Whether this ends up being a preview of Super Bowl XLIX remains to be seen, but this afternoon’s matchup between the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots on FOX will certainly have a say in how the postseason plays out. The Lions (7-3) enter this week second in the NFC behind Arizona thanks to tiebreakers over both Philadelphia (conference win percentage) and Green Bay (head-to-head victory). The Patriots (8-2) are in first place in the AFC, a game ahead of Denver with a victory over the Broncos already in their back pocket.
Detroit Lions at New England Patriots
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: New England -7
This afternoon’s game is strength on strength, as Detroit’s No. 1-ranked defense will try and slow down a New England offense that’s averaged 45 points and 462 yards per game over the last three contests. In particular, the battle up front will be interesting to watch. The Lions are limiting opponents to an NFL-best 68.8 yards rushing per game thanks to one of the most disruptive defensive lines in the league.
Jonas Gray, a third-year journeyman who wasn’t even on the radar entering this season, ran roughshod over the Colts for 201 yards and a Patriots single-game record four touchdowns last week. Detroit has allowed just four rushing touchdowns in 10 games. If the Lions’ front four can control the line of scrimmage, it will allow the back seven to focus on limiting the damage done by Tom Brady and the passing game.
Detroit’s offense hasn’t been near as productive as New England’s, but the Lions are capable of putting points on the board, especially with Calvin Johnson back from an ankle injury. The key will be getting more from a ground game that ranks near the bottom of the league against a rushing defense that at times has had trouble stopping the run. The more Detroit can accomplish on the ground, the more opportunities Matthew Stafford should have to find Johnson and Golden Tate down field.
The Lions’ defense has already held its own against offensive teams like the Packers and the Saints, but the Patriots have been clicking on all cylinders lately. Detroit may be able to keep Brady and company in check, but I’m not sure the Lions will be able to score enough points to beat a hot New England team at home. It should be an entertaining, tightly contested affair, but look for some late turnovers to help the Patriots secure their seventh straight win.