What to Watch for, Patriots vs. Bills: Time to shine, rookies!

USA TODAY Sports

After months of practice and four weeks of meaningless games, the Patriots are playing real football on a real Sunday. Here are three things to watch for against the Bills.

It's time for the proverbial crack of the knuckles.

Real football is happening right now, as I write this very sentence. It might have started 40 minutes too late, but at least we had kickoff. And, sure, it might be the first NFL game ever to be delayed by wind, but you know what? The NFL is back -- even if it is the Denver Broncos.

But on Sunday, the Patriots will be back on the field for the another season under Bill Belichick. I can guarantee you it won't be delayed by wind, so let's take a look at a few things to watch for against the Bills (in no particular order).

  • Devin McCourty -- Maybe there are bigger concerns Sunday. Maybe we shouldn't be worried about anyone in the secondary when all the Bills have to throw out at quarterback are a pair of untested rookies. But I'm going to keep my eye on Devin McCourty on Sunday to see what he does. McCourty didn't play much this preseason and hasn't played a full season at safety. He has the potential to be great -- we've seen flashes from him -- but we need to see consistency, too. McCourty needs to be the leader of the secondary and make some big plays. Even if it does come with a rookie in the pocket, we need to see McCourty step up from the start this year.
  • Rookie pressure -- It's Tom Brady's world and we're just living in it. That includes the slew of rookie receivers set to hit the field Sunday. No more practices. No more fake games. Guys like Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson and Zach Sudfeld are on the clock now. They've done wonderful since training camp started, but it's different now. The defense will hit harder and run faster. Can they hold up? We might not see all of the rookies shine Sunday, but the opportunities will be there for at least one of them to do something great.
  • Can the offensive line hold up? -- I haven't worried much about the offensive line since a guy named Logan Mankins joined the team. But the preseason didn't do much to erase any concerns that might arise there. With Brady's offensive weapons in doubt (because, frankly, we just don't know what we'll get), the offensive line is more important than ever. If they can't keep The Franchise upright, the Patriots will struggle. Here's my other concern: Depth. What happens -- knock on wood -- if Mankins or Sebastian Vollmer go down? It could be a long season. The line needs to get a good start by shutting down the Bills defensive line, which includes stud Mario Williams.

What are you watching for Sunday? (Other than a Patriots victory.) Do you have concerns about the rookie receivers, or do you think they'll be just fine?

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