There aren't many young quarterbacks receiving more attention than Matthew Stafford. The one he hopes to face Sunday certainly seems to be.
If Stafford can overcome an injury to take the field, the Detroit Lions surely have a better shot to bounce back from consecutive losses and spoil Tim Tebow's first home start of the season for the Denver Broncos.
Detroit (5-2) got off to a quick start this year behind Stafford, who battled injuries in his first two NFL seasons. However, he hasn't been as sharp in back-to-back defeats and is battling a sprained right ankle suffered in a 23-16 loss to Atlanta last Sunday.
Stafford was hurt on the Lions' last offensive play, a failed fourth-down attempt with 1:31 remaining, although he said he could have returned if they got the ball back.
Stafford seemed to be without limitations Friday, planting with and jogging on his injured ankle, but he said he didn't know if he was healthy enough to play.
''He's better,'' coach Jim Schwartz said. ''Hopefully we can keep him on the track. I don't know officially if he's a game-time decision, but we won't announce anything before then. A lot of things can happen between now and Sunday.''
If Stafford can go, this game will mark an SEC reunion of sorts with Tebow. The two squared off twice in college, with Stafford leading Georgia to a win in 2007 and Tebow guiding Florida to victory in 2008.
"He's a great competitor, great leader, always made his guys play to another level, and he's continuing doing that in the pros," Stafford said.
If Stafford has a setback, backup Shaun Hill would be the next option. Hill threw for 2,686 yards and 16 touchdown passes in 11 games last season while filling in for Stafford.
Stafford is eager to get back following arguably his worst performance of the year, going 15 of 32 for 183 yards with one touchdown against Atlanta. He set season lows in completion percentage (46.9) and yards while failing to throw at least two TDs for the first time.
Tebow threw both of his touchdown passes last Sunday in the final three minutes and helped Denver to an 18-15 overtime victory at Miami in his first start of the season. After opening 4 of 14 for 40 yards, Tebow went 9 of 13 for 121 yards on the Broncos' final two drives of regulation and ran in the two-point conversion that forced overtime.
"One of the great lessons you learn in football is the courage to keep fighting when you're down, when you're knocked down over and over again, you're going to keep getting up," Tebow said.
Though plenty of doubters remain after that uneven performance, Tebow did help the Broncos (2-4) snap a three-game losing streak.
Coach John Fox said Tebow is a "work in progress," but can't deny he's brought excitement to a frustrated fan base. Tebow split two home starts during his 2010 rookie season, leading a rally from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 24-23 win over Houston.
"There's a lot of areas that I can get better and we can get better, especially in those first three quarters," Tebow said. "The good thing was that so many plays and so many different drives, it was something that was so little that we were close to."
Though Tebow rushed for 59 yards, he ended up being sacked six times in Miami.
Stafford has been sacked eight times over the last two weeks while posting an 82.2 passer rating. He had a 101.4 rating and was sacked six times during Detroit's 5-0 start.
The Lions are 3 for 27 on third-down conversions in the two losses and have been held to an average of 286.5 total yards, 93.1 below their average through Week 5.
"It's the way football is," Stafford said. "You're up and you're down. You've got to battle through it. It's a long season."
Also not helping is the absence of leading rusher Jahvid Best, who's still battling a concussion. It seems likely he'll miss a second straight game since he has yet to return to practice.
Although the Lions still had 104 rushing yards last week, Best's injury leaves Detroit without a speedy threat out of the backfield - he has 390 rushing yards and 287 receiving - while letting opposing defenses focus more on Calvin Johnson.
Johnson, though, has posted three straight 100-yard games and leads the NFL with 10 touchdown receptions - four more than anyone else.
Tebow clearly doesn't have that kind of talent in his receiving corps, and now the backfield will be thinner with top rusher Willis McGahee out after undergoing surgery for a broken finger.
The Broncos average 304.3 total yards to rank 25th in the NFL, and now Tebow must face a Lions pass defense that ranks ninth (204.6 ypg) and has 17 sacks.
Detroit defeated Denver 44-7 in 2007 in the most recent meeting.