One reliable preview. One key factor to decide the game. It's that simple.
Air & Ground matchup of Week 12
Detroit Lions at New England Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX) -- With the Lions leading the NFC North and the Patriots holding a firm grasp of the AFC East lead (not to mention home-field advantage in the AFC, if the season ended today), many a pigskin prognosticator will pinpoint this showdown as a potential Super Bowl preview.
This pits future Pro Football Hall of Famer Tom Brady against the NFL's top-rated defense. Brady currently stands ninth in the NFL in passing yards, and situated just ahead of him is Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Something will have to give in the Patriots offense vs. Lions defense matchup (a matchup of the NFL's No. 2 scoring offense against its No. 1 scoring defense). The Patriots have scored 40-plus points in three consecutive games, while the Lions' defense allows an NFL-low 15.6 points per game. The Lions have not allowed 40 or more points in any of their last 39 games. The Patriots are riding a six-game winning streak, and in that streak Brady has thrown for 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
Patriots running back Jonas Gray had a breakout game for the ages in the Patriots' 42-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11. Gray rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns in the win, becoming the first player in Patriots history with four or more rushing touchdowns in a regular-season game. He was also just the fourth player in NFL history to score his first four career touchdowns in the same game. Because we know you're curious, here's the list of the previous three ...
» Pat Smith, RB, Buffalo All-Americans, 1920
» Herb Henderson, RB, Evansville Crimson Giants, 1921 (4 TDs vs. Cincinnati Celts <-- real defunct NFL team)
» Jerry Butler, WR, Buffalo Bills, 1979 (4 TDs vs. the New York Jets)
One key stat to consider
In his career, Stafford is 0-15 on the road against teams that finish the season with winning records. The Patriots already have eight wins with six games left to play.
Great Moments in Air & Ground History
Patriots 23, Lions 17 (Week 4 of the 1994 season) -- Poor Harlon Barnett will forever be etched into the mythology of the NFL for what happened on Sept. 25, 1994 inside the Pontiac Silverdome. On a 39-yard touchdown run by Lions running back Barry Sanders, Barnett got twisted, corkscrewed and completely turned around in an amazing piece of football footage that is a requisite for any Sanders sizzle reel. It was Sanders' second touchdown in the game, and the Pro Football Hall of Famer also finished the day with 131 yards rushing en route to leading the league with 1,883 yards on the ground. Sanders' heroics weren't enough to put the Lions in the win column on this day, however. Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw for a touchdown (to tight end Ben Coates) and Marion Butts ran for another score as the playoff-bound Patriots prevailed.
Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.