Note: "On Paper" previews will begin the first week of the regular season. No point in predicting preseason games, especially with limited statistics.
On Saturday, the Lions face the Patriots in the illustrious third preseason game. The third preseason game is well-known as the most important of the four, as coaches tend to play their starters for an extended amount of time and also like to practice game-planning their opponent. These games tend to get the most attention and offer the most intrigue among fans. For the Lions faithful, Saturday's game is no different.
One of the most interesting aspects of Saturday's game will be Titus Young's NFL debut. Young has been sidelined for almost all of training camp but just finished his first complete week of workouts. It would be unfair to expect much of him against the Patriots. He and Matthew Stafford have not had ample time to get in rhythm with each other and Young is likely still wrapping his head around the offense. Still, I will be watching Young to see how he runs routes and if he flashes any signs of his alleged speed.
Also on display will be the Lions running back depth. With Jahvid Best sidelined for precautionary reasons and Maurice Morris still out with a broken hand, the Lions will get a great look at the rest of their roster. Mike Bell and Jerome Harrison have yet to show much in the preseason, but they will both likely get their opportunity to shine with the first-string offense on Saturday. Aaron Brown, too, will have to prove his worth. Brown has looked to have the most potential of the backups, but he has yet to perform well against first-string defenses.
With Tom Brady coming to town, all eyes will be on the Lions pass defense. Last week, Colt McCoy's stat line (10-18, 96 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) would suggest that he had his way with the Lions' secondary. However, after the first quarter, McCoy was only 4-10 for 24 yards and a touchdown. Afterwards, the Lions started to sub in second-string players. The Lions will need to build on that performance to keep Brady in check. Unfortunately, Detroit will be without the benefit of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Alphonso Smith. Still, if they can hold Brady to mediocre numbers, it will be a huge confidence boost for the team and the fan base.
Maybe the biggest thing to look for is how the Lions match up with the Patriots. The scene is set for the ultimate litmus test. Detroit will be going up against a team that has outscored their opponent 47-9 in the first half of the preseason so far. First the Patriots dominated the Jaguars without the benefit of Tom Brady. Then New England dismantled (28-0 at halftime) a Tampa Bay team that many believe could be fighting the Lions for the final playoff spot in the NFC. This sold-out, nationally-televised game will be the perfect opportunity to get some redemption for last year's meltdown against the Patriots and will give us a hint as to whether this team really belongs in the top half of the league.