New England Patriots

It’s starting to feel more like the regular season down in Foxboro. Practices have been locked down, with fans & media no longer getting public access to full sessions. Even the weather has felt closer to fall than summer in recent days. But that’s not where the similarities end.

The team itself is also transitioning to more of a regular season-esque approach to their preparation for the final two preseason games of 2018. Real games are now just 16 days away, with the “dress rehearsal” preseason contest coming up next Friday against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.

So in light of the Panthers standing across the field with a dress rehearsal of their own to get ready for, the Patriots are preparing for them as if Friday’s game is taking place during the regular season. As ESPN’s Mike Reiss tweeted on Tuesday, the Patriots watched film from the Panthers’ preseason win over the Dolphins last week to get ready.

Reiss noted that this 71-yard run by the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey particularly caught the Patriots’ attention:

The Patriots defense allowed the second-most receiving yards (844) and fourth-most yards per catch (9.48) to running backs in 2017. Stopping this play would happen more at the line of scrimmage, where they were better against RBs last year than they were through the air. But there’s certainly been plenty of focus throughout the offseason on improving the way they defend dynamic receiving backs like McCaffrey. So it makes perfect sense to zero in on slowing him down in this game.

Friday night will be the closest barometer you can have for how the Patriots could look to start the regular season. Their game-planning and prep for the Panthers will be a reflection of how Bill Belichick and the team approach opponents when the games start to count.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.