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Patriots-Panthers Preview

Despite the excitement in previous pre-season games simply because of the lure of the return of professional football, tonight’s game against the Carolina Panthers is the most important game in August. The first team starters for both teams should play for at least a half and will give fans the most thorough look at the 2007 team.

Brady and Jake Delhomme meet once again on Friday night. (Courtesy of journals.aol.com)
Brady and Jake Delhomme meet once again on Friday night. (Courtesy of journals.aol.com)

Some questions going into tonights game include the availability of Tom Brady, who skipped practice Wednesday to be in Los Angeles for the birth of his son. There have been no reports on the whereabouts of Brady, but if he does play it’s expected he’ll take the snaps into the third quarter. In last year’s third pre-season game – a 41-0 romp over the Redskins – Brady played until halfway through the third quarter, completing 17 of 30 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown.

The most important aspect of the Patriots to watch tonight is the offensive line. Throughout the first two pre-season games the first team offensive line has been more like a sieve, paving the way for Brady to spend much of his cameos on his backside. The line must show improvement tonight because there’s only one exhibition game remaining and Belichick typically doesn’t play starters in the last pre-season game.

Rodney Harrison celebrates after the Pats beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. (Courtesy of services.bostonglobe.com)
Rodney Harrison celebrates after the Pats beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. (Courtesy of services.bostonglobe.com)

Tonight we expect to get a better look at wide receiver Donté Stallworth, who played in minimal action last week, and returning injured first team players Benjamin Watson and Laurence Maroney. Maroney shed his red non-contact jersey for the first time this week and we’ll get an idea on how that surgically repaired shoulder will hold up against live contact. There has been no Randy Moss at any full-pad scrimmage so it’s unlikely he’ll play again tonight.

Defensively, with the seemingly impending return of cornerback Asante Samuel it will be imperative for rookie Mike Richardson, free agent signee Tory James and current No. 2 cornerback Randall Gay to prove they belong on the squad. It’s also unlikely that we see newly extended defensive end Ty Warren or his compatriot (no pun intended) Richard Seymour.

Prediction

I expect Brady – if he plays – to be sharp and for Belichick to keep it easy on Maroney. As for offensive efficiency, it all depends on the line. If the offensive line can give Brady protection then he should be able to pick apart the porous Carolina defensive backs. If the speedy Panther defensive line starts winning in the trenches, it could be a long – and boring – night for the first team offense.

As long as Ellis Hobbs can stay only a step behind wideout Steve Smith, the Pats shouldn’t have too much trouble containing Carolina’s offense.

In the end, the Pats offensive line will come through, Brady will show improvement from the two interceptions last week and Maroney will show bursts of what is to come.
Patriots 27, Panthers 17

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