By Paul Dottino
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The Giants truly are about to enter a Lions den.
For the third straight week, they are playing an opponent who faces a must-win situation to either remain in playoff contention or while attempting to enhance its postseason seeding. The Detroit Lions (7-7) need a victory as they battle for first place in the NFC North.
To make things worse, the Giants are without WR Victor Cruz (knee surgery), RB Peyton Hillis (concussion) and LG James Brewer is battling an ankle injury while RG David Diehl is fighting a sore knee.
Here are three key matchups to watch:
1. Giants RB Andre Brown vs. Lions DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The Lions own the NFL’s fourth-best rushing defense (98.6 avg.), thanks to the two big run stuffers in the middle of their line. Brown has put up two 100-yard efforts in six outings this season, but been limited to a combined 133 yards on 41 carries over the past three games. Brown is expected to carry most, if not all, of the load because Hillis has joined Brandon Jacobs (knee) on the sideline – which leaves seventh-round pick Michael Cox as the only active backup halfback. FB John Conner has just 21 rushes in parts of four NFL seasons and hasn’t carried the ball since 2011.
2. Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. Giants cornerbacks. Megatron ranks in the top three of the NFL with 1,449 receiving yards, a 17.9 avg. and 12 touchdown catches. At 6-5, he’s a difficult matchup for every corner in the league. Although the Giants could shadow him with Prince Amukamara (6-0), defensive coordinator Perry Fewell only has used this strategy once this season – for the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson. Otherwise, Fewell has been content with playing the sides straight up and offering either zone, bracket or double-coverage help to the side covering the opponent’s No. 1 threat. The issue here is that corners Jayron Hosley (5-10) and Trumaine McBride (5-9) don’t have the bulk to provide much resistance to Johnson.
3. Lions RB Reggie Bush vs. Giants linebackers. Despite doing an excellent job containing the league’s Top 10 running backs on the ground, the Giants’ defense often struggles with shifty backs when they leak out for short passes. Bush (940 rushing yards) has caught 47 passes for 463 yards and two TDs, including a 77-yarder. Power back Joique Bell (39-459 receiving) also provides a threat coming out of the backfield. Their ability to move the chains is part of the reason the Lions are sixth in the NFL with a 43.4 third-down conversion rate.
PREDICTION: Lions 27, Giants 10
PREDICTION RECORD VS. SPREAD: 9-5
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