Stafford’s 4th winning drive leads Lions over Bucs 24-21

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TAMPA, Fla. — With the clock running down in a tie game, the Detroit Lions didn’t have any qualms about the ball being in Matthew Stafford‘s injured throwing hand.

They’ve come to expect their quarterback to find a way to lead them to victory in those situations, and Stafford didn’t disappoint Sunday, when he threw for 381 yards and set up Matt Prater for a 46-yard field goal in the closing seconds to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-21.

The victory stopped a two-game skid and kept the Lions (7-6) in playoff contention with three games remaining.

“I just think we have a lot of confidence. I think guys that have been around here have understood that sometimes that’s the way the game boils down. We go out there and make plays,” Stafford said after directing a winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime for the 32nd time in his career.

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“When you have success, it breeds confidence,” he added, “Frankly, there’s been some times this year where we haven’t been successful in those situations, some really close calls in some other games. It feels good to get back out there and have a two-minute drive, go down there and win the game.”

Stafford made his 109th consecutive start despite being limited in practice after his right hand was stepped on during the previous week at Baltimore . He completed 36 of 44 attempts against the Bucs (4-9), and the Lions overcame two interceptions and a fumble to stay alive for a playoff spot.

Jameis Winston rallied Tampa Bay, which has lost eight of 10 following a 2-1 start, with a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes. But once again, the Bucs’ defense couldn’t hold off an opponent down the stretch.

A week ago, the Bucs led by a field goal in the closing minutes of regulation before losing 26-20 in overtime at Green Bay.

“This team is always going to fight. We’ve just got to learn how to come out on the other side of these things,” Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.

“We fought back last week. We fought back this week,” McCoy, who left the game in the opening half with a biceps injury. “It’s a fine line between winning and losing. The fine line was a field goal today.”

Stafford moved the Lions 49 yards in eight plays to set up Prater’s winning kick with 20 seconds left – the fourth winning drive he’s led this season.

“Tough guy who heals quickly. It’s always been that way,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s a great leader. Did a tremendous out there for us under tough circumstances. … He threw the ball pretty well. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but he did a nice job.”

Stafford threw a 5-yard TD pass to Golden Tate and Theo Riddick scored on runs of 2 and 18 yards to help the Lions take a 21-7 lead into the fourth quarter.

Winston, who threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, led a 75-yard drive that he finished with a 2-yard scoring pass to O.J. Howard and then used a 40-yard pass interference call against Detroit cornerback DJ Hayden to set a 2-yard TD throw to seldom-used offensive lineman Leonard Wester to make it 21-21 with eight minutes remaining.

Winston completed 26 of 38 passes for 285 yards. His fumble led to Riddick’s second TD run. Tampa Bay finished with five turnovers, and Winston was sacked three times.

The loss ensures the Bucs, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, will finish with a losing record . The team entered this season with heightened expectations after going 9-7 in their first year under coach Dirk Koetter, who now finds himself deflecting questions about whether his relationship with Winston – the top pick in the 2015 draft – is deteriorating.

“That’s obviously news to me. I think Jameis and I have an extremely consistent relationship for the last three years. I don’t think anything’s different about it, but that’s just my opinion,” the coach added before shrugging off another question about if he was concern about speculation about a possible riff between the two.

“It concerns me that we’re not winning enough games. That’s my biggest concern,” Koetter said. “I know the truth about our relationship. My big concern is our football team.”

TOUGH GUY

Stafford’s streak of 109 consecutive starts is the third-longest among NFL quarterbacks behind Matt Ryan (128) and Philip Rivers (119).

BAD CALL

It took two replay reviews for officials to get it right on a play initially ruled an incomplete pass and 15-yard penalty against the Lions for a hit on a defenseless receiver in the first half.

Officials first looked at Winston’s first-quarter completion to Howard, who fumbled after being hit in the shoulder by safety Quandre Diggs at Detroit’s 18-yard line. The Bucs retained possession when the play was ruled an incompletion and that a 15-yard penalty should be assessed from the spot of the previous play.

The Lions then successfully challenged the ruling of an incomplete pass. Following another review, referee Ed Hochuli announced Howard indeed caught the ball and took four steps before being hit, and the Lions were awarded the ball on the fumble recovery. There was no foul for the hit, which was legal.

INJURIES

Lions: Played without RT Rick Wagner (ankle), who was inactive.

Buccaneers: DT Gerald McCoy left in the first half with a shoulder/biceps injury and did not return.

UP NEXT

Lions: Return home to face Chicago on Saturday.

Buccaneers: Begin a stretch of three consecutive games to end the season against NFC South rivals, hosting Atlanta next Monday night.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Steelers road favorites against Lions in Sunday Night Football matchup

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Picking between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions on Sunday night could simply come down to Ben Roethlisberger‘s record in primetime games compared to that of quarterback counterpart Matthew Stafford.

The Steelers are 3-point road favorites against the Lions with a 46-point total for the Week 8 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

On top of having never lost a game at Ford Field, the Steelers are 6-1 straight-up and 5-1-1 against the spread in their last seven road games as a favorite of 3.0 or fewer points. Pittsburgh is also 4-0 SU in its last four primetime games that Roethlisberger started.

The Lions are 3-13 SU in their last 16 games at night. However, they are coming off a bye and are 6-2 both SU and ATS in their last eight games after a bye week.

The Steelers, which are 5-2 SU and 4-3 ATS, have gotten away with having an oversized chunk of their offense come from RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. With Brown likely to be covered by CB Darius Slay most of the night, Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offensive brain trust might need to look elsewhere.

With WR Martavius Bryant (inactive) scratched, rookie JuJu Schuster-Smith will get plenty of looks as Pittsburgh tries to revive its deep passing game. Roethlisberger will also have to clean up some turnover issues against a Lions defense that is tied for third in the NFL with nine interceptions.

Up front, Pittsburgh has allowed just 10 sacks and the line’s consistent push in the rushing phase has helped Bell find daylight. While the first point of reference with the Lions defense is likely the embarrassing 52 points they allowed two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints, they are in the top 10 of the league in yards-per-rush.

For the Lions, which are 3-3 both SU and ATS, priorities 1A and 1B for their offense during their week off were presumably first-half production (only five of their 14 offensive touchdowns are before halftime) and pass protection. The possibility of leading receiver Golden Tate (shoulder) being unable to play would definitely hurt their prospects of a fast start, but Stafford does thrive at distributing the ball among several targets.

The issue for Detroit in the passing phase is giving Stafford time to set up. Detroit allowed 17 sacks in its three games immediately prior to the bye, and now it has to stymie a Steelers pass rush that is tied for the second-most sacks with 24.

The Steelers defense is giving up 4.7 yards per carry, so this could be a game where Lions RB Ameer Abdullah sees bigger holes than he’s been accustomed to this season.

The total has gone under in 15 of the Steelers’ last 20 games after a win. The total has gone over in seven of the Lions’ last eight home games in October according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com

Week 16 NFL opening odds have Giants, Raiders, Steelers as favorites

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There is reason to think Eli Manning and the New York Giants will maintain their record of being a near-lock when favored by a field goal or less.

While they’re on the road, the Giants are listed as 2.5-point favorites against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Thursday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

New York is 6-1-1 against the spread in its last eight games as a favorite of three or fewer points, while the Eagles will be out to break a negative trend of being 0-4 straight-up and ATS in their last four divisional games.

Manning and WR Odell Beckham Jr. are facing an Eagles defense whose yards per pass allowed has ballooned to 7.7, 26th in the 32-team NFL. The Giants’ improving defense could fluster rookie QB Carson Wentz, whose complement of receivers might struggle with getting separation from the trio of Eli Apple, Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Elsewhere, the Oakland Raiders are 3.5-point favorites against the Indianapolis Colts. Each team’s chances ride heavily on their respective quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Derek Carr. The status of Colts RT Joe Reitz (back), who would be matched up on pass rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack, is in doubt. The Raiders are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 home games according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Buffalo Bills are 3.5-point favorites against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins control their playoff destiny but are 2-9 ATS in their last 11 road games against Buffalo. The Bills’ run defense is a mess and RB Jay Ajayi might be able to provide the necessary support for backup QB Matt Moore, who is coming off a four-touchdown game in Week 15.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 4.5-point favorites against the Baltimore Ravens in a Christmas Day betting matchup. While Baltimore is on a 7-0 ATS streak in AFC North games, Ravens QB Joe Flacco‘s offense is more sporadic than the unit led by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens are 0-7 SU and 1-6 ATS in their last seven games in the late afternoon.

The Kansas City Chiefs are favored by four points against the Denver Broncos in the Sunday Night Football matchup. Although the Chiefs are coming off a loss against Tennessee, they regularly disrupt quarterbacks through DE Chris Jones, OLB Dee Ford and OLB Justin Houston. Denver QB Trevor Siemian and his offensive line haven’t been able to withstand that very often this season.

And the Dallas Cowboys are favored by seven points against the Detroit Lions in the Monday Night Football matchup. Lions QB Matthew Stafford has a chance to put up some points and Detroit’s defense, which allows an average of 98.9 rushing yards, might be able to limit NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys are not only on an 0-4 ATS streak, but they are 3-10-1 ATS in their last 14 home games against teams with winning records.