New England Patriots (8-2) at Detroit Lions (2-8)
KICKOFF: Thursday, 12:30 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Field Turf
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
PREDICTION: Patriots 35-21
KEYS TO THE GAME: The strength of the Lions is by far and away the upfield rush created by their front four. But for the big men up front to have an opportunity to lay a hand on QB Tom Brady, Detroit must first play stout defense on first and second downs. The Patriots complement their mediocre ground game with a plethora of underneath passes and runs after the catch. And rookie TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are becoming a load to handle in the red zone. Lions coach Jim Schwartz praised the physical play of young Patriots CBs Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, but that won't stop Detroit from attacking downfield from the outset. The Lions average 3.5 yards per carry and RB Jahvid Best (toe) will be limited even if he plays. Backup Maurice Morris, who is an excellent blocker, will see a heavy workload and can help complement the ground game as a receiver out of the backfield.
FAST FACTS: The Lions have lost their past six Thanksgiving Day games by an average of 22.2 points. ... The Patriots won the last game in the series, 28-21, at home in 2006. ... Lions coach Jim Schwartz broke into coaching as a staff assistant to Bill Belichick in Cleveland. ... Belichick's 171 career victories are tied with Joe Gibbs for 11th-most all-time. ... Lions QB Shaun Hill has a 93.1 passer rating with five touchdowns and two interceptions at home.
Turkey Day is looming on the horizon, and we're about to be subjected to an old favorite coupled with a rare participant in one of the NFL's most storied traditions.
On Thanksgiving, just four days after their nail-biter against the Colts, the Patriots will travel to Detroit to take on the woeful Lions, who've hosted a Thanksgiving game in each season since 1934.
While the Patriots most certainly try to sell us on the theory that the Lions are always tough on Thanksgiving, the numbers suggest otherwise. Detroit hasn't won on Thanksgiving since 2004 and hasn't been all that competitive in recent years either.
Still, the Patriots are wary based on the simple fact they're less than a week removed from a tense victory that drained them physically and mentally, so there's some chance -- albeit a small one -- of a post-Indianapolis hangover this week.
"I think it has its physical challenges and its mental challenges," quarterback Tom Brady said Tuesday. "We got after it pretty good (Monday). No one is really sure what day it is around here. It doesn't feel like a Tuesday, I'll tell you that, but as football players, we adjust. We do what we've got to do.
"We put a lot of installation in and try to understand what they do well and what they don't do so well and try to go out there and execute well on game day."
The Lions aren't quite as hapless as they were when they lost all 16 games two years ago, but they're not much better at 2-8 this season. Still, there are some challenges that Brady and the offense must be aware of, particularly rookie defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.
"He's a big guy," Brady said. "I think he is very powerful, gets into the pocket, plays with a good motor. He's tough. He's going to be a good player for a long time. They've got a couple other guys who are really good, too: (Kyle) Vanden Bosch. Corey Williams is a good player.
"And then their other end, who's been out -- 92 (Cliff Avril) is a hell of a player, too. That's a big strength of theirs -- the way they can get after the passer. The way they can stop the run, a good group of linebackers -- it's a very good defense."
The Patriots have been in this position before. In 2002, they played at Detroit and won a relatively close game, 20-12, by salting away most of the fourth quarter with their offense despite an otherwise bland afternoon.
"It was a very inconsistent day on offense," Brady recalled. "Tedy (Bruschi) had an interception return for a touchdown. I hit Troy Brown on a late third down that helped win the game, but other than that we didn't do much offensively. You've got to get up ready (and) early. It's an early game, earlier than we normally play, and it's about 48 hours away so we've got to really get excited for the game and understand what we're going into."
Brady has other Thanksgiving memories, too, ranging from his childhood to his days on the high school gridiron. He hopes to add a few more Thursday as the Patriots try to avoid what could be a major letdown following a crucial victory this past weekend.
"That was always a great day," he said. "We used to have our own football game on Thanksgiving Day in the neighborhood and then usually (it was) always at our house and my mom would cook. I have great memories of sitting around watching football all day."
At 2-8, it's safe to say the Lions are not going to make the playoffs. Yet, when it was suggested to coach Jim Schwartz that it might be time to play and evaluate some of the younger players for future reference, he nearly spit back his response.
"That won't come into the equation," he said. "Every week we will put the best players on the field and try to win the game that Sunday. It doesn't matter if it's Week 1 or Week 16. Winning each week is the only thing that matters during the season.
"We can talk about team-building in the offseason. There are no other ulterior motives during the season other than to win games."
When pressed to ask why he wouldn't take these last six games to determine if wide receiver Derrick Williams, a third-round pick, or running back Aaron Brown or rookie defensive end Willie Young can help the team next season, Schwartz stayed on point.
"Because we respect the game too much to take that kind of approach," he said. "We respect the game enough to do what you can each week to win the game. You owe it to your locker room, your players and your fans."
On Thursday, the Lions will get an up-close look at what they are striving to be. By almost every measure, the Patriots are the model of an elite and enduring franchise.
"There are reasons that they've been consistent over time," Schwartz said. "Coach, quarterback, personnel and coaching philosophy has been the same. They've been able to stay the course."
Said center Dominic Raiola, "The difference is that we haven't had that kind of continuity in here. They've been doing it for years. They won their first Super Bowl in 2001 and they are still doing the same things. It's like a factory there.
"They bring players in and they learn from the player before them. That's what Jim is trying to do here."
So you will excuse the Lions if they treat this Thanksgiving Day game, their only appearance on national television, like their playoff game.
"There are only a handful of games in a season that you get to play on a stage like this, and we are running out of them," wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "So take advantage of it. This is the biggest stage we will have this year. If you want to make an impact and write your signature on this season, this would be a great time to do it."
--QB Tom Brady did not participate in Tuesday's practice due to what has been listed as a foot and shoulder injury, though it's become obvious he will start Thursday in Detroit. The foot injury has only kept him out of practice on a precautionary basis.
--RB Fred Taylor participated in limited portions of Tuesday's practice. He is still suffering from turf toe and is unlikely to return Thursday.
--S Jarrad Page participated in a limited portion of Tuesday's practice as he continues his comeback from a calf injury. Page has returned to the field in a limited capacity, which is a good sign moving forward.
--DL Myron Pryor continues to miss practice with a back injury and will likely sit out Thursday's game against the Lions.
--OL Stephen Neal missed another practice Tuesday with a shoulder injury. He has missed two consecutive games and will likely be a game-time decision in Detroit.
--DT Ndamukong Suh leads all defensive tackles in fan voting for the Pro Bowl. He has 150,595 votes. He would be the first Lion to start in the Pro Bowl since WR Roy Williams in 2006.
--DE Cliff Avril (quadriceps) practiced on Tuesday and declared himself ready to play Thursday. He has missed the last two games and the pass rush has suffered.
--PK Jason Hanson (knee) tested his kicking leg on Tuesday and said he wasn't ready. "It's frustrating," he said. "I feel like I've been working. If effort was what makes you healthy then I'd be set to go. But it's just in a spot where that's what you need to kick a football." Dave Rayner will again handle the kicking duties.
--RB Jahvid Best (toe) was a limited participant in practice Tuesday. He was clearly still hobbling and struggling to make his cuts. Still, the Lions are not ruling him out.
--DE Lawrence Jackson (concussion) has had three sacks the last two weeks but he's been unable to practice. He has not been ruled out.
--TE Tony Scheffler (ribs) has not been able to practice, either. He is doubtful. Brandon Pettigrew and Will Heller will handle the tight end duties.
--DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (knee) was held out of practice Tuesday, which is extremely rare. He's only missed two practices, not counting the bye week, all season. When asked if he would be ready Thursday, he said, "I wouldn't miss it."
Behind Enemy Lines: Patriots vs Lions (Pt. 2)
Behind Enemy Lines: Patriots vs Lions (Pt. 1)
Thanksgiving Day Game Belongs In Detroit
Patriots Secondary Steps Up At The End
Kisha's Korner: The Faulty Colts
What We Learned: Colts at Patriots
Patriots Move Past Win, Focus On Lions