The Detroit Lions are set to take on the Buffalo Bills on the road on Thursday night. Here are 10 things to keep an eye on during the game:
1. The "inactives" list
Players aren't officially declared inactive in the preseason, but it will be very interesting to see how many guys are ruled out before Thursday's game. The Lions aren't necessarily dealing with a ton of injuries, but I would expect several guys to sit out the preseason finale, including some starters. It remains to be seen if Matthew Stafford will play, but I wouldn't expect guys like Reggie Bush (who sat out a couple practices to "rest" this week) and Calvin Johnson to be on the field for any game action in Buffalo. There's really just no point in risking injury at this stage of the preseason.
2. George Winn, Mikel Leshoure and Montell Owens
These three players could be competing for only one spot depending on how the numbers shake out. Owens seems to have a bit of an edge right now because of his special teams contributions, but there's still time for Winn and Leshoure to make one final positive impression before the final cuts are made. This game will be extremely important for them.
3. The wide receiver battle
Similarly, there's a group of players battling for a limited number of spots at wide receiver. Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Corey Fuller could be competing for only two or three spots, meaning at least one wide receiver is going to be the odd man out. It's nice that the Lions are actually facing a tough decision here because they have so much talent at this position for a change, and all of these guys could use a strong finish to the preseason.
4. Cornelius Lucas vs. Michael Williams
As his playing time has increased in recent weeks, Williams has started to make a pretty strong case to be the Lions' No. 4 offensive tackle over Lucas. Given that Lucas was the Lions' top undrafted free agent signing this year and Williams only switched from tight end to offensive tackle a few months ago, Lucas has been the favorite for that spot for quite some time. However, if Williams has another solid game, perhaps he will be the one who ends up actually making the team.
5. Tahir Whitehead's encore
Whitehead started at strongside linebacker last week, and he put together an amazing performance: 10 solo tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss. Chances are he will start again this week, and with Kyle Van Noy looking like he will miss at least the first part of the regular season with a potential sports hernia injury, Whitehead could cement his case to be the starting SAM linebacker going forward.
6. Chris Greenwood
Greenwood has already outlasted Jonte Green, who was let go in the first round of cuts. However, to make sure he sticks around on the 53-man roster instead of being relegated to the practice squad again, Greenwood needs to finish the preseason with a strong outing. He's hoping to make the team as the sixth cornerback, but there's no guarantee that the Lions will keep that many around. He needs to finish the preseason on a positive note.
7. The backup safeties
The Lions could decide to go with only five cornerbacks if they want to make room for five safeties. With DeJon Gomes on injured reserve, both Jerome Couplin and Isa Abdul-Quddus could make the team, although that might depend on Don Carey's status going forward after he suffered a hamstring injury last week. In any case, Couplin and Abdul-Quddus have really come on strong in recent weeks, and another solid performance from them could send Greenwood or even Carey packing.
The Lions haven't exactly done a good job of taking care of the ball so far this preseason. Granted, some of the turnover problems have involved players who will either be off the team in a few days or in a backup role in the regular season, but this is still a team-wide issue. Quite simply, they have got to protect the football.
Penalties have also been a team-wide issue. Part of that stems from the increase in penalties across the NFL this preseason, but the Lions have been pretty sloppy in this department. They need to start cleaning things up and get this issue under control before the regular season begins.
10. Lions' overall health
Avoiding injuries in the preseason is always a top priority, and it's really the top priority for the preseason finale. The last thing the Lions need is for a starter or key backup to get hurt in the final game of the preseason, so here's to everybody staying healthy on Thursday night in Buffalo.