The New England Patriots quest for another Super Bowl begins on Thursday when they get their pre-season underway. With Tom Brady back under center, there is no doubt they have what it takes to contend in the AFC once again.
Meanwhile, Washington enters this season simply trying to reverse the recent trend win totals dropping in each of the last three seasons. Washington is starting over with a new quarterback in Alex Smith. While this club has a substantial amount of talent on both sides of the football, they still have some key question marks that will need to be addressed now. Those concerns should make them that much more motivated heading in to Week 1 of the pre-season.
NFL Point Spread and Betting Analysis
Washington is a 3-point underdog on the NFL odds board, but there is no doubt it should be the more motivated team. This squad has a lot to prove both internally and as a team, and they get their first opportunity to show what they can do against the defending AFC champions. Jay Gruden has an 11-5 record in pre-season play, so it’s clear he emphasizes the importance of wins in exhibition play.
Meanwhile, Bill Belichick is 40-34 all-time in pre-season play after New England went 1-3 in pre-season action a year ago. The Patriots are set to rely heavily on veterans once again this season and the majority of their key players likely won’t see the field this Thursday night.
Smith is a much different quarterback than the one he has replaced in Washington in Kirk Cousins. Unlike Cousins, Smith is considered more of a game manager that doesn’t have the same arm strength as his predecessor. It will be interesting to see if he challenges that narrative this season. As for Thursday night, it will likely be Colt McCoy and Kevin Hogan seeing the majority of the snaps as they battle it out for the backup job. But both have played snaps in the regular season – especially McCoy – so he could lead some drives.
One key position battle to watch is at running back, where rookie Derrius Guice will battle Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine for the chance to be the starter. Guice should see snaps on Thursday night. We’ll also see Rob Kelley, who was previously the starter, and Kapri Bibbs, who has had a few regular season snaps. This is a deep rotation.
New England Patriots
The biggest concern for the Patriots this pre-season is their ability to stay healthy. That means Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and company will likely be stapled to the bench this week. New England has some intriguing young players set to compete for playing time including rookie running back Sony Michel and new offensive linemen Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown. However, Michel injured his knee and is out for the preseason, so we won’t get a look at him.
We should see plenty of Brian Hoyer at quarterback with a number of fringe roster players set to see action as well. The Patriots do have a deep rotation at running back with Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill and rookie Ralph Webb.