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This one may not be as easy as pie

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By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / November 25, 2010

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DETROIT — Guessing the Thanksgiving schedule will go something like this.

Make an appearance at the high school football game after breakfast.

Leave at halftime to give you plenty of time to get set up for Patriots-Lions.

Snack on the Lions.

Devour some bird. Polish off one (or three) pieces of pie.

Nap.

Wake up to root against “those lucky Jets’’ in the night game.

Sounds like a plan. Only thing you should add is a little Pepto-Bismol, because the Lions are no turkeys and have been known to cause severe indigestion.

Laugh if you want, but you’ll be making a mistake. These aren’t Matt Millen’s Lions. Or even Rod Marinelli’s or Steve Mariucci’s. These Lions are headed in the right direction, even without their franchise quarterback and their stud running back.

Sure, they’ve lost three of four. But look at the games they’ve played. The Lions are never on television, so we’ll do it for you.

They lost to the Bears, Eagles, Packers, Giants, and Jets by a combined 19 points (3.8 average). Those teams are a combined 35-15.

They led the Jets, 20-10, before losing in overtime. You know the Jets — the team that beat the Patriots, 28-14, in Week 2.

The Lions’ point differential is minus-3. They finished the previous two seasons minus-232 and minus-249. That’s called significant progress.

Detroit football is alive again under coach Jim Schwartz — another Bill Belichick protégé from the Cleveland Browns — and general manager Martin Mayhew, who got the keys to the franchise from the Ford family in 2009.

“I think Jim has done a tremendous job with that football team,’’ Belichick said. “I look at where they were a couple years ago and how competitive they are now — they’ve been in every game. They really do a lot of things well.’’

Some of those things will give the Patriots some problems.

The Lions can pass the ball, and they have done it whether former No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford or backup Shaun Hill has been in the game. Detroit ranks seventh in the NFL with 255.8 passing yards per game. The Patriots are 31st in the league against the pass (289.6).

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan may have failed as a head coach in St. Louis, but he always has been one of the most creative coordinators in the league.

Linehan was a step ahead of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers Oct. 3. The Lions put up 431 yards (308 passing) on the Packers, who needed an interception return for a touchdown by Charles Woodson to finally put the Lions away.

Obviously, receiver Calvin Johnson (6 feet 5 inches, 236 pounds) has rare athletic ability and will demand double coverage from the Patriots. Other teams have tried that, and he still beats the coverage. And he could find room to roam against the Patriots’ zone coverages.

There’s no doubt that not having Stafford hurts the Lions. Injuries the past two seasons have brought into question whether he’ll ever stay healthy.

Stafford’s injury problems have caused a lot of consternation among Lions fans, but Belichick advised them to stay patient. He relayed the story of former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, who had a few early injuries after being drafted seventh overall in 1979 and had the “bust’’ label thrown at him.

“Starting around ’84 and through the rest of his career, he was remarkably durable and obviously very productive and he had a tremendous career,’’ Belichick said. “Sometimes those injuries happen early.’’

The Lions haven’t missed Stafford a ton because Hill has proven to be accurate (when given time) and tough. He’s playing with a fractured left forearm (Oct. 17) that is being held together by a plate and screws.

The Patriots are also in for a battle on returns, especially on kickoffs, where Shayne Graham is not nearly as adept as Stephen Gostkowski. That could hurt against diminutive Lions returner Stefan Logan (5-6, 180, 4.45 seconds in the 40), who is second in the league among full-time returners with a 28.2-yard average. He has one touchdown and three returns over 40 yards.

All of that being said, the Lions are 2-8 for a reason.

They are missing explosion out of the running back position since first-round pick Jahvid Best got turf toes in both feet in Week 3.

If any Patriots fan wants to question why Fred Taylor hasn’t been put on the field with the same injury (Best hasn’t missed a game), watch Best. He’s a shadow of his pre-injury self and isn’t helping the team much. The Lions just are so thin they don’t have anyone better.

The Lions also tend to hurt themselves. They are tied with the Raiders for the most penalties in the league (98). Detroit had 10 in its 35-19 loss in Dallas. It was the seventh time in eight games the Lions have been in double digits for penalties. They jumped offsides three times on hard counts against the Cowboys, so expect Tom Brady to use his best inflection.

Are the Patriots more talented than the Lions? Of course. Are they the better team? Yup.

But you know the Patriots will be dragging a little bit with just a four-day turnaround. The Lions are in the same boat but they have the advantage of the home crowd, which can bring a little more adrenaline.

“That team is a tough matchup, especially on that day — they’re used to it,’’ said an assistant coach of a team that played the Lions this season. “Players’ bodies are not used to playing on that schedule, and it can be a problem if you haven’t done it.

“Plus, Jim has those guys fighting for everything. He’s done a nice job, he just hasn’t gotten any breaks [with injuries]. If the Lions can stay away from the mistakes — they haven’t been able to — I can see them hanging around. Hill doesn’t flinch and he’ll work you. But Belichick will push the right buttons. He almost always does.’’

So your Thanksgiving may wind up nicely. Just be prepared to for a few lumps. And we’re not talking about Mom’s gravy.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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