I'm not backing off my prediction last week that the Lions will make the playoffs. In fact, I think they'll beat the Giants Sunday in what looms as the biggest game of the year.
It's not make-or-break in the strictest sense. The Giants and Redskins, the two teams the Lions are in the most direct competition with for an NFC wild card spot, have remaining schedules almost as difficult as Detroit's. Washington already owns the tie-breaker with the Lions, but the Redskins (5-3) travel to Dallas this weekend and will be favored in only two more games this year (home tilts with Buffalo and Chicago, plus maybe Week 17 against the Cowboys if Dallas rests its starters). The Giants (6-2) similarly have winnable home dates with Minnesota and Washington left, but may need a win over New England in their season finale to get in. They can only hope the Pats aren't chasing perfection.
Taking all that into account, the Lions (6-2) don't need a magical finish. Nine wins should do the trick, 8-8 might, too. But to be safe the Lions need a victory Sunday, both for tie-breaking purposes with the Giants and because Kansas City is the closest thing to a sure-thing left on their schedule. Games home against Green Bay and at Minnesota are winnable, but beyond that things get rough. At San Diego? Home against Dallas? At Green Bay? Only if the Packers have a first-round bye clinched.
So why do I think the Lions will win Sunday against a team whose greatest strength (the pass rush) eats at the Lions biggest weakness (the offensive line)? First, because I see Kevin Jones having a bounce-back game. I know the Giants have a top-10 defense, but Jones and Detroit's offensive line are still bristling over last week's eight-carry, minus-18-yard rushing performance. Second, I don't trust Eli Manning (59.4 percent completion rate and 11 INTs), even against a shaky Lions secondary that could be without its best cornerback in Fernando Bryant. Third, Ford Field. The Lions are a completely different team playing at home this year. They'll feed off the energy of the crowd and hang on for a six-point win.