance, the Detroit Lions reverted back to old ways in stumbling through a 4-12 campaign in 2012. Head coach Jim Schwartz was thought to be on the hot seat after last year, but was brought back this season with a playoffs or bust mentality. After a 5-3 start, Detroit looked like it was ready to take control of the NFC north division after a 21-19 victory over the Chicago Bears coming off their bye week.
But then two straight losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought the Lions back to square one, and even after a blowout win over the rival Green Bay Packers, Detroit dropped a critical game to the Philadelphia Eagles in snowy Lincoln Financial Field. While the Lions hold the tiebreaker over the Bears because they swept the season series with Chicago, Detroit can ill-afford any further hiccups along the way, if they want to secure a playoff berth.
Motor City Blues
Fans of the New York Football Giants are in an uproar over the team’s losing record, which will be its first since 2004. The goodwill over Big Blue’s two Super Bowl victories in the past six years has eroded, and the team will undoubtedly go through a major upheaval in the off-season. Perhaps, the Giants fan base should consider the plight of this week’s opponent, the Detroit Lions.
The Lions’ franchise began playing in the NFL in 1930 as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, and by 1934, the team moved north to Detroit and became the Lions. In 1935, the Lions won the NFL championship by defeating the New York Giants 26-7. The Lions early success was certainly not a precursor of things to come for the Detroit franchise. In fact, one could reasonably argue that Detroit is the least successful franchise in the current NFL.
Prior to its playoff appearance in 2011, Detroit had gone 11 years without a playoff appearance. And even when the Lions reach the post-season, the team has had little success winning games. Detroit tasted its last post-season win in 1957, when it beat the Browns for the NFL title.
Detroit boasts two of the top offensive threats in the NFL in quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Stafford is a top five passer in the NFL, and this year will mark the third straight season that Stafford has thrown for more than 4,000 yards. Stafford’s completion percentage is not where it should be, however, as currently he is completing less passes than the Giants Eli Manning.
The Giants only wish that this Megatron was the fictional character from the Transformers series, but unfortunately for New York, Calvin Johnson is very real. Counting this season, Johnson has four straight years of over 1,000 yards receiving. Only Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints has more receiving touchdowns than Megatron (14 to 12) in the NFL this year. Standing an imposing 6-5 and weighing 240 lbs., Johnson is a wide receiver with the body of a tight end. He will be a handful for the Giants secondary.
Getting wide receiver Nate Burleson back from a broken arm gives Stafford some options on the outside. Tall and lanky, Kris Durham, filled in well for Burleson while he was out of action and has hauled in two touchdowns this season.
Running back Reggie Bush was finally putting together a complete season in his first year with the Lions, until a calf injury derailed him. Bush was headed for his second 1,000 yard rushing season, before the injury bug hit him. The deposed Heisman Trophy winner has 45 catches out of the backfield. Backup tailback Joique Bell is more physical than Bush, and he has been used along the goal line which accounts for his seven rushing touchdowns this year.
The controversy that the play of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh cause through their sometimes overly-aggressive style seems to overshadow the statistics of the defense. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is a former defensive coordinator (Tennessee Titans), and his team reflects that mindset. The Lions rank in the top five in defensive yards allowed per game, as well as in passing yards allowed per game.
For the record, categorizing Suh’s play as dirty is not speculation, it is fact. The uber-aggressive defensive tackle has been fined seven times for infractions during his career. Suh has two fines alone this season totaling more than $130,000. Fairley escaped a fine for his roughing the passer call against the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago, but had his wallet lightened by the league for a November hit on Chicago quarterback Josh McCown.
The Giants offensive line has not been a fortress for quarterback Eli Manning all season, and despite the fact that Detroit comes into the contest at the bottom of the NFL in sacks, the match-up of the opposing lines favors the Lions.
Like the G-men, the Lions also play a base 4-3 defense, and Detroit seems to play it better than New York, at least based upon statistics. Linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy lead the team in tackles with 107 and 99 respectively. In fact, Levy is making a strong case for the Pro Bowl as the outside linebacker has six interceptions on the season.
The Lions top cornerback, Chris Houston, has been hampered by a toe injury recently.
For a team with such a poor track record, the Lions actually lead the all-time series with the Giants 21-19-1. The 1935 NFL championship game was the only time these teams have met in the playoffs with Detroit taking home the title 26-7. The last time these two teams met New York beat Detroit 28-20 on October 17, 2010 in the Meadowlands.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.