The Patriots and the Lions don't get to play very often, but when they do, the games tend to be very entertaining. With an abundance of talent on the field, anything can happen. Let's take a look at the Weekly Five Questions and determine who comes away as the victor Sunday afternoon.
1. How will the Patriots move the ball?
The Lions have a good defense; there is no question about that. Nick Fairley will not play on Sunday due to an ongoing knee issue, so the Patriot offensive line catches a break there. Ndamukong Suh will be playing, so they still have their hands full. The Patriots do have the personnel to score on this defense, and considering the game is in Foxboro, the Patriots may have another big day. To open the game, expect New England to spread out the Lions and their front four to tire them out. Getting the big guys to run will set the Patriots up to run between the tackles in the second half. Draws and screens will be utilized to get the Lions d-line on its heels and when the Patriots do run the ball, expect to see blocking schemes that catch the d-line and linebackers off guard, specifically down, trap and wham blocks. Tom Brady, with his newfound success moving around in the pocket, will have a strong day if he stays upright, which I expect he will.
2. Can the Lions score against the New England defense?
When you have Calvin Johnson on your roster, you can score against anyone. It doesn't matter if he's doubled or not, he's going to make plays. It is nice to have Darrelle Revis to match up with him, assuming that's the plan, but don't be surprised to see Browner on Johnson with over-the-top help from the safeties, specifically Devin McCourty. The Lions have issues at running back and that could pose a big problem for them Sunday. The Patriots have a way of taking away opposing team's top players, and if they can keep Johnson and Golden Tate under control (Revis may draw this matchup), it may be a long day for Matt Stafford and the offense. Expect to see the Lions sneak through and make a couple plays, but without the balance they need between the passing and run game, it will be tough to score enough points to win in the Patriots backyard. New England' strength (secondary) is better than Detroit' strength (passing game.)
3. Who has the edge in the coaching match up?
Jim Caldwell has won everywhere he's been, except for the season when the Colts threw games to land Andrew Luck. Caldwell took over for Cam Cameron midseason in Baltimore and helped lead them to a Super Bowl win, so regardless of the lost season of 2011, his track record is very good. Even with his strong track record, he still can't compete with Belichick when it comes to coaching ability, and his staff doesn't match up either (although I'll admit that I'm happy to see a local coach on their staff- linebackers coach Matt Burke of Hudson, Ma.) so the Patriots have the clear advantage here. It doesn't hurt that Belichick, McDaniels and Patricia get to work with the most talented Patriots roster in a decade. Advantage, Patriots.
4. Will the Lions find a way to give Brady fits?
The Lions have been excellent defensively this year, and they have the perfect player to give Tom Brady problems. Dealing with Ndamukong Suh is no joke, and he could singlehandedly ruin any plans the Patriots may have for Sunday. If he gets an interior rush and Brady tries to get out of the pocket, he'll have Ezekiel Ansah waiting for him. Ansah has 5.5 of the 26 sacks the Lions have made on the season, and he's proven to be a great pick by Detroit. Defensive end George Johnson also has four sacks on the year, as does Suh. Needless to say, the Lions defensive line is one group that could legitimately give Tom Brady problems. The secondary are no slouches either, only allowing 222 pass yards per game, which is fifth in the NFL. The Lions are going to give Brady all he can handle, but he'll figure it out eventually like he always does.
5. Who wins the game?
If this game was in Detroit, it would be a lot closer. Problem is, the game is in Foxboro, which is the toughest place to win in the NFL. Detroit will be ready to go and will have some good moments, but it is going to be impossible for them to stay with the Patriots. New England isn't just good on offense, they are excellent on defense, and that poses a real problem for the Lions and their 26th ranked offense. Detroit simply doesn't have the offensive firepower to hang with New England. Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski are candidates to have huge games, so that is something to watch for.
Prediction- Patriots 34, Lions 16