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New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Things To Watch

The New England Patriots will battle the Philadelphia Eagles tonight for what will be their first preseason game of the year. Expect both teams to come out with the intent of making a statement, as winning is most important in a sport that has such a short regular season.

Kickoff will be at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philly at 7:30pm Friday night. Will Tom Brady and his new pack of receivers dominate or will Michael Vick and company slip in a victory?

Nobody knows yet, but in the meantime check out out Boston Harold’s Jeff Howe’s five things to look out for while the game is underway.

1. Playing time
The most obvious storyline in any preseason game involves playing time. Will Tom Brady play? While it would make sense for him and his new receivers to get as much work together as possible, they just completed a very productive three-day stretch against the Eagles. Why go through the motions of suiting up for one series? Others who could sit include Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Danny Amendola and Aqib Talib.

2. Receiving the message
Ultimately, the performance and success of rookie receivers Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins will lie in Brady’s control. At the least, the rookie trio will get plenty of reps with backups Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow. It’d be in the receivers’ best interest to compete at the same level with the backups as they have with Brady, at least to measure their focus. The Pats would also love Mallett to have a big preseason to increase his trade value for 2014.

3. The real thing
It’s time to see who can carry practice performances over to the field. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Steve Beauharnais have made some plays, and they’ll get plenty of run tonight. The same can be said for defensive end Marcus Benard, who has looked like an explosive pass rusher. But who else can step in and shine? Safety Duron Harmon, cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive tackle Marcus Forston have been good at practice but inexperienced in games. It would help their confidence if they can bring it on this stage.

4. Run with it
Don’t read too much into tonight’s rotation at running back. Bill Belichick likes to give his backs longer stretches to see what they can do when they get a rhythm. It’s likely Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden will all get a half to show their stuff at some point in the preseason. It’d still be a shocker if Ridley lost his job, but Belichick likes to analyze what he’s got. Blount’s possessed running style will be particularly noteworthy in live action.

5. Health alert
Injuries are the most unfortunate part of the preseason, as linebacker Dane Fletcher can attest after tearing his ACL early in last year’s opener. Any injury, whether it’s something minor or a season-ender, can change the dynamic of a team. The Patriots are already down to their fifth right guard, so they can’t afford any injuries on the offensive line. And they definitely can’t take on another serious injury at tight end or wide receiver. No news out of the training room is always great news, as far as coaches are concerned.

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