Through the first three games of the preseason, the Detroit Lions have sent fans plenty of mixed signals.
After looking strong in a 26-17 victory over the Jets, the Lions were stifled by the Browns in Cleveland, managing just two field goals and losing 24-6.
Last Thursday, Detroit returned to the friendly confines of Ford Field and destroyed the NFL-royalty Patriots 40-9. The most impressive part of the big victory was the defense, which turned over quarterback Tom Brady's offense four times in the first half.
Though the Lions failed to convert short fields into touchdowns, they continued to pressure Brady and keep the Patriots out of the end zone until the final minutes of the game. Backup quarterback Kellen Moore was one of the stars of the offense, leading the Lions to two touchdowns and recording 150 passing yards.
Starting quarterback Matt Stafford looked shaky, completing less than half of his passes despite having 166 yards. The majority of those passing yards were to new Detroit Lion Reggie Bush, who was dynamite in the short receiving game.
Bush recorded only one yard rushing over six carries, but lead the first-half offense with five receptions for 103 yards, including a 67-yard screen pass in which he displayed his exciting speed to the home crowd.
Stafford was fortunate to have Bush as a receiving threat, as star wide receiver Calvin Johnson was a late scratch before kickoff. Johnson, who caught three passes for 58 yards in the first preseason game, hasn't played since and figures to sit out the final game to prepare for week one against the Vikings.
The absence of Johnson, and likely many other starters from the field on Thursday will give the Detroit coaching staff one final opportunity to see backup players who are fighting for roster spots. Currently at 75 players, the Lions must shave the list down to 53 players before the start of the regular season. Many of the borderline players will have their chance to make one final statement in New York Thursday night.
The Bills are coming off their first preseason loss at the hands of the Washington Redskins Saturday. Buffalo is currently in a state of emergency at the quarterback position, after first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel suffered a knee injury and Kevin Kolb sustained a serious concussion last week.
Buffalo appears to be going with rookie Jeff Tuel as the starter. Tuel was left undrafted in 2013, but was picked up by the Bills as a free agent. The Rookie out of Washington State has everything to prove, as he takes over the starting job with nothing but questions from the football world.
Detroit will try to end the road woes Thursday night, after being dominated in Cleveland this month and finishing 2-6 away from Ford Field in 2012. Improving on the road will be crucial for the Lions during the upcoming season as they try to return to the playoffs after scuffling last year.
There is no shortage of talent in Detroit, but the lack of discipline has been a major factor holding them back. Last season the Lions lead the NFL in penalties, and against the Patriots it appeared that nothing had changed. Detroit followed up big plays with mental errors in the form of personal fouls and wasted opportunities to force a punt or start with great field position. While the final preseason game doesn't mean much in the form of a win or a loss, the Lions would love to cut down on the penalties and set the tone for a strong 2013 season.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.