ALLEN PARK -- Since the season began, both local media and national analysts have labeled Detroit's fast start dubious -- in large part because the team hasn't yet won (or played) a "statement" game.
The Lions will have two in a five-day span.
When the Lions host the Giants (6-3) on Sunday and the Packers (8-1) five days later on Thanksgiving Day, the games will have huge playoff implications.
And they might as well be playoff games themselves.
"These are two playoff games," wide receiver Roy Williams said. "This might be the road that we have to take in the 2007 playoffs. ... Coach says, 'November and December is what they remember.' So we need guys to show up."
Every Wednesday, Marinelli puts up the standings in the team meeting and tells the players exactly where they are in the bigger picture, before bringing them back to his one-snap-at-a-time mantra.
Marinelli called Sunday "a statement game." The Lions have doubled their victory total from last season, but they're coming off a 31-21 loss at Arizona and still have a lot of doubters.
This Wednesday, Marinelli showed the players they were 6-3, tied with New York for third in the NFC, second behind Green Bay in the NFC North.
The Lions haven't made the playoffs since 1999, and after they play the Giants and Packers, their schedule remains rough -- at Minnesota (3-6), Dallas (8-1), at San Diego (5-4), Kansas City (4-5), at Green Bay.
In the team meeting, Marinelli asked everyone who had been to the NFL playoffs to raise his hand. Less than half the room did.
"This is why you play the game, to be in these kind of games and not be thinking about next year already," said quarterback Jon Kitna, who has played in two playoff games, one with Seattle in 1999 and one with Cincinnati in 2005.
Is it fun?
"If you're a competitor," Kitna said, laughing. "If you want to play at the highest level, it is. This is where you figure out what kind of person you really are."
The first thing the Lions have to worry about? The Giants' pass rush. The Lions have allowed 40 sacks, most in the NFL. The Giants have 31, most in the league.
Quarterback Jon Kitna missed Wednesday's practice because of a sore back. He is expected to play, but struggling right tackle George Foster will have to protect him from Michael Strahan, the NFL's active sacks leader.
"Those guys are really good, but the problem is, they're really good at coverage," Kitna said. "So you have to hold the ball a little bit sometimes, and that gives them an extra half a second or a second to get to you, too. So it all works hand in hand."
You might suggest the Lions run the ball to keep the Giants from pinning back their ears. But the Lions are coming off the worst rushing performance in modern NFL history, a minus-18 showing against the Cardinals, the lowest total since sack yardage stopped being included in rushing yardage 60 years ago. And running back Kevin Jones has been suffering from a sore foot.
On defense, the Lions have been stopping the run well. But their secondary doesn't match up well with wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. They aren't expected to play much man-to-man. Their best hope probably will be to play zone and hope to pressure quarterback Eli Manning into making mistakes.
"We need to separate ourselves, and this is Separation Sunday for us," wide receiver Roy Williams said. "If we win this game, we'll be alone in third place, trying to work our way up to the top. Hopefully the Packers will lose and then they'll see us Thanksgiving and maybe they can get another L. We'll be tied for second then. We just want to work our way up and take it one game at a time."
SERIES HISTORY: 39th meeting. Lions lead series, 20-17-1. The Lions have won the last two meetings -- 28-13 in 2004 and 31-21 in 2000. Both of those games were on the road.