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Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Five things to watch: Patriots at Lions

By Tim Graham

The New England Patriots and Detroit Lions will play at 12:30 p.m. for your Thanksgiving enjoyment.

Here are five questions to consider for the Patriots:

Can the Patriots win three games in 11 days? The Cleveland Browns, of all teams, pummeled the Patriots in Week 9, creating plenty of concern about the defending AFC East champs. Since then, however, the Patriots merely knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts -- the past two AFC champions and the only other two teams in the conversation when discussing the greatest team of the past decade. Now the Patriots face the lowly Detroit Lions. Should be a piece of pumpkin pie, right? In many ways, this will be the toughest of the three games. The Patriots are on the road with four days to prepare for a tradition the Lions consider their Super Bowl. It will be a test. Legitimate contenders close these games out.

Can the Patriots put together a 60-minute defensive performance? The Patriots' defense had its moments Sunday versus the Colts. They intercepted Peyton Manning three times, including the game-clinching pick snagged by safety James Sanders with 31 seconds left. But the Patriots were clinging to a three-point lead because they'd been dominated by Manning for much of the second half. The Patriots rank 30th in total defense, 17th in run defense and 31st in pass defense.

How do the Patriots cover Calvin Johnson? With injuries hampering the Lions backfield, they'll need to rely heavily on their superstar receiver. The Patriots have struggled in defending the pass, but they have done well against specific receivers, namely Randy Moss in Week 8 (one catch for 8 yards). Johnson presents a more multidimensional problem. New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis held Johnson to one catch for 13 yards in Week 9. But the Patriots don't have a Revis, and that's the only game "Megatron" hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3.

Will DanJarvus Green-Woodhead control the game again? This could be another big day for New England's effective backfield combo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. The Patriots have been successful on the ground against 4-3 defenses, including Sunday's victory over the Colts. The Lions feature a rugged defensive line that's anchored by rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and right end Kyle Vanden Bosch. Even so, the Lions rank 26th in run defense and 28th in average allowed per carry.

Which Patriots rookie tight end will have honors this week? Tom Brady has been alternating back and forth between Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez almost by the week. Hernandez had two touchdown receptions against Cleveland. Gronkowski had three against Pittsburgh. Hernandez had one against Indianapolis. Thanksgiving was supposed to be a big day for the Gronkowskis, but the Lions traded brother Dan Gronkowski to the Denver Broncos in September. Dallas Cowboys fullback Chris Gronkowski will play the New Orleans Saints at 4:15 p.m.