The New York Giants and Detroit Lions have endured similar seasons, and now find their paths crossing on Sunday afternoon.
There is an undeniable feel-good factor surrounding the New York Giants at the moment. Following Big Blue’s impressive 10-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, who have the best record in the NFL, the Giant defense, as well as the home run capability of Odell Beckham Jr., is the talk of the town.
Winners of seven of their last eight games, the Giants can clinch a postseason berth– the teams first since their Super Bowl triumph in 2011-12– if they can beat the Detroit Lions at home on Sunday, and if other results go their way.
Sunday’s matchup also presents the Giants with another incredibly difficult task. Other than Dallas and themselves, Detroit has been the best team in the NFC this season. In fact, the Giants and the Lions are tied at 9-4 for the second best record in the conference. It is worth noting that Detroit has a two game lead in the NFC North, whereas the Giants face a 2 game deficit in the NFC East. Because of this, the likelihood that the final game the Giants play at MetLife Stadium this campaign will take place this upcoming weekend.
Statistically, these two teams are shockingly similar. Both teams thrive in close, fourth quarter games. Both teams rely on their stingy defenses to carry them through three quarters, before they use their offensive big guns–perhaps, an electrifying 60 yard touchdown for Odell Beckham Jr., or a methodical game winning drive by quarterback Matthew Stafford— to pull off the victory.
Let us compare these two teams, shall we? In terms of point differential, Detroit is +27 on the season, while the Giants are +11. To put that into perspective, the only team with a better record in the NFC, the Cowboys, have a point differential of +102. Both of Dallas’ losses have come against the Giants, by a combined 4 points (it is also worth noting that Detroit and Dallas meet next weekend).
The comparisons get closer when you look at each teams’ winning point differential. Detroit’s nine wins have come by a combined 45 points. The Giants nine wins have come by a combined total of 44 points. Yes, you read that correctly. One point separates which team has a higher margin of victory.
Additionally, each team has only won once by more than one possession. The Giants beat Cleveland 27-13, while the Lions beat the Saints 28-13. Once again, there’s that difference of one point: The Giants biggest win came by 14, the Lions by 15.
The most impressive (or worrying) statistic of all surrounding both teams is Detroit’s track record in the fourth quarter. In 12 of their 13 games this season, the Lions have, at one point, trailed in the fourth quarter. That means that in eight of their nine wins, the Lions have had to put together a fourth quarter drive to come from behind and take the lead. That is incredibly impressive, considering the circumstances, but is also worrying– in order to be successful in the playoffs, one would assume the Lions should show up offensively for the first three quarters instead of relying on the defense to keep it close.
However, these fourth quarter comebacks have allowed quarterback Matthew Stafford to thrive. Stafford, the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, has been unstoppable in the fourth quarter, putting in performances that currently have him in third on ESPN.com’s MVP ballot, right behind New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
Stafford’s fourth quarter success is eerily similar to Eli Manning‘s in 2011, the last year the Giants won the Super Bowl. That season, Manning led eight game winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, six in the regular season, and two in the playoffs (those came in the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, and in the Super Bowl against the Patriots). This season, Stafford already has eight game winning drives in the 4th quarter/overtime. When you factor in that Detroit still has three games left in the regular season, and likely at least one game in the postseason (they also have a legitimate shot at a first round bye, after the Seattle Seahawks debacle against the Green Bay Packers), Stafford has a real shot to usurp Manning’s 4th quarter heroics from five years ago. Crazy, isn’t it?.
When you look at both teams’ offenses from top to bottom, you see a lot of similarities, particularly the diversity; each team loves to spread the football around. Five different players have led the Lions in rushing this season for an entire game, and five different players have led the Lions in receiving this season for an entire game. Additionally, Detroit has five players on their roster who have rushed for over 100 yards this season, and six players on their roster who have over 100 receiving yards this season. The Giants have four players with over 100 yards rushing and seven with over 100 yards receiving.
Neither team is particularly good at running the football– Detroit is 29th in the NFL, while New York ranks 31st. Conversely, both rank in the top half in receiving offense (Detroit is 14th, New York is 16th). When throwing the ball, the Giants are all about Odell Beckham, with the occasional sighting of Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. However, Detroit has two go-to wide receivers in Marvin Jones and Golden Tate who have made the retirement of legendary wideout Calvin Johnson much more manageable.
On defense, the Giants have surrendered the 14th fewest total yards in the NFL (4,541) while the Lions have surrendered the 15th fewest (4,553). That’s a difference of twelve yards for all you mathematicians. The difference between the two defenses is, potentially, Detroit gave up one more quick slant on 1st and 10 than the Giants did. It’s that close.
Each defense has a similar standout players, as well. In terms of tackles, strong safety Landon Collins and linebacker Tahir Whitehead spearhead the Giants and Lions defenses, respectively. Collins has 80 solo tackles and 100 total tackles, while Whitehead has 79 solo tackles and 107 total tackles. Both teams leading sack artist has 8.0 sacks– Olivier Vernon of the Giants, and Kerry Hyder of the Lions. Each teams’ defensive line is also missing a big pass rushing presence– Ezekiel Ansah went down injured last weekend agains the Bears, while Jason-Pierre Paul is out for an extended period of time after getting surgery on his groin.
Each team has a big, experienced defensive tackle to clog up running lanes. Super Bowl champion and former Raven Haloti Ngata anchors the Lions’ defensive line, while Damon “Snacks” Harrison does the same for Big Blue. In the secondary, each team has a guy with a claim to be a shutdown corner. Darius Slay has been lights out this season, particularly in the fourth quarter; he has had a decisive interception, pass deflection, and forced fumble late in games this season, all of which were won by the Lions. Meanwhile, if you need to see why Janoris Jenkins is a shutdown corner, watch his highlights against Dez Bryant last week as he made the Cowboys All-Pro wideout practically invisible all night.
Statistics aren’t everything, but after taking a look at the stats of these two teams, it’s clear how close they are. Same record, incredibly similar defensive statistics, similar point differentials, similar point differentials in victory, similar playmakers at every position, and 2 quarterbacks with a penchant for fourth quarter heroics.
So, what is going to give on Sunday? Will home field advantage play a big role (the Giants are 6-1 at home this season)? Will the Lions finally show up for the first three quarters? Will the Giants offense manage to scrape together over 20 points? Will the Giants come out flat after their emotional and hard fought victory against the Cowboys? Will the Lions fourth quarter magic finally run out against a defense that hasn’t allowed any fourth quarter comebacks all season?
Whatever happens, the Detroit Lions at the New York Giants should be a phenomenal game, as the teams tied for the second best record in the NFC collide in a game with massive playoff implications at MetLife Stadium. Who will win, however, is anyones guess.