New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers (-3.5, 44.5 o/u)
The third week of preseason is the best look you’re going to get at each team in the NFL before the start of the regular season. The on-field product is borderline watchable as the starters often play the entire first half and something resembling an NFL game tends to break out. Just don’t try to tell Bill Belichick that.
Speaking of Belichick, his New England Patriots (2-0, 0-0 away) will travel to North Carolina this week to take on the Panthers (1-1, 0-0 home) at Bank of America Stadium on Friday (August 26) at 7:30 PM Eastern.
Although Belichick won’t admit the significance of this week, the rest of the league will watch the Pats with keen eyes as their actual starting quarterback (Tom Brady) is scheduled to make his preseason debut (barring another accident. (Didn’t his mom teach him not to run with scissors?)
However, Tom may not receive as much playing time as the rest of the starters since the Patriots will continue preparing Jimmy Garoppolo for his four-week stint as starter. (Thanks, Deflategate.) As Belichick said in regards to his QBs, “Jimmy’s preparation for the Arizona opener is the most important. Nothing has changed and nothing is going to change. That’s the way it’s going to be.”
Garoppolo has been decent so far, going a combined 27/45 for 349 yards and a touchdown, and he’s trending in the right direction, playing better in Week 2 against Chicago.
The interim quarterback wasn’t the only Patriot who impressed against the Bears; LeGarrette Blount rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, and second-year receiver A.J. Derby had 71 yards and a touchdown on six receptions.
Rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett had a nice day, as well (9/13 for 87 yards). He’ll be next-man-up in the first four weeks, should Garoppolo go down.
Flipping to the Panthers, the defending NFC champions are coming off a victory over the Tennessee Titans, where the reigning league MVP, Cam Newton, went 8/12 for 162 yards and a touchdown, and this time, did not negate any defensive touchdowns.
As a team, the Panthers passed for 340 yards, and were extremely pleased to see wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin back on the field. The third-year pro may not have made a huge contribution (two receptions for 29 yards), but his mere presence is valued after missing the entire 2015 campaign due to a knee injury.
Another encouraging sign for Carolina was the fact that they were able to hold the Titans to 96 rushing yards, one week after they ran all over the Chargers for 288 yards. The stingy Panther defense also recorded two interceptions on the night, and have not shown any signs of missing cornerback Josh Norman yet.
One player they will be missing, though, is tight end Greg Olsen, who missed Week 2 and has been held out of practice all week with back spasms; Olsen is not expected to suit up against the Patriots on Friday night, but said that, if last week’s game had been a regular season tilt, he would likely have strapped up. So all systems should be go come the real Week 1.
This matchup features two big-time contenders who want to make as much of a statement as possible in the preseason. However, I have to side with the quarterbacks New England will trot out there to at least keep the game within a field goal, even though Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman could sit. I see Brady putting in a great performance in his preseason debut, and Garoppolo continuing to prove he’s worthy of starting in the league. The Panthers will finally feel the loss of Josh Norman.
Pick: New England (+3.5)
Photo credit: Anthonysc1988 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.