New England Patriots: 5 things to watch in NFL kickoff game

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Malcolm Butler
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Malcolm Butler /

There’s no doubt that Thursday’s New England Patriots kickoff game will be full of things to watch, but here are five key factors to keep an eye on.

Most fans, including myself, will be anticipating the opening kickoff, the predictions, and the unveiling of the fifth Super Bowl banner. Though beyond the hype, there are other factors that may have been talked about on sports radio or social media. But they are not necessarily huge storylines heading into this evening. Without further ado, here are five factors that I would look for in Thursday’s New England Patriots opener.

 Stephen Gostkowski

Once hailed as potentially the best kicker in the NFL, Stephen Gostkowski has never been the same since he missed an extra point during the 2015 AFC Title Game. Last season was shaky, so now it’s crucial for him to return to being “Mr. Automatic.”

If he has a miss on Thursday night, there will be loud voices coming for the guy who once said he didn’t “rank wins.”

Tom Brady’s Health & Stamina

Don’t get me wrong, there is no question regarding the drive and competitiveness of the GOAT. But, at the age of 40, it is not a travesty to suspect that there may be some physical restraints on the health and stamina of Brady.

HOUSTON, TX – AUGUST 19: Tom Brady
HOUSTON, TX – AUGUST 19: Tom Brady /

While it’s unlikely to see any chronic effects in the opening game, there could be some glimpses should the game turn into a shootout – especially considering he only played 15 games last year.

Brandin Cooks & The Playbook

If anything else besides dominance is constant in the Belichick/Brady era, it’s talented receivers failing to adapt to the Patriots playbook and offensive scheme. With the exception of Randy Moss, few established receivers from elsewhere have had success in New England.

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Brandin Cooks is super-talented, speedy, and a great fit for the offense if he can learn the playbook. If there are any missed routes or drops tomorrow night, there could be some more cause for concern.

Stephon Gilmore & Malcolm Butler

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In his two seasons since becoming a Patriots mainstay, Malcolm Butler has established himself as the team’s shutdown corner. However, with the arrival of Gilmore and the impending tension surrounding his contract, it will be interesting to see how Butler comes out of the gate.

Additionally, we will get a good glimpse early of how the two can coexist on the field. Butler will be playing for a contract, and Gilmore will be trying to prove whether he was worthy of his.

The pass rush

Following the retirement of Rob Ninkovich, the departure of Jabaal Sheard, and the brief stay of Kony Ealy, the Pats don’t have much depth on the defensive line. Likewise, there isn’t a linebacker on the roster who really stands out as an outside rusher. That being said, Malcolm Brown and Trey Flowers have shown some spurts of promise.

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For the New England Patriots to fully reach their potential on defense, putting pressure on the passer is a must. We should get a glimpse of how they handle an offense with playmakers in the first few weeks, and especially with a guy like Tyreek Hill.