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    Five things to watch for in Patriots-Lions game

    New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman looks to run after a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
    Michael Dwyer/AP
    Julian Edelman could step up and replace Danny Amendola’s preseason production.

    1. Who will step up in Danny Amendola’s absence?

    Amendola has been Tom Brady’s clear No. 1 target in preseason, and the pair connected six times for 71 yards and a touchdown last week against Tampa Bay. But Amendola likely won’t play because of an injury, and now it’s up to Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Julian Edelman to step up and replace his production. This will be a good test run for the Patriots in case Amendola misses any games this season.

    2. Who will emerge in the running back competition?

    The Patriots have a crowded backfield this training camp, with Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, and James Develin battling for two or possibly three spots behind Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Does Washington provide enough value as a kickoff returner to warrant a spot? Is Bolden, entering his second year, worth keeping around to develop? Will Blount or Develin establish himself as the short-yardage back?

    3. Can the pass rush keep up the good work?

    The starting front seven barely laid a finger on the Eagles’ top quarterbacks in the preseason opener but had a much better performance last week against the Bucs, sacking Josh Freeman four times in the first half and bottling up Doug Martin and the run game. Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, and Brandon Spikes (two) had the sacks, and they could use another big performance against the Lions’ starting offense to head into the regular season on the right note.

    4. Who will grab the final spots in the secondary?


    Most of the roster spots in the defensive backfield are already accounted for, but a handful of players are battling for just a couple of spots, including cornerbacks Marquice Cole and Ras-I Dowling, and safeties Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson. Dowling has been hurt the last two weeks, giving Cole a golden opportunity to win a job. Wilson, meanwhile, seems to have fallen behind rookie Duron Harmon on the depth chart and could be in trouble.

    5. Will the special teams improve?

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    The Patriots’ special teams have had too many miscues in the first two games. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is only 2 for 5 on field goals, and the Patriots have allowed a 62-yard punt return and kickoff returns of 63 and 40 yards. The Patriots also committed three penalties on special teams last game, including two on one play that pushed a 35-yard field goal attempt back to 50 yards, which Gostkowski missed.