Extended starters play If history serves us correctly this game is the longest the Patriots starters will play in the preseason. The offense, particularly the offensive line, should get a good test against a tough Panthers DL that helped beat the Patriots in the regular season last year. With Sebastian Vollmer possibly out for the game it will be interesting to see what backup gets the starting nod.
Cut down to 75 For fifteen players, this will be their last game action for the Patriots this year. Roster cut down to 75 is on August 26th. This round of cuts shouldn’t include too many surprises as many of them will have been roster longshots from the start of camp. Many of these players won’t get any playing time during Friday’s game, but for those who do it will be a chance to exhaust a final breathe into their NFL dreams with the Patriots, lots of these will be in special teams.
Defensive Backfield With how weak the Carolina wide receiving core is expected to be the expectation is that the Patriots improved defensive back starters should shine. The HOF rookie Kelvin Benjamin will look to continue his case to be Cam Newton’s #1 target to start the season, it will be interesting to see if Revis gets some time against him and to see how he handles the big bodied receiver. I would expect to see Malcolm Butler to get a lot of playing time as he continues to make his case for a spot on the 53-man roster. More big plays and improvement in his coverage game will be important, as well as no mistakes in the special teams play.
Backup Quarterback At this point the discussion about the backup quarterback situation is sounding like a broken record, but it is a valid discussion. With Garoppolo continuing his strong preseason play and starting over Mallett last week, but Mallett showing up well with the 3rd and 4th stringers this situation is completely up in the air and no decision by Belichick would surprise me. The best to hope for will be strong performances from both quarterbacks as it will only increase each of their values. A reasonable expectation will be Brady for the 1st half, and Mallett and Garoppolo each getting a quarter of play.
Biggest Position Battles Finally, a few other positions that will be in focus will continue to be the safety position next to McCourty, no one has still decided to step up and the Patriots continue to employ several different players on a test basis. So far it appears James Develin will be the primary TE2 for the season, Maneri is a good blocker, but proved last week he is a liability in the receiving game and everyone else is injured. Probably should have just re-signed Matthew Mulligan.
Wide Receiver & Running Back Depth The bottom of these positional depth charts will have some tough decisions for the Patriots to make. Several players have shown flashes of good play but it may not be enough to find themselves on the roster. With the new rules, Bolden, Gray, Finch & Boyce could all find themselves on the PS by final cuts.