The Detroit Lions return to the friendly confines of Ford Field tonight for a nationally televised matchup with the New England Patriots. Both teams are coming off losses last week, and the Lions are still looking for their first victory of the season.
This can be an early signature win for Matt Patricia against his former employer, who hasn't won less than 10 games in a season since 2002.
Here are five things to watch out for in tonight's matchup:
The Lions could certainly use some of their own tonight. They missed on a couple of long passes last week to open receivers. Then, when they were able to manufacture some game-changing plays late against the 49ers, like Jamal Agnew's punt-return touchdown and Tracy Walker's big interception, they were called back due to penalties. Against a team like New England, the Lions have to take advantage of big plays when the opportunities present themselves.
Defensively, the Lions have given up too many big plays early on. Too many long runs. Too many big special teams returns. Too many big plays in the passing game. This the NFL, opponents are going to make plays, but the Lions have to either match New England's big plays or limit them if they're going to get their first victory.
The relationship Patricia has with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and many members of the New England organization from his 14 years spent there (2004-17) has been a big storyline this week.
Patricia knows the Patriots personnel and their offensive schemes. The Patriots are familiar with the way Patricia likes to play defense. Patricia matching wits with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be one of the keys to this game.
Patricia knows the Patriots so well, he said this week he had to be careful he didn't overload his players with information. Let's see if that intimate knowledge of each other gives anyone the edge.
GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO GET EXCITED ABOUT
Mlive.com had a terrific statistic this week that in the last 18 games the Patriots have played following a double-digit loss the week before, they are 17-1 in those contests. That's pretty amazing.
The last time the Lions were at home for the season opener they couldn't have started the game better with a pick six by the defense. After that, however, they didn't do much to keep the Ford Field crowd in the game. By the end it was only the Jets faithful who could be heard.
Too many times at home the Lions have gotten off to bad starts. Over their last nine home games, Detroit's been outscored 59-19 in the first quarter. It obviously matters more how a team finishes than how it begins, but the Lions fans want to be loud early. They want to be a factor in the game early. The Lions simply have to give them the opportunity to do so.
Against a Patriots team known for its ability to bounce back after a big losses, Detroit can't afford to get another late start at home.
Cornerback Darius Slay was back at practice Friday (in a red no-contact jersey) after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday due to a concussion he suffered last week against the 49ers.
Slay had to go through that workout Friday without any symptoms during or afterward to continue on his path of being cleared for Sunday night's game.
Slay is an All Pro and one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. The Lions can typically count on him to cover the opponent's best wide receiver and lock down a quarter of the field. Having Slay vs. not having him makes a difference in the game plan.
Slay is officially listed as questionable for the game. If he can't go, the Lions will rely on Nevin Lawson, Teez Tabor and the newly re-signed DeShawn Shead to try and limit one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Tom Brady.
Having Slay would obviously be a big boost for the Lions.
STAFFORD VS. BRADY
They don't face each other directly on the field, but turnover differential and quarterback play are consistently two of the biggest factors in determining winners from losers in the NFL.
"For me, it's just competing against the team," Stafford said Thursday. "That's a really good football team we're playing, one that's had a ton of success.
"No doubt (Brady's) a Hall of Famer, great player, a great player at this position. So, (I) just want to go out there and play my best for my team and… it'll be against their defense and not him."
Stafford's been a little careless with the football early on (five turnovers), and has missed some throws we typically see him connect on. He's due for a big game. The Patriots gave up 377 passing yards and four touchdown passes to Jacksonville last season.
Stafford is completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 633 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions for a passer rating of 76.7.
Brady is completing nearly 68 percent of his passes this season for 511 yards with five touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 104.1.
Which quarterback out-duels the other in this one?