Lions and Giants look to move closer to playoffs
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Having nine wins with three games left in the regular season used to be almost a guaranteed ticket to the NFL playoffs.
It's not for the Detroit Lions and New York Giants as they head into Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium.
Both are 9-4, in good position, and either team can make the postseason with a win and a combination of other results.
The Lions are riding a five-game winning streak that has given them a two-game lead over Minnesota and Green Bay in the NFC North. The Giants are two games behind Dallas (11-2) in the NFC East but they hold a one-game lead in the wild-card race after winning seven of eight.
The problem for the loser will be the schedule. After the Giants, the Lions close at Dallas and then return home to face the Packers, who have are playing much better after a midseason slump.
The Giants close with road games against division rivals. They have a quick turnaround for a Thursday night game against the Eagles (5-8) and finish at Washington (7-5-1), which beat them earlier this season.
''They're playing for a lot, we're playing for a lot,'' said Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford , who will be playing with an injured middle finger on his throwing hand. ''It's an NFC game, it's going to be a big one. We're excited about the opportunity, obviously, great to be in this type of a position. Just got to go out there and play well.''
The Lions, who made the playoffs as a wild card in coach Jim Caldwell's first season in 2014 with an 11-5 record, are looking to get back to the postseason after going 7-9 last year. The Giants are looking to end a four-year playoff drought in Ben McAdoo's first season as coach.
''For us to be here where we are, standing at 9-4 with playoff contention right there on the horizon, it is definitely fun to be here and to understand that the offense hasn't reached that top pinnacle of where we want to be, and we know it is coming,'' said receiver Victor Cruz, a member of New York's Super Bowl-winning team in February 2012. ''We know it is only a matter of time and hopefully it is this week.''
The defense has been the strength of both teams, with New York's group preserving probably all nine wins. The Giants' offense has yet to score 30 points. The Lions' offense has played well in the fourth quarter, posting comeback wins eight times.
Some things to consider for Sunday's game:
MATCHING MANNINGS: Caldwell is close with Peyton Manning, dating to their years with the Indianapolis Colts. While he has watched Eli Manning from afar, he sees a lot of similarities.
''He has the same sort of mental makeup and you'd have to certainly attribute that to Archie and Olivia,'' Caldwell said of the quarterbacks' parents. ''They've had some young guys in that family, or the men in that family, that have performed very, very well under pressure. They've been built for it. He's had maybe some of the best tutelage that one can have watching his older brother play, and then obviously both of them watching their dad play.''
ELI WOES: The Giants' offense has been horrible in recent weeks, and so has Eli Manning. His passing yards have been in the 190s in the last three games and he has thrown three interceptions and lost two fumbles. He has not had a 300-yard game since throwing for 403 against Baltimore on Oct. 16.
''I got to play better,'' Manning said. ''Got to find completions, got to protect the football better. That's what's got to happen in these type of games, and you get into December, you got to protect the football. That's the most important thing right now.''
LEANING ON THE OL: Detroit desperately needs its offensive line to keep the Giants' line off Stafford, who hurt the middle finger on his right hand early in last week's win over Chicago . The line, which includes first-round pick Taylor Decker at left tackle and third-round pick Graham Glasgow at center, will have to block 350-pound defensive tackle Damon Harrison and defensive end Oliver Vernon.
The Giants have 26 sacks since mid-October, second best in the league in that span.
FIELD POSITION: Giants punter Brad Wing has placed 10 of his last 22 punts inside the opposition's 20. He was the NFC special teams player of the week for netting 42.9 yards in the win over the Cowboys. Watch New York long snapper Zak DeOssie; he is dealing with a hamstring issue.
NO RUNNING: The Lions and Giants are among the NFL's worst rushing teams. Detroit is ranked No. 29, averaging 83.7 yards. The Giants are No. 31, averaging 78.7 yards. Theo Riddick leads the Lions with 357 yards on 92 carries, a 3.9 yard average, but is a major threat as a receiver. Rashad Jennings has 459 yards on 136 carries for New York, a 3.4 yard average.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Allen Park, Michigan contributed to this report.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and -http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL