8 a.m. ET: Football is officially back.
All that training camp and preseason stuff was fun for a while, but now, football is really, truly, seriously back. The Patriots take on the Bills in just five hours and it’s perfectly normal if you were having trouble sleeping last night.
All the questions that faced the Patriots ever since they fell to the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game will begin to be answered this afternoon. First and foremost, the rookie wide receivers will be on full display.
The first rookie receiver we see will likely be Kenbrell Thompkins, who has gone from overlooked and undrafted to fantasy sleeper and possible savior. Aaron Dobson or Josh Boyce were expected to be the franchise’s future at “X” receiver, but it may turn out to be Thompkins, who was impressive from the first day of OTAs and hasn’t slowed down since.
Here are five Patriots storylines to watch in this afternoon’s game:
1. Who is the Patriots’ No. 3 receiver?
Danny Amendola should be No. 1 and Thompkins should be No. 2, but who’s No. 3? I expect Julian Edelman to be the first receiver off the bench, but it could just as well be Boyce. Dobson will be inactive.
2. Who starts across from Aqib Talib at cornerback?
It’s either going to be Kyle Arrington or Alfonzo Dennard. Arrington played there all summer, but that’s because Dennard was slowed by an injury. Dennard is healthy, but he may need to be eased back in to the high speed of the NFL.
3. Who plays defensive tackle in sub packages?
During the beginning of training camp, this role went to Jermaine Cunningham. Then he got hurt and Marcus Benard took over. Both players have been released, as has Justin Francis, who played the position at times last season. The team will either elect to play Tommy Kelly on all three downs, use Joe Vellano or kick Michael Buchanan or Jake Bequette inside.
4. Do the Patriots open in a 3-4 or 4-3?
The Patriots showed mostly 4-3 looks during the preseason, especially in the first team. But they were showing three-down lineman looks throughout training camp with Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly on the line. It would be an interesting wrinkle to see the Patriots go back to a 3-4 to start the year.
5. Can the Patriots stop C.J. Spiller?
New England has had no problem stopping running backs who excel between the tackles through the years, but shiftier backs like Spiller have given them problems. Spiller will be a big test for the Patriots’ linebackers.
Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Bolden, Nate Ebner, Duron Harmon, Will Svitek and Dobson have already been ruled out for today’s game. I would expect an offensive lineman (either Chris Barker or Josh Kline) and a linebacker (likely Chris White) to be the final inactive.
We’ll keep you updated throughout the morning to all the latest news coming out of Orchard Park, N.Y. Stay glued to NESN.com.
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