KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 39th meeting. Lions lead series, 20-17-1. Detroit has won the last two meetings (2000, 2004), but before that the Giants won five of six dating back to 1976. Perhaps the most significant meeting between the teams took place 64 years ago, when they engaged in the last scoreless tie in NFL history.
PREDICTION: Giants 30-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: Giants WRs Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer are big, physical targets who enjoy a solid mismatch against the Lions' cover men, although the Giants lack depth beyond the starters. Detroit is expected to play more zone than man-to-man, and there will be open receivers all over the place if the Lions aren't able to consistently pressure QB Eli Manning. ... Coming off the worst rushing effort in the modern era (minus-18 yards), the Lions have to hope RB Kevin Jones' sore foot isn't an issue again. The Lions are converting just 32.1 percent of their third downs, and the shaky pass blocking has little chance of holding up against DEs Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan & Co. on long passing downs even if the receivers are able to exploit the Giants' secondary.
KEY INJURIES: Giants: Burress (ankle) continues to play through the pain; RB Derrick Ward (ankle, groin) and WR Steve Smith (hamstring) are uncertain. Lions: RT Jonathan Scott (broken thumb) is out; DE Dewayne White (triceps) could be a game-time decision.
FAST FACTS: Giants RB Brandon Jacobs has averaged 103.8 rushing yards over his past five games. ... The Lions lead the league with 28 takeaways and 13 fumble recoveries.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Giants have a problem. They don't have a quality third wide receiver, and when one of the starting two is hurt -- like Plaxico Burress -- there is simply nobody to step up and take his place.
The absence of a quality third wideout is not for lack of trying. In 2006 they drafted Sinorice Moss in the second round. He has been, fairly stated, a major disappointment so far. This year they drafted Steve Smith in the second round, another second rounder with gold-plated credentials, and so far he has been injured so often that it is impossible to decide whether he was the right pick or not.
During summer camp, however, he showed flashes of brilliance, and that was what the coaching staff (not to mention general manager Jerry Reese, who made the final draft decision on him) wanted to see. In the second game of the season, however, he suffered a fractured scapula and since then hasn't played.
His injury has healed, but his condition has been complicated by a hamstring issue that has prevented him from playing. In fact, he has missed more practice time than he has put in.
So now, with Burress' sprained ankle apparently worsening despite his reprieve from daily practice routines, to whom do the Giants turn?
If Smith can play, they might try him. If he can't, then Moss gets the call. If he doesn't come through, there aren't many other choices. David Tyree, the former Pro Bowl special teams performer, has dabbled at wide receiver and hasn't met anyone's lukewarm expectations. Rookie running back Ahmad Bradshaw is 5-feet-9 on a good day, has great speed but is totally unschooled as a wideout.
So it could mean the expanded use of tight end Jeremy Shockey as the Giants prepare to face the Detroit Lions on Sunday, a clash of two teams with 6-3 records, coming off losses last weekend and still very much alive for playoff consideration.
Shockey had 12 catches last week, vaulting him into team leadership for the season ahead of Burress. Stay tuned. The absence of wide receivers is going to turn into yet another Giants soap opera.
The day wide receiver Calvin Johnson was taken second overall in the NFL draft, he said his goal was to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. But he has only 21 catches for 357 yards and two touchdowns, plus three carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. He makes big plays when he gets the ball, but he doesn't get the ball that much.
Some in Detroit have even questioned whether the Lions should have taken running back Adrian Peterson.
Johnson's back has been a big problem. Since he fell awkwardly making a spectacular catch Sept. 23 at Philadelphia, he has missed only one game. But he has missed a lot of time in practice and within games. On the Lions' first offensive play Sunday at Arizona, Johnson fell awkwardly trying to make a catch in the end zone. He aggravated his back again.
"I told him yesterday, 'You know how to fix that, Calvin?'" offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "He said, 'How?' I said, 'Don't fall on your back.' He didn't think it was funny."
When he has practiced and played, Johnson often has been limited. Martz hasn't completely integrated him into the game plan, for fear he would lose him.
"We're going to be real careful with him in how much we ask him to do during the week because he just needs to kind of rest that thing a little bit," Martz said. "But he still needs the reps, so it's kind of a Catch 22.
"He's on the mend. I think he feels better this week than he did last week, even with that injury. So we'll just kind of see where he is here. That's why he's had a little bit of a limited role. If he's really healthy, then obviously we pick up some of the slack there and do a little bit more with him. But the first play of the game...
"Like I said last week, you don't know when you're going to have him and when you're not. If he goes out the first play of the game, then all that stuff goes out the window that you had for him. So you kind of have to be careful."
Martz praised Johnson's toughness, saying most players wouldn't play with what he has, but said Johnson sometimes made mistakes because the injury distracted him.
"He just doesn't have the juice and the acceleration he normally has," Martz said.
Johnson hadn't had much to say on the subject. Coming off the field after practice Thursday, he didn't stop walking as a group of reporters followed asking questions.
"You can't do much without your back," he said.
With that, he was out of sight, perhaps headed to the training room.