Just one more exhibition before they start to count.
The Detroit Lions will be in Buffalo Thursday night for their final preseason game. It can’t end soon enough.
Here are three storylines to follow:
— The NFL schedule-maker set up two chances for Jim Schwartz to try to take down his former team.
Schwartz, fired last January after five years as the Lions’ coach, is now Buffalo’s defensive coordinator and the teams meet not only in this one but also in the regular season on October 5 back in Detroit.
Lions center Dominic Raiola said he’s shared a "few texts here and there" with his former coach.
"It ended so negatively, so quick, it sucked," Raiola said, referring to the Lions’ 1-6 collapse in the final seven weeks last season and the inevitable firing of the coach. "As a head coach, a lot of that goes with him.
"I think everybody’s moved on from that. I’ve been here long enough, you see enough coaches come and go, you just greet them when you see them and you move on. Everybody’s moved on."
Schwartz’s defense suffered a major blow when linebacker Kiko Alonso suffered a knee injury that’s expected to keep him out for the season. The Bills have given up an average of 20.3 points in their 1-3 preseason start.
Buffalo is expected to play some of its defensive starters longer than is normal for a preseason finale. Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead expects Schwartz to have his defense ready for his former team, even for an exhibition.
Whitehead said he had a "good relationship" with Schwartz.
"He was a little fiery at times," Whitehead said. "He’s a competitive guy. He’s going to try to get after us."
Lions receiver Ryan Broyles will always appreciate Schwartz for wanting to draft him.
"I’m definitely going to go talk to him," Broyles said. "It will be cool to see him."
Detroit fans might not feel quite the same five weeks later when Schwartz makes his return to Ford Field.
— The Lions have trimmed their roster from 90 to 75 in recent days, but they now have to get down to the regular-season limit of 53 by Saturday at 4 p.m.
That generally means tough decisions to make on the final few roster spots.
While it’s a meaningless game for the team, it does mean the world to some individuals.
Even if they have no shot to make Detroit’s final 53, it’s a chance to put their performance on tape for another team to evaluate. Some of the younger players also could have opportunities to continue cashing paychecks by making a practice squad.
"This game is really important to a lot of our guys, especially those that are in tight battles," coach Jim Caldwell said. "A lot of them will get more playing time and some may not have gotten any playing time up to this point. It’s very, very important for them to take advantage of it."
The tightest competitions for the Lions appear to be for the final jobs at receiver, running back/fullback and in the secondary.
— The final preseason game is a time for the No. 3 quarterbacks to shine.
Could this be Kellen Moore’s final appearance as a Lion?
Moore, undrafted out of Boise State in 2012, has made the Lions’ 53-man roster the last two seasons, but Caldwell hasn’t committed to keeping three quarterbacks as the previous staff did.
If Moore doesn’t make the cut, he could be put on the practice squad based on the new eligibility rules. However, he would first have to clear waivers with no other team choosing to pick him up and put him on their 53-man roster.
"Those guys (backup quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky and Moore) are going to get the most time that they’ve had at any point in time," Caldwell said. "At least I’m sure Kellen will."
Whether to keep two or three quarterbacks is often a topic for debate.
"Maybe you take one less quarterback, or you figure that there’s a quarterback that’s really been doing extremely well and we’d like to have him as our third and he can help us," Caldwell said. "As our squad starts to take shape here the next few days, we’ll make that determination, whether or not to keep two or three. It just depends."
Best guess: The Lions keep two quarterbacks and take the risk of losing Moore before putting him on the practice squad.