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Giants vs. Lions: Ten story lines for Sunday’s matchup

Let’s take our first look at this weekend’s game

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford throws a pass last Sunday.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants host the Detroit Lions on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, a game that will feature two of the NFL’s hottest teams. Let’s check some of the story lines heading into the game.

Can the Giants really clinch a playoff berth?

Well, yes they can. A lot has to go right. The Giants have to beat the Lions. The Washington Redskins (7-5-1) have to lose. The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings have to lose or tie. There is still time to vote in our fan confidence poll, which asks whether or not you believe the Giants will reach the playoffs this year for the first time since 2011. At last check, 91 percent of those who have voted believe they will.

The Lions can clinch, too

Detroit can earn the NFC North title on Sunday. If The Lions beat the Giants and the Green Bay Packers lose to or tie with the Chicago Bears, Detroit wins the division. If the Giants and Lions tie, Detroit can still clinch with a Green Bay loss and and a loss or tie by the Minnesota Vikings, who face the Indianapolis Colts.

What’s the deal with Stafford’s hand?

Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford reportedly suffered torn ligaments and a dislocation in the middle finger of his right, throwing hand last Sunday. The Lions are expecting Stafford to continue to play. Stafford said this week he thinks he will be OK.

"I’ve had the broken index before and played with that, and that’s no fun," Stafford said on WJR-AM (760). "But this one will be a little bit different. I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as that one was."

With 22 touchdown passes, only seven interceptions, a passer rating of 97.8 and a QBR of 70.1, Stafford is arguably having the best season of his eight-year career.

What’s the deal with Eli’s poor play?

Eli Manning has not played well in recent weeks. He has missed some open receivers and Sunday against Dallas he turned the ball over three times. Manning knows he needs to play better for the Giants’ offense to reach its potential.

Strength vs. strength

Stafford has led eight game-winning drives this season. The Giants’ defense has held off last-minute game-winning drives in eight of the team’s nine victories. If that situation arises on Sunday afternoon, who will get the upper hand?

The Lions are hot

The Giants have won seven of their last eight. The Lions, though, have been just as scorching hot. Detroit started 1-3, but the Lions have won five straight and eight of their last nine games. The only blemish was a Week 8 loss to the Houston Texans.

Ereck Flowers vs. Ezekiel Ansah

The Giants’ left tackle has been struggling, we know that. The Detroit defensive end does not have a sack in 10 games this season, a stat partially explained by a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss three games. Ansah, though, had 30 sacks over his first three seasons, including 14.5 last season.

Will Ansah get healthy against Flowers and make life miserable for Eli Manning? Will Flowers be able to keep Ansah off the sack scoreboard? Will the Giants perhaps give Flowers more help than they have most of the season?

This is one of the key individual matchups to pay attention to on Sunday.

Will Justin Pugh finally return?

Pugh was the Giants’ best offensive lineman until he injured his knee Week 9 against the Philadelphia Eagles. The left guard had hoped to play last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, but wasn’t ready.

The Giants have made due with Brett Jones, Adam Gettis and Marshall Newhouse playing in Pugh’s place.

Will the offense ever step up?

The Giants are 9-4 despite only getting occasional contributions from the offense. The Giants have scored a total of only 24 points the past two weeks, are only 25th in the league with an average of 19.6 points per game, and remain one of the few teams in the league that has not had at least one 30-point game.

Self-inflicted wounds — untimely penalties, turnovers, drops or missed throws — have plagued the Giants all season. Inconsistent offensive line play has also been a major factor. The Giants are running out of time to get it right.

Home finale

This will be the Giants’ final home game of 2016. They are 6-1 at MetLife Stadium, the only loss being a Week 3 defeat at the hands of the Washington Redskins. With a victory Sunday, the Giants could match their best home record since they were 7-1 in 2008.