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What To Expect From Saints vs. Patriots

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Tonight the Saints host New England in their second game of the Preseason. Are the expectations for this game far too high?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, tonight is being considered one of the most important preseason games the New Orleans Saints have played in some time.  There are quite a few factors for this.  The Saints need to see exactly what they've got from their draft picks and undrafted free agents, considering the team will be expecting more from this group of players than they may ever have before under head coach Sean Payton.

Integral players like Drew Brees and Marques Colston, among others, are expected to make their preseason debuts for the Saints tonight, which adds a very important dimension that wasn't present in the Saints' preseason opener in Baltimore.  The level of competition is also a big component here.  Last week, the Saints struggled against the starters of a top four AFC team in the Ravens, tonight the Saints' competition only gets stiffer as they host the AFC's top franchise, and defending Super Bowl Champions in the New England Patriots.

The Saints have spent the last week of training camp squaring off against these Patriots in joint practice sessions.  Now they take this familiarity to the field, where hopefully the Saints can keep Rob Gronkowski from having his way with them the way he did during joint practice.  Preseason or not, Tom Brady or not, facing the Patriots always adds a little something extra to gameday.

The Saints need to start clarifying some competition for roster spots tonight, and win or lose, the Saints need to look much better than they have so far.  Lets look at the three components of the team and debate the biggest needs to watch for tonight.

Offense

Backup QB - The Saints will supposedly be playing Drew Brees for at least a quarter tonight, so who will get more time between Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin, and Garrett Grayson, and who does the most with the time given?

Tight Ends - Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill are the starters, but who will emerge as the primary TE?

Offensive Line - Will Andrus Peat improve upon his look, at multiple spots, last week?  Who will solidify themselves at the backup spots?  Will Bryce Harris be allowed to play after his double duty as a Superdome turnstile before the game?

Running Backs - Will Khiry Robinson and Tim Hightower get the vast majority of the carries tonight, and will either be utilized in the passing game?

Wide Receivers - Who will emerge from this group?  Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks are a given, but every single WR on the roster needs to show what they've got and now is the time to do it.  This is the unit of offense I will be most focused on tonight.

Defense

Defensive Line - Can the starters and primary subs along the line make stops in the running game?  Can the line create pressure on the quarterback?  Can they at least do one of these two requirements?!

Linebackers - Well, there's Stephone Anthony and a lot of question marks.  We will need to see a lot from the linebackers starting tonight.

Secondary - Can they stay healthy?  Seriously, please stay healthy.  Not much to ask for, right?

Special Teams

Kicker - Both Dustin Hopkins and Zach Hocker have been given equal chances to succeed.  Who will stand out as the kicker for the 2015 season?

Returner - Marcus Murphy looks to be the guy as of now, but will Jalen Saunders get another crack at being the electrifying return man the Saints desperately need?

***

A lot of questions are up in the air for the Saints here, and the time for answers starts tonight at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  The importance of this particular preseason game seems a bit extreme, but when you look at all of the questions facing the Saints, maybe the importance of a good showing against a champion opponent isn't so far off the mark.

Leave us your insight and comments regarding what you will be looking for tonight in the comments section below.