Thanks to a six-game winning streak that included victories over Peyton Manning's Broncos and Andrew Luck's Colts, the Patriots (8-2) are universally considered one of the best teams in football. The Lions (7-3) are only a game behind New England in the standings but don't bring nearly the cache to this interconference battle in Foxborough. Detroit took a tough loss in Arizona 14-6 last week that snapped a four-game winning streak. But while the Patriots have been blowing opponents out, seven of the Lions last eight games have been decided by eight points or less with their last three wins coming by a total of six points. Tom Brady leads a red-hot Patriots passing attack. Matthew Stafford leads an underperforming group that's been riddled with injuries. New England has the No. 2 scoring offense in football Detroit the No. 1 scoring defense. There are many stark differences between these two teams - but each is very much in the championship mix within its conference. As you prepare for an old-fashion Sunday-at-1 late fall affair, enjoy this gobble-filled, pre-Turkey Day Lions at Patriots Pregame Six-Pack!
- Front and center(s)** - The Patriots offensive output over the last two months has been very much boosted by the offensive line. That's true both in terms of the passing game and last Sunday night's rushing outburst in which the group dominated the Colts front. The middle of that success has come with Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell settling into place. All three have experience playing center and bring that knowledge and communication to the field to benefit the front. It's one thing to push around Indy and quite another to deal with the Ndamukong Suh-led Lions front. Detroit takes pride in being more physical than its opponent and will look to control that game up front in the exact opposite way the Patriots did last week. Detroit is No. 1 on defense in yards, rushing yards, and points, while ranking second in third-down defense. Suh, Ziggy Ansah and the rest of the front are legit. The Patriots offensive line, including the somewhat undersized Wendell at right guard, are becoming more impressive by the week. Winning this matchup against Detroit up front would go a long way toward winning this game and a long way toward stamping the offensive line as a reliable positive factor for New England heading down the home stretch.
- Hall of Fame matchup** - Darrelle Revis is arguably the best cornerback in football. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson is arguably the best in football when healthy. Each could end up in the Hall of Fame someday. No. 1 cornerback vs. No. 1 wide receiver. The only question is whether Bill Belichick will choose to deploy his new defensive toy on Detroit's big, athletic, dominant playmaker. It's the type of matchup that fans drool over and media members love to make a big deal about it. It's the type of matchup that can alter the outcome of a game. It's the type of matchup that generally gets the best out of both elite competitors. Revis has shown the ability to elevate his game and even seems more engaged when he's been asked to match up with opponents' top target this season. Stopping Johnson is and always will be the key to stopping the Lions, even with Golden Tate having a great year leading his new team with 68 receptions. This is the type of matchup when a guy like Revis can earn his huge paycheck. Of course it's also the matchup where Johnson can prove his massive worth. It's an exciting battle that we all just hope to see play out on the field on Sunday. It's also one that Revis is more than capable of winning.
- One D-mmensional** - New England's run defense is coming off its best performance of the year. It held the Colts to just 19 yards on the ground, and 15 yards were from a scrambling Andrew Luck. The Patriots front has been much better of late, even though it hasn't been tested much. That lack of a test should continue against a Lions team that averages just 3.2 yards a carry on the season. Reggie Bush has been hurt, but could be back in the mix. He's averaging 3.6 yards a carry on just 53 attempts for the year. Joique Bell is also averaging a mere 3.6 yards a carry. There is no question that the Lions are far more dangerous throwing the ball than running it. But a first step toward slowing the passing game is to play stout against the run and turn Detroit into a one dimensional attack. Vince Wilfork leads the way up front, but Alan Branch has gotten into the run defense with success of late. Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins have also been productive tackling forces. The Patriots should be able to take care of business once again against the run as a first step toward the defense doing its overall job on the day.
- Holiday week spread** - While the Lions haven't run the ball with much success this season, neither have Detroit's opponents. The Suh-led front is No. 1 in run defense, allowing just 68.8 yards a game and 3 yards a carry on the ground. So while the Patriots may be coming off a season-high rushing effort, there could/should be a major change in the offensive game plan this week. Belichick isn't fond of running into a brick wall, so he won't. This certainly would seem to be a game that calls for spreading out the defense and utilizing the aerial game, especially quick, high-percentage passes to march the ball down the field. It won't be easy. Regardless of the approach no team has scored more than 24 points against the Lions all season. Only three teams in 10 games have even reached 20 points. The NFL's top scoring attack, the Packers, managed just 19, though that was back in Week 3 before Green Bay was really rolling. So even spreading Detroit out, protecting Brady and throwing isn't a guarantee to lead to big points. But it's a better approach than a team that's not really a running team trying pound the rock at a very good run defense. So don't expect to see too much Jonas Gray or newly-signed LeGarrette Blount Sunday afternoon. Look for a lot of Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen and the rest of the Patriots pass catchers working against the weaker part of the Detroit defense, the back end. Feels like a spread 'em and shred 'em type week.
5. Turkey turnovers - Turnovers could be the big factor on Sunday, especially from the perspective of a Lions team looking to pull off the road upset. New England is tied for second in the NFL with a plus-11 turnover differential. The Patriots 19 takeaways are near the top of the league. Detroit is tied for ninth in the league with a plus-3 turnover differential. Stafford has nine interceptions on the year, including at least one in each of the last four weeks. He can make head-scratching elite plays his with arm and athleticism but can also make key mistakes with the ball. Of course Brady is coming off a game in which he had a couple head-scratching throws for interceptions in the first half against the Colts. Either guy - or team - turning the ball over will greatly affect the outcome of the game. New England getting a turnover or two could give the Patriots the boost they need to create a lead and play from ahead. Detroit getting a couple turnovers could drag the game down into the low-scoring dogfight that the Lions want it to be. Same old NFL story - turnovers might just be the difference in the Patriots rolling to another victory or the Lions fighting to take a step toward respectability with their first road win in 16 tries against a team with a winning record. 6. Gronk on! - With Belichick, Brady, Revis, Johnson and Gronkowski all in action there is the chance this game features five or more future Hall of Famers. But the guy who's standing tall above them all right now is Gronkowski. He's dominating in everything he does. Heck, even his unnecessary roughness against Sergio Brown last week was an elite way to earn a flag. He's keying the Patriots offense as both a blocker and a pass catcher. He should be licking his chops looking at every defense he faces. Brady should be comfortable throwing to Gronk any time he likes, even if he appears to be covered. And for the second-straight week there is a former Patriot playing safety who Gronkowski can take advantage of in the form of UMass alum James Ihedigbo. Gronk is healthy. Gronk is feeling it. Gronk is rolling. Keep feeding the beast.
After dispatching Denver and Indy, New England certainly could lay claim to the worthless title of the best team in football in November. Belichick's team is virtually unbeatable at Gillette Stadium and against the NFC North. The Lions can't win a game on the road against a team with a winning record. The Patriots are solid favorite after two weeks as an underdog. There are certainly plenty of reasons to believe this should be a victorious day for the home squad. But there are a few things that give me a bit more trepidation than most seem to be having heading into this battle. First, the Lions obviously have a legit defense that keeps the opponent's scoring down and keeps the team in the game. It's been since Week 2 in Carolina since Detroit lost a game by more than a score. So at the very least the Patriots blowout streak is going to be tough to extend. I also have this harsh memory of the preseason game a couple years ago in which the Lions front dominated the Patriots offensive line and took it to Brady and the Patriots. I know it was just the third preseason game and was in Detroit, but it still burned a mark in my brain that I can't totally disregard. In the end, though, I think the Patriots will be the better team on Sunday because they'll take care of the football and throw it with success. The running games on both sides should be relatively irrelevant. The star power in the passing attack should be the story. I'll take Brady, Gronk and Revis over Stafford, Johnson and the Lions pass defense. It may be a battle into the second half, but I see the Patriots pulling away at the end for the 31-20 victory. It won't be a physically-easy win, but it will count the same and extend New England's impressive run as it prepares for the big road battle in Green Bay with the high-scoring Packers.