Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) points out coverage against the Detroit Lions in the first half of an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski
December 12, 2016

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) If the Detroit Lions needed any reminders of the challenges still ahead, all they had to do was turn on the television a few hours after their victory Sunday.

The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys - Detroit's next two opponents - were playing a tough, defensive struggle that went down to the wire. And yes, Lions coach Jim Caldwell watched.

''Start to finish,'' he said.

It was another successful weekend for the Lions, who edged Chicago 20-17 on Sunday to remain two games ahead of Minnesota and Green Bay atop the NFC North.

The day wasn't exactly perfect, though. The Vikings and Packers both won, and Green Bay did so in emphatic fashion, beating Seattle 38-10.

If Detroit loses either of its next two games, the division title could be at stake in the regular-season finale against the Packers.

If the season ended now, the Lions (9-4) would be the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but road games against the Giants (9-4) next weekend and the Cowboys (11-2) on Dec. 26 could change all that.

And it's not just Green Bay that's surging. Tampa Bay (8-5) has won five in a row, matching Detroit for the longest current winning streak in the league.

Atlanta (8-5) and Washington (7-5-1) also won Sunday, underscoring how tough the race for the wild cards could be should the Lions fall into it.

The big issue for Detroit this week is the health of quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose middle finger on his throwing hand was taped up and covered by a white glove Sunday.

Caldwell, who rarely discusses injuries at any length, addressed Stafford's status at Monday's news conference before anyone even had a chance to ask.

''The good thing about it, he was able to finish the game, went through it, and also that he's going to be able to play in the next game,'' Caldwell said. ''He'll be able to practice and those kinds of things. He feels that obviously he can get it done and also the doctors do as well.''

Stafford threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter Sunday. The first came off a fluky bounce in the end zone, but the second was returned for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 17-13 lead. Stafford led Detroit back down the field and scored the decisive TD on a 7-yard run.

''(The injury) affected him some yesterday when it first happened. I think you saw that through the course of the game,'' Caldwell said. ''But he's a tough guy, he battled through it and so now we have an opportunity to work with the doctors, get things straightened out that need to be straightened out, and we'll work through it this week, but he should be ready to go.''

While Stafford struggled, the Detroit defense played fine against Chicago. The Lions have held seven consecutive opponents to 20 points or fewer.

Defensive lineman Haloti Ngata said watching the Giants-Cowboys game was helpful. The Giants won 10-7 , and Ngata could just focus on both offenses, knowing he'd be seeing them up close soon.

''Just keep on winning games, that's all we need to do,'' he said.

NOTES: Ngata said the team was happy to have LB DeAndre Levy back against the Bears. He had three tackles and an assist in his return from a knee injury. ''It's awesome. Levy's a player that can do so many things. I'm just glad he was out there, even though it's only for limited reps. He's a phenomenal linebacker,'' Ngata said. ''Hopefully he can get back to his old self, once he gets a better feel.''


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