Tom Brady and the Patriots take on the Detroit Lions in the team's third preseason game on Thursday night.
The Patriots face the Lions Thursday night in their third preseason game of 2013. This is what is commonly known as "the dress rehearsal" before things get real, one last opportunity for the first-teams to work out the kinks, knock off the rust, get on the same page, and any other sports-related cliche you can think of.
A sloppy effort now means it will be two weeks -- when the games count -- before these units will get a chance to redeem themselves. So what will coach Bill Belichick be looking for in Detroit?
* Tom Brady escaped a knee injury last week and then played flawlessly in the Patriots' Week 2 preseason game against the Bucs. Brady may be 36, but he's shown no signs that he'll be anything other than his future Hall of Fame self. Still, questions about the offense remain, starting with the five guys responsible for keeping Brady upright.
Guard Logan Mankins is among the best in football, but left tackle Nate Solder was responsible for Brady's near-injury at practice. We'll see just how far this unit has come against the Lions, which feature Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh and rookie Ziggy Ansah.
* The Patriots began training camp without their top five receivers from a year ago. Danny Amendola, the newer, younger (and also more injury prone) version of Wes Welker has been impressive through two preseason games. Rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has opened some eyes, too. But Thursday will also be an opportunity for Julian Edelman to show that he's a worth No. 2 receiver after playing just four snaps with Brady this preseason.
* Still no Rob Gronkowski, but Zach Sudfeld seems like a perfectly suitable short-term replacement. Two months ago, no one outside of the coaching staff knew much about Sudfeld, and the worries were mounting with Gronk's latest surgery and Aaron Hernandez's first-degree murder charges. But Sudfeld has been so impressive in training camp and the preseason that he's being called "Mini Gronk" by some in the media.
* Last but (not?) least, the Tim Tebow melodrama continues. Will he make the roster? Can he play QB in the NFL? What will his role be in New England? All legit questions, all which have been asked in one form or another for most of Tebow's NFL existence.
Watch for yourself and decide. Pats-Lions kick off at 7:30 pm ET on Thursday.