By Curt Macysyn

The (9-4) New York Giants garnered their biggest victory of the season when they repelled the division-leading Dallas Cowboys (11-2) by a 10-7 score at blustery MetLife Stadium on Sunday night. The win buoyed the spirits of both players and fans, and it also loudly announced Big Blue as a legitimate playoff threat. This week, the surprising  (9-4) Detroit Lions visit the New Jersey Meadowlands for another important NFC contest.

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Detroit Lions Season Record: 9-4

The streaking Lions are in an unfamiliar position: The top of the NFC North standings. Detroit is currently on a five-game winning streak that started with a 22-16 overtime victory of the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 6. Part of the reason that the Lions occupy the top spot in the NFC North lies in the disappointing play of both the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Both of those teams earned needed victories this weekend, so Detroit was unable to put more distance between themselves and their rivals.

Lions on Offense:

Detroit possesses a middle-of-the-road offense as they sit in 21st place overall in the NFL, averaging 336.2 yards per game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford leads the passing attack, and the Lions average 252.5 yards per game through the air. Much like the Giants, the Lions have a deficient running attack that gains only 83.7 yards on the ground. An early season foot injury to running back Ameer Abdullah robbed Detroit of a key portion of their running attack, as Abdullah was lost for the season. Replacement Theo Riddick has 357 yards on the ground to lead the team, but missed the last game with a wrist injury.

The Lions’ strength lies in their passing attack, and Stafford has a variety of receivers at his disposal. Golden Tate has thrived upon the retirement of Calvin Johnson and has 71 catches and three touchdowns on the season, but Stafford has other options as well, including Anquan Boldin (55 catches, 7 TDs), Marvin Jones (46 catches, 4 TDs) and tight end Eric Ebron (43 catches, 1 TD). Boldin has seven touchdown receptions this year, and the big bodied receiver will present a red zone challenge for the G-Men.

Lions on Defense:

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The Lions are not a brand name defense, but they do get the job done. Their defense gives up an average of 350.2 yards per game, which ranks them 15th in the league, but Detroit is dead last in the NFC with 22 quarterback sacks, which should help the Giants embattled offensive line. Defensive end Kerry Hyder leads the team with eight quarterback sacks.

What is perplexing this year is the play of defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who has gone from 14.5 sacks last season to zero sacks so far this year. Ansah dealt with a high ankle sprain earlier this season, and he left Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears with a shoulder injury, according to the Detroit Free-Press.

Detroit has a quartet of players with two interceptions each in Glover Quin, Darius Slay, Tavon Wilson and Rafael Bush, and the defensive unit has 10 interceptions total. New Jersey-native Tahir Whitehead leads the team with 107 total tackles. Whitehead was a fifth-round draft pick in 2012 out of Temple University, after finishing his career at Newark West Side High School.

Players to Watch: Eric Ebron and Darius Slay

With Matthew Stafford nursing a dislocated middle finger on his throwing hand, the Lions’ vertical passing game will likely be limited. Tight end Eric Ebron was actually drafted before Odell Beckham in the 2014 draft, but he has not come close to OBJ’s production. In reality, Ebron has largely been a disappointment, yet he has 43 receptions this year with only one touchdown. If Ebron can have a break-out game, that will relieve some pressure on Stafford.

Eli Manning will have to be careful to not lose sight of veteran cornerback Darius Slay. In the off season, Detroit signed Slay to a contract extension to be the foundation of their defense. Per the Detroit Free-Press, “Slay’s contract averages about $12.5 million over the life of the deal, the seventh-richest, by that measure, for a cornerback in the NFL. According to spotrac.com, he trails Josh Norman, Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Trumaine Johnson and Joe Haden in average annual value.” Undoubtedly, the Lions will have Slay follow Odell Beckham around the field.

Outlook:

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The Giants should not look past the Lions, as head coach Jim Caldwell has his team heading in the right direction. Both offenses struggle with their ground games, but Big Blue has more options at its disposal. New York’s offensive line continues to be a concern, but the Lions are dead last in the NFC with 22 quarterback sacks. Giants coach Ben McAdoo has his squad playing on an even keel, so expect that the G-Men will take care of business on Sunday.