Danny Amendola vs. Cary Williams
This actual matchup may change based on where the receivers and cornerbacks line up on each play, something bound to vary based on formation. But the point of framing it as Amendola vs. Williams is to place the spotlight on two of the most intriguing names in this contest.
Williams has made headlines for his outspoken distaste for the Patriots, evoking the 2007 "Spygate" scandal. That memory remains a sore spot for Pats fans, so expect plenty of hostility for the Eagles cornerback. While unlikely to affect New England's approach to the game, Williams' antics have injected interest into the typical drudgery of preseason preparation.
Meanwhile, Amendola remains a polarizing figure after a disappointing debut season in Foxboro. But after grinding through an wince-inducing groin injury, Amendola is now healthy and thriving in camp. It's a bit reminiscent of last season's positive preseason momentum, so if Amendola can stay healthy in 2014, he should deliver the type of year many expected when he arrived billed as Wes Welker's replacement.
Chandler Jones vs. Jason Peters
After accruing 11.5 sacks in 2013, Chandler Jones is tantalizingly close to reaching the upper echelon of NFL pass-rushers. I've touted Jones as a candidate for a huge breakthrough, and Friday night will represent the first opportunity to see if the third-year defensive end has added any new wrinkles to his pass-rushing arsenal.
It won't be an easy warm-up, however, as All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters will provide topnotch competition. Entering his 11th season, Peters remains the bedrock for one of the league's elite offensive lines. His Pro Football Focus plus-25.7 overall grade in 2013 was fourth-best among all tackles, as his long arms and body control allow him to seal off edges with ease.
On a larger scale, the Patriots need to rebound in the trenches after a poor showing against Washington in both the game and joint practices. With their starters likely to play, there is no excuse for being consistently out-leveraged at the point of attack again.
Offensive X-Factor: James White
Pinpointing an X-factor is a fruitless endeavor in a game that does not count, so we'll use this space to highlight an intriguing player. Rookie running back James White compiled just nine yards on four rushing attempts last week, while also failing to tally a reception. He should receive plenty of second-half reps, so if White is to contribute in 2014, he should excel against outmatched Eagles reserves.
Besides White's individual performance, keep an eye on how the Patriots deploy the Wisconsin product. Is he exclusively in shotgun formations on passing downs? Do the Pats split him out wide? Does he take the field as part of two-back sets with either Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen? Before we can genuinely evaluate White's importance in 2014, these questions must be answered.
Defensive X-Factor: Duron Harmon
Logan Ryan was not the only Rutgers defensive back to struggle last week. As alluded to earlier, second-year safety Duron Harmon also had problems against Washington's first-team offense, as there were multiple plays where he appeared late on his reads in coverage. On the game's first touchdown, Harmon was late in breaking downhill on a slant, taking out Ryan rather than making a play on the ball.
Harmon still has a firm grip on the starting job next to McCourty, though. The Patriots showed faith in him by cutting Gregory and failing to bring in meaningful competition for the position. Harmon would do well to reward that faith with a bounce-back performance.