For a third straight year, the Panthers and New England Patriots will meet in the third exhibition of the preseason.
Media members have long referred to the third exhibition as a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season.
Of course, if the media say it, Patriots coach Bill Belichick probably disagrees.
Belichick bucked at the notion of Friday night’s contest between the two top-tier teams as being a dress rehearsal for the regular season, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera agrees.
“I love what coach Belichick said,” Rivera said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s a complete world apart. One thing you can’t do is, you can’t emulate the atmosphere, the intensity level and, quite honestly, even though you game plan, you don’t game plan everything.”
The thought is that teams play their starters in the third exhibition longer than in the others. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and other key players likely won’t even see the field next week against Pittsburgh, but they’ll go into the third quarter against the Patriots on Friday.
That’s where any similarities to the regular season end for Belichick.
“In terms of game-planning and strategy, and what we see in the regular season compared to what we see in the third preseason game, I don’t even think you’re in the same universe,” Belichick said on a New England radio show this week.
“We’re still running our basic plays. Our opponents, we’d expect, would run their basic plays. You get to the opener and start to get into game-planning and scheme, I mean, you’re in a totally different ballpark in my opinion.
“I don’t see any relation, any comparison at all. It’s so far away I don’t see how you can compare them from that standpoint.”
The other way this might look like a regular-season game for New England - at least the first four games of this season - is that quarterback Tom Brady will likely sit out. Brady, who is suspended for a quarter of the season because ofthe Deflategate saga , hasn’t played this preseason, though he said this week he wants to play. Jimmy Garoppolo is the likely starter.
The Panthers are 0-2 against the Patriots in the past two exhibitions, though Carolina held the lead last season when the teams removed their starters.
In 2014, Newton cracked his ribs in the second quarter and played through it to get 28 snaps. Last season he played a series into the third quarter for 68 percent of the offensive snaps.
That will probably be the case again Friday as he’ll try to keep up his torrid preseason pace. Newton is 13-of-18 passing for 198 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. His quarterback rating (126.6) is the fourth-highest in the league this preseason among quarterbacks who have attempted at least 15 passes.
What you won’t see are any designed quarterback runs or exotic blitzes from Carolina’s first-team offense or defense. Belichick won’t show his cards for the 2016 season, and the Panthers don’t want anything more than vanilla on tape before the Week 1 game in Denver.
“This is, to a degree, the dress rehearsal, but we’re going out and do what we do,” Rivera said. “We’ve looked at what they’ve done in the preseason and that’s what we’re game-planning against.”