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NFL Turkey Bowl Banquet Awaits the Patriots in Detroit

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NFL Turkey Bowl Banquet Awaits the Patriots in Detroit
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Thanksgiving Day at Ford Field 2006

There is no good reason for Detroit Lions fans to be optimistic about the coming Thanksgiving Day contest against the New England Patriots.

None.

Expectations that the Lions will beat the Patriots at Ford Field should realistically be close to zero, and for good reason.

New England will go into this game 8-2. Their offense leads the league in total points scored this year. Their offensive line has allowed quarterback Tom Brady to be sacked only 14 times.

Brady has completed 65.3 percent of his passes and has a 100.6 average passer rating, fourth best in the NFL. He’s thrown for 19 touchdowns already this season.

Unfortunately for the Lions, New England doesn’t have to pass the ball to win. The Patriots have scored 11 rushing touchdowns to Detroit’s five.

To make matters worse, the Lions have racked up a total of 1,338 combined offensive and defensive penalty yards to the Patriots’ total of 939 yards, and there’s no reason to expect that Detroit will suddenly begin to play disciplined football.

The Patriots do have a mediocre run defense, but that probably doesn’t matter because Detroit has pretty close to the worst running game in the NFL.

Until Jahvid Best’s two turf toes heal, the Lions’ ground game will remain largely irrelevant.

If there is any target of opportunity for Detroit on Thanksgiving Day it’s the Patriots’ pass defense, which is ranked second worst in the NFL.

In that respect and perhaps that respect only, the Patriots are at a disadvantage against Detroit. Through ten games the Lions have gained the sixth-most passing yards of any team in the league. Detroit has scored as many or more aerial touchdowns than all but four teams in the NFL.

 

The Benefit of Low Expectations

Strangely enough, there is an upside to the game for Detroit fans this Thursday. Since their expectations should be low, fans can relax and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with their family and friends.

On paper Detroit shouldn’t have a prayer against the Patriots, therefore there’s no good reason why even the most die-hard Lions fan should have a knot in the pit of their stomach during this game like they’ve had all season long.

By now, everyone in the country knows that game officials will make an unusual number of penalty calls, especially questionable calls, against Detroit.

Why?

One plausible explanation is that because the refs expect the Lions to commit a lot of penalties, they watch Detroit more carefully than they do other teams.

And because they are paying so much attention to the Lions, officials tend to miss a lot of calls against Detroit’s opponents.

Did it look to you like Calvin Johnson was tripped on the very first play of the game against Dallas? It wasn’t called.

Johnson, you’ll remember, is the very same receiver who was robbed of a touchdown against Chicago for failing to meet a “second act” criterion that doesn’t exist in the NFL rule book.

How about Dallas' Bryan McCann’s 97-yard tight-rope scamper down the sideline for a touchdown? When it was too late to do anything about it, the replay showed that McCann clearly stepped on the sideline.

Amazingly, no official saw it happen.

Or how about the blatant first quarter helmet-to-chin hit that Cowboys' Bradie James laid on Shaun Hill after he had gotten rid of the ball? A picture of the hit is available in the Detroit News Lions photo gallery.

 Another no-call.

The outrageous circular officiating logic of calling more penalties on Detroit because they commit more penalties is enough to make Ndamukong Suh want to pull Marion Barber’s hair out.

Still, good teams find a way to overcome bad calls. The problem is that the Lions have been especially adept at shooting themselves in their Achilles heel.

Detroit fans have sadly come to expect plentiful pre-snap and post-whistle penalties, holding calls, dropped passes, missed tackles, blown coverages and fumbles at the very worst times, so while it will be a disappointment if they happen again on Thursday, at least it shouldn’t come as a nasty surprise.

For the first time this season, Lions fans can safely allow themselves to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t happen, instead of the other way around.

Is there any chance that Detroit can upset the Patriots?

Don’t count on it, but remember that the very first Thanksgiving took place in New England, not Detroit. There’s always a chance, however slim, that the ball will bounce the Lions way for a change, that the refs will called a balanced game, and the that Patriots will leave Ford Field hungry.

Detroiters, like most Americans, have a lot to be thankful for. If the Lions lose, it won’t wreck their season or be the end of the world. If they do manage to pull off a minor miracle and edge out New England, it would make this Thanksgiving extra special for Motown football fans wherever they happen to live.

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