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Setting the scene: Patriots-Lions

08.27.11 at 4:29 pm ET
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Matthew Stafford has given Lions fans a lot to smile about after an 0-16 season in 2008.

The Patriots look to continue their preseason dominance tonight at Ford Field in Detroit (8 p.m. ET, WBZ-TV) but the task could be a lot more difficult than the first two conquests. The 2-0 Patriots travel to Motown to battle a 2-0 Lions team that some believe could challenge the Packers this year for supremacy atop the NFC North.

It was the Brian HoyerRyan Mallett show in a 47-12 laugher over the Jaguars on Aug. 11 at Gillette. That was also the game rookie Stevan Ridley had three touchdowns, including two on the ground. One week later, they destroyed another Florida team, beating up the Buccaneers in the heat and humidity of Tampa, 31-14.

Tom Brady had a good start to the preseason with two touchdowns and a 111.4 rating. Chad Ochocinco had his first TD in a Patriots uniform, an eight-yard grab but caught just two balls for 14 yards.

Will Brady – as has been the case in the past – play into the third quarter in what is usually the “dress rehearsal” game for the regular season? “Coach just tells us to be prepared to play the whole game, all 60 minutes,” Brady said this week when asked about playing time in the third preseason game.

Will Brady – who will be looking across the line at Ndamukong Sug – look to target Ochocinco more than the four times he looked his way in Week 2?

And will we finally see Albert Haynesworth in game action in a Patriots uniform after battling conditioning and legal issues in the first three weeks of camp?

WEEI.com’s Patriots beat writer Chris Price breaks down 10 things to keep an eye on tonight.

Tonight in Detroit, they have a young, strong quarterback in Matthew Stafford, who had helped lead the Lions to preseason wins over the Bengals and Browns. Stafford was 6-of-7 with a pair of touchdowns in a 34-3 rout of the Bengals in the opener on Aug. 12. He followed that up by going 6-of-10 with 85 yards and a TD in a 30-28 win over Browns on the road a week later. He has yet to throw a pick this preseason.

They have a solid core of skill players around him in receivers Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson and running back Jahvid Best.

But maybe most of all, they have the potential of a devastating defensive line led by Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams.

Add to that mix a third-year head coach in Jim Schwartz who has everyone believing in Detroit that this team, the NFL’s only winless team in history in 2008, could be on its way to the playoffs three years later.

Speaking of defensive lines, everyone in New England wants to know if they will see the Patriots debut of Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and rookie running back Shane Vereen. Then there’s James Sanders.

Sanders – like Vereen – has been battling a sore hamstring that the team has played cautiously, wanting both to be close to full strength before putting them on the field in a game. Tonight might be the time for both to test their respective healing powers.

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Corey Williams, detroit lions, James Sanders
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