We’ve heard it a million times. The third preseason game is the most important for every NFL team. This is one cliché that rings true.

We’ll get a pretty good look at what the real Patriots will look like on Friday (7:30 p.m., WBZ) in Carolina as there will be plenty of starters on display. A look at the three most intriguing storylines for Friday.


Brady watch

It has been speculated that there might be a rift between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as Brady clearly wanted to play in preseason game No. 2 last week. The excuse was that Brady cut his thumb with scissors while operating on his cleats but then he inexplicably missed Sunday and Mondays practices. The Patriots gave few answers on that, and in turn it was speculated that the future Hall of Fame QB and coach might have had a major disagreement on how they should treat Brady’s preseason ahead of his four-game regular season suspension.

The Patriots have given Jimmy Garoppolo plenty of work so far in the preseason as he threw the ball 18 times against the Saints and 21 times against the Bears. It would not be shocking to see Belichick play Garoppolo the entire game Friday. Guessing Brady would not react well to that scenario.


Mingo the newbie

The Patriots love rolling the dice when it comes to untapped potential and Thursday they did the defensive version of what they did with offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper earlier in the year. They acquired a former top 10 overall pick, in linebacker Barkevious Mingo, from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2017 fifth round pick. Mingo was the sixth overall pick in 2013 while Cooper was the seventh overall pick in that draft.

It will be interesting to see if Belichick throws Mingo to the fire and it will be intriguing to see how he will juggle an extremely deep linebacking corps.


Decent “D”

The Patriots have been good but not great on defense in the first two preseason games. They allowed 22 points to both the Saints and Bears, and while it’s not the best idea to compare preseason stats to regular season stats given all the substitutions it’s worth noting that the Patriots allowed just 19.7 points per game last year. Twenty-two points would have put them in the middle of the pack in the league defensively, so there’s definite room for improvement. One of the more impressive players through two preseason games has been cornerback Cyrus Jones, who picked off Brian Hoyer last week and had a fumble recovery the week prior against New Orleans.