For teams that face each other only once every four years, the Patriots and Lions actually know each other pretty well entering Sunday night’s game. After all, Detroit head coach Matt Patricia learned from New England head coach Bill Belichick as his defensive coordinator for the last six seasons.
That experience perhaps gives Patricia a leg up on other coaches facing New England; but it certainly means that Belichick and Tom Brady have a pretty good idea what to expect from Patricia. And no one tailors their game plan to their opponent better than the Patriots.
The Patriots have won seven of the 11 all-time meetings with the Lions, and have won the last four in the series, all since Brady took over as New England’s quarterback. In fact, the Lions’ last win, on Nov. 23, 2000, actually marked Brady’s NFL debut. He went 1-for-3 for 6 yards mopping up in a 34–9 loss.
New England at Detroit
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 23 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Patriots -7
Three Things to Watch
1. How the Pats attack Patricia’s defense
When in New England, Patricia’s defenses generally gave up yards but not points. In a small sample of two games in Detroit, it’s been the opposite, as the Lions rank 31st in points allowed but 17th in yards allowed. They’ve also been gashed by opponents on the ground to the tune of 179.5 yards per game, worst in the NFL. Can the Patriots, who prefer to have Brady throwing the ball and average just 3.5 yards per rush, take advantage of that? Or will they stick to what they do best and possibly put Brady in harm’s way against a pass rush that has eight sacks, third in the NFL through two games? We’ll see, but it won’t help the Lions if cornerback Darius Slay can’t play after leaving last week’s game with a concussion.
2. Which Matthew Stafford will we get?
After throwing four interceptions against the Jets in the season opener, the Detroit quarterback bounced back with a big game at San Francisco (34-of-53, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). Stafford has cut down on the interceptions over the last two seasons, so odds are the opener was just a rough night and not a sign of things to come. But he has little experience facing Belichick’s defenses, having played only one game against New England in his career. It wasn’t pretty, either: 18-of-46 for 264 yards and one interception in a 34–9 loss in 2014.
3. Josh Gordon’s New England debut
Belichick and the Pats have a long history of trying to turn other teams’ trash into treasure. Sometimes it works (Randy Moss, Corey Dillon)... sometimes it doesn’t (Kellen Winslow, Chad Johnson). Can the legendary (mythical?) Patriot Way get Gordon back on track? Since leading the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards (in just 14 games) in 2013, Gordon has played in just 11 games due to substance abuse problems. When he showed up late for work last week complaining of a hamstring injury, the Browns had had enough and traded him to New England for a fifth-round pick. Now he’s supposedly healthy and ready to go. He could be a big weapon for Brady, but he’s five years removed from being a reliable target. Time will tell.
There’s more pressure here on the Lions to avoid an 0–3 start than there is on the Patriots; even stumbling out of the gate 1–2 would hardly hurt their playoff chances in the weak AFC East. But always hard to bet on New England to lose two in a row, especially if Detroit’s secondary is shorthanded without Darius Slay.