For much of the 2013 season, the Detroit Lions looked to be in the drivers seat for winning the upside down NFC North division. Following a messy December, that momentum has come to a screeching halt, and now the Lions must win out and get some help to reach the playoffs.
Conversely, the New York Giants, despite the weakness of the NFC East most of the year, have been unofficially done for a few weeks. They've fallen on hard times after enjoying a Super Bowl win at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, and should be ripe for Detroit's picking. Considering how the Lions have been losing lately, forgive anyone who doesn't consider Sunday's game a foregone conclusion. Here's five elements which will decide a winner.
1. Turnovers. In terms of clean play, the Lions and Giants likely won't set any records on Sunday. New York has the worst turnover margin in the NFC, and Detroit, fueled by a nasty streak of horrible offensive inconsistency, has joined them near the bottom of the conference at a -13. Both quarterbacks have looked turnover prone at times in 2013, with Matthew Stafford being the worst lately. Will either team finally be able to shake their turnover bug? It goes without saying that the one who does will likely win the match up.
2. Mental Readiness. The Lions lost a heartbreaker on Monday night casting their season in doubt, while the Giants have been playing terrible most of the year and are in the midst of playing out a 5-9 season. Which team will have more jump in their step? Will the Lions be able to overcome another kick in the stomach and rally for a win? Will the Giants have checked out at all or be ready for another fight? Mindset will play a major role in who wins on Sunday.
3. Calvin Johnson. Monday night, Johnson had a rough day, getting roughed up by the Ravens and dropping some notable passes along the way. Though Johnson did have 98 yards on six catches, the night could have been much better, and had Johnson had just a few more plays, the Lions could have won. Will Johnson make those plays on Sunday to help lead his team? The Giants shouldn't be able to contain him, so it will be up to Johnson to find a way to excel in another must-win game and find the end zone.
4. Rueben Randle. Without Victor Cruz and with Hakeem Nicks remaining inconsistent, Randle has picked up the slack for Eli Manning in 2013. Cruz won't play in Detroit and don't count on the inconsistent Giants' running game to get much done on the ground against the Lions' solid front, so Manning will need someone to help break the game down the field against a suspect secondary. Randle will have to be that guy. With a big game out of him, the Giants could shock plenty and score a nice win.
5. Jim Schwartz's Coaching. Famously, Schwartz has said he isn't scared of doing anything to win, including calling a risky fake field goal. How will Schwartz coach with the pressure of his job hanging in the balance? Will Schwartz continue to gamble, take chances or even play things closer to the vest? With the microscope firmly placed even tighter on Schwartz now, he cannot afford any missteps, whether they be his own or his staff's. Win or lose, it will be interesting to see Schwartz coming off Monday's disaster, which was a complete failure from coaches to players. Can he steer the ship towards a late season win?
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