The Patriots will play their first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints tonight, the team's first real game action since losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in January. While preseason games don't count towards who makes the playoffs this season, it is an opportunity for players and coaches to evaluate where they stand. The Patriots are favored to win the Super Bowl if you look at betting odds, although the Patriots are always the favorite out in Las Vegas while the Saints are possibly looking at another close to .500 season with perhaps some room for improvement if their young talent continues developing.
Who steps up at left end: The Patriots added depth to the edge with the signing of Chris Long and Shea McClellin in free agency. In addition, they spent two mid-round draft picks on Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers. With Rob Ninkovich tearing his triceps muscle this week, the Patriots need to use these preseason games to determine who their starting left end in Week 1 will be. Long, Grissom, and Flowers are better plug and play options on the edge in terms of being just a pure edge rusher since they can't double up at linebacker although McClellin has the most comparable skill set to Rob Ninkovich. I'm kind of hoping that Trey Flowers can step up and be the guy, although a healthy Chris Long is also a solid option on the edge as well.
First game action for 2016 rookie class: The most notable players out of this year's rookie class includes CB Cyrus Jones, WR Malcolm Mitchell, G Joe Thuney, and CB Jonathan Jones. All four players have stood out in camp so far and hopefully continue to impress once they start playing other teams. These players have not seen serious game action against other NFL players, so we'll get to find out what they're made of. Cyrus Jones, Mitchell, and Thuney are locks for the 2016 roster while Jonathan Jones has made an impressive case for making the roster as well with his work in camp. A strong preseason will go a long way for all four players as they try to carve out possible roles on the 2015 roster.
How does Garoppolo command the offense: This was a big deal for me last preseason only in case Brady's suspension was not overturned, so it's a big deal again this year. Jimmy G was up and down in the last preseason, although more up moments than down, so hopefully we continue to see more growth as he prepares for his first four starts in the NFL. The Patriots have a lot of confidence in him as they did not add a veteran QB to the roster after the Brady suspension was put back on. Garoppolo faced the Saints last year and did a good job of driving the team towards a victory after falling behind 21-0 in the 2nd quarter. If we see a lot of improved decision making from Garoppolo, then that should give the fans, the team, and Jimmy G confidence going into that Week 1 showdown with the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football.
It will be interesting to see how this game goes from a coaching standpoint. It should be mostly a vanilla game plan since these games aren't about evaluating scheme adjustments but rather what your players can do in order to build various scheme elements into the offense and defense in the regular season. I won't do score predictions for the preseason, as final scores in August don't matter one bit towards the Patriots and their title hopes. On a side note, I wouldn't be surprised if someone on the Saints roster today is on the Patriots roster at a later time this year or next year since Belichick does a lot of personal scouting in these joint practices.