- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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The Detroit Lions have lost their past six Thanksgiving Day games and eight of the past nine. It won't be easy to reverse that trend this season when they host the 8-2 New England Patriots. Here are five things to watch in anticipation of this matchup:
1. Check out the big guy. If you're watching from a national perspective, make sure you keep an eye on rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. You'll see what Lions fans have watched all season: A nasty, high-motor play-maker who is every bit deserving of the Pro Bowl votes he's getting. Suh's seven sacks continues to lead all NFL defensive tackles, two ahead of the next-highest total (Tommy Kelly of the Oakland Raiders has five). He's part of a frenetic defensive line that has, for the most part, lived up to preseason expectations.
2. Flinging' it. This game could be entertaining from an aesthetic standpoint. The Lions have attempted 438 passes this season, tied for most in the NFL. Meanwhile, opponents have taken to the air against the Patriots, attempting 395 passes (third most in the NFL) and accumulating the second-highest total of yards against a defense (289.6). Multiple toe injuries to tailback Jahvid Best make it even more likely the Lions will attempt to put on an aerial show.
3. Mutual admiration society. Lions coach Jim Schwartz is a disciple of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who gave Schwartz his first NFL job (as a scout for the Cleveland Browns) in 1993. "I probably owe my entire NFL career to Bill Belichick," Schwartz said this week. Like Belichick, Schwartz studies analytic statistics and isn't afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. "They give you a lot of things to get ready for," Belichick said of Schwartz's team. "You can just see in their game plans and trying to match up against the Lions, whether it's us doing it this week or watching other teams do it from week to week, that it's hard. ... They put [players] in positions that make it tough for you to defend or to block them the way you want to block them."
4. Call this game the Drop Bowl. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions (28) and Patriots (25) rank first and second among NFL teams in passes dropped. Patriots receiver Wes Welker has six drops, while Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and tailback Jahvid Best have four drops apiece. The Patriots' 8-2 record suggests that drops might not be a singular statistical indicator of wins and losses this season, but it's still something to keep an eye on.
5. Defending CJ. Belichick went out of his way this week to note that the Lions' Johnson is a much different receiver than Randy Moss. But it will be interesting to see if Belichick uses anything close to the same scheme he employed against Moss earlier this month. In a 28-18 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots had safety Brandon Meriweather standing more than 20 yards off the ball for most of the game to discourage Moss from getting downfield. Listening to Belichick talk this week, you would think he has an alternative plan. "He's never covered," Belichick said, while adding: "It looks like Shaquille O'Neal going up for a rebound against two point guards."