Bills-Lions preview

The Bills close out their preseason schedule with a familiar opponent Thursday night. For the eighth straight summer Buffalo will face Detroit hosting them for the second consecutive year.

With a win over Detroit this week Buffalo can make it three victories in their last four preseason finales against the Lions.

The Bills have faced the Lions in preseason play more than any other opponent. The last meeting between the two clubs in the regular season came in Dick Jauron's first season as head coach in Buffalo. The Lions beat the Bills 20-17.

Playing time
Buffalo's starters on offense and defense are not expected to see much action Thursday night. In fact head coach Dick Jauron said it's still to be determined if many of them will play at all.

"It's going to be a game time decision for us for a lot of guys," said Jauron. "We'll just see as we approach it. Kind of like I said about Terrell (Owens), the odds of him playing are small, remote. But we'll kind of wait until game time on about everybody."

Owens did make a full return to the practice setting this week, but it's apparent the coaching staff is comfortable holding him out of a game setting until Week 1 of the regular season.

Another healthy scratch will be Chris Kelsay. The veteran defensive end is tending to a family matter out of town and has been excused for the game.

Players questionable for Thursday night's game are OT Demetrius Bell (back) and DE Copeland Bryan (shoulder). Doubtful are TE Derek Fine (hamstring) and CB Drayton Florence (knee).

PenaltiesWith the struggles of the first team offense grabbing most of the attention this preseason, another issues that has fallen by the wayside the past two preseason games has been penalties. Buffalo has typically been one of the least penalized teams in the league under Dick Jauron, but against Green Bay and Pittsburgh the Bills were flagged a combined 17 times.

Seven of those penalties have come on special teams including all five in the game against the Steelers. Buffalo's veteran special teamers are confident they'll be able to clean things up in time for the regular season.

"We're coming off one of our best years and we were number one in the league last year," said Justin Jenkins. "We do have a lot of youngsters out there and we have had a lot of penalties, and we can't have that. You don't want to be number one, one year and number 20 the next. We want to be consistent and put our offense and defense in good position. So there's no excuse for how we've performed the last two preseason games."

Last chance
For a lot of players Thursday night will represent the last opportunity for them to make a final case to the coaching staff that they belong on the 53-man roster. Jauron made it clear there are a lot of spots on the back end of the roster that are very fluid right now.

"There will be a lot of guys on the field that are playing for spots," Jauron said. "And we try to stress that fact to them and not just with our club. They're auditioning for the whole league whenever they get onto the field and special teams are critical to every team's ability to win. So we've made a point of it and it's the truth so they should take it to heart."

Undrafted rookie linebacker Ashlee Palmer is one of those players.

"I really don't feel too much pressure," said Palmer. "I figure I just have to go out there and play. I did miss a couple of weeks due to injury, but I'm back healthy now and just trying to go out there and do my part and do whatever I can to make this team."

Preseason numbers of noteBuffalo's defense has performed admirably against the run thus far this preseason. They've allowed an average of just 79.8 yards rushing per game. That ranks first in the AFC and fourth in the league.

Perry Fewell's unit has been even better when it comes to takeaways with nine in four games. That's tied for the second-most in the league. Buffalo's defenders have seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Individually Reggie Corner, Ellis Lankster and Leodis McKelvin all sit atop the interception list. Each of the defensive backs have two interceptions this preseason good for most in the league.

Meanwhile Bills rookie LB Nic Harris and second-year DE Chris Ellis rank second and third in the NFL in tackles this preseason.

On the offensive side, TE Jonathan Stupar ranks second in the league in receptions with 15 through four games.

The opponentThe Detroit Lions under new head coach Jim Schwartz enter Thursday's game with a 2-1 preseason record after their come from behind win over Indianapolis 18-17. The Lions have been averaging just over 18 points per game (18.3) almost two points better than Buffalo (16.5) this preseason.

Schwartz has yet to make a decision on a starting quarterback with veteran Daunte Culpepper and number one overall pick Matt Stafford competing for the job. Culpepper started the last game with Stafford coming in after.

Culpepper has the superior statistics through three preseason games completing almost 65 percent of his passes with one touchdown and a passer rating of almost 90 (89.6). Stafford has completed just over 54 percent of his passes with a touchdown and three interceptions and a rating of 55.3.

Culpepper however, suffered a toe injury that required eight stitches and it's expected to keep him out of Thursday night's game meaning the rookie Stafford would get the start.

The Lions also claimed waived New England backup QB Kevin O'Connell off waivers earlier this week. No word yet on whether he'll see any action, but he is expected to make the 53-man roster with current third QB Drew Stanton to have surgery on a torn meniscus and possibly headed to injured reserve.

Starting RB Kevin Smith is also not expected to play due to a hip injury. He was held out of practice early this week as well as a precaution.

Detroit's run game has been very productive in the preseason with rookie Andre Brown and Kevin Smith the leading rushers for the Lions thus far. As a team they're averaging 4.5 yards per carry and almost 150 rushing yards per game (148).

The Lions defense is coming off a solid performance against a high-octane offense. Detroit held the Colts to just 2.6 yards per carry on 19 rushing attempts while also surrendering just three third down conversions on nine attempts by Indianapolis.

The preseason victory over Indianapolis marked the first time that their three top passing weapons were on the field together. Wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Bryant Johnson as well as rookie TE Brandon Pettigrew saw their first game action last Saturday after missing the first two preseason games with minor injuries.

Calvin Johnson led the team in receiving against the Colts with four catches for 67 yards. Bryant Johnson had a three-yard touchdown catch and Pettigrew had two catches for 24 yards.

"Their presence on the field is huge," said Schwartz. "The defense knows what they can do. It opens up your playbook a little bit. (The Colts) played a lot of cover 2. They did not want to give up the big plays in the passing game so we ran for 100-plus. Those guys help by getting the attention they get."

On the airwaves
Due to the fact that the game did not sell out 72 hours prior to kickoff the game will not air live Thursday night. It can be heard locally on 97 Rock and regionally on the Bills Radio Network.

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