Now in the third week of National Football League preseason play, the league has performed to a perfect bell curve. Half the league, 16 teams, have both at least one win and one loss. Eight teams are yet to gain a win and eight teams are yet to lose.
Among the winless squads are four teams expected to do very well this season, including the current Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Last night, in Cleveland, they lost their third straight preseason tilt and the starting offense, under the direction of Super Bowl LII Most Valuable Player Nick Foles, are still looking for their first touchdown.
The team that was closest to ending the Eagles Super Bowl run last January, the Atlanta Falcons, are also looking for their first preseason win. But, that is more a product of the Falcons working a number of players into action and having early leads gained by their first string slip away. Two other winless teams expected to do well in the regular campaign are the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys.
Among the teams without a loss are a few teams we wouldn’t expect to crack the playoff field this year, including the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals. There are also a couple undefeated teams that do have the credentials to go deep into the playoffs, namely the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers.
Those two teams square off tonight at Bank of America Stadium and two Pro Bowl quarterbacks, Cam Newton and Tom Brady, are expected to see extending playing time.
Brady saw his first preseason action last week and looked in mid-season form. He played only in the first half, and led the Patriots to 27 points with 19 of 26 passing for 172 yards and two touchdowns. His play was instrumental in leading New England to a 17 point win over the visiting Eagles.
Tonight, New England is on the road for the first time, and the game plan for the Patriots has been adjusted to work on Brady developing connections with a new stable of receivers. Head Coach Bill Belichick indicated during the week that he knows what Brady can do when hooking up with veterans Julian Edelman, James White, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski.
The focus tonight will be Brady establishing reliable connections with four other receivers on the Patriots roster; Phillip Dorsett, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen and Cordarrelle Patterson.
In other words, the confident Patriots are using the preseason as any great organization does; to develop young athletes and work them into the system to strengthen the depth on their roster. The final score of this preseason game is of little concern to Belichick, while getting his team best prepared for the games that count is his primary concern.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are much more focussed on this game from a point of seeing how their team fares against one of the best teams in the league. The Panthers have not won a playoff game since their NFC Championship victory three seasons ago, which was followed by their loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Last year, the Panthers were good enough to earn a Wild Card berth with an 11-5 regular season, a year that followed their 2016 collapse and 6-10 regular season mark. Even though they were booted out of the playoffs in the Wild Card round by the New Orleans Saints last season, the Panthers are positioned this year to make a deep run next January.
On that journey, a win over a less than focused on the scoreboard New England squad, is a likely outcome tonight.
Qoxhi Picks: Carolina Panthers (-1) over New England Patriots