FOXBORO — Most often, exhibition football games rank right up there with laundry.
Both are a laborious necessity. The only difference in NFL is the fear factor ... the fear of somebody getting hurt.
Tonight's Patriots-Saints preseason opener (Ch. 4, 7:30 p.m.) might be one of the rare exceptions. This one merits the attention of New England's hungry and impatient football fans.
Two weeks into training camp — after an offseason of recovery from the savage home playoff beating by the Ravens — and the Patriots are a football team riddled with questions.
For the first time since 2001 with Tom Brady under center, more doubt and questions riddle this roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Answers will begin to trickle in tonight.
Oh, you'll get your token showings from the superstars.
Expect a series or two from Randy Moss, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, et al. Maybe, we'll even catch a glimpse out of the medical wonder, Wes Welker.
After that ... suspense, and plenty of it.
Here's what you should be watching for tonight, all over the field.
Up front on "D"
Those who embraced the Richard Seymour deal a year ago might not want to read this paragraph but the foundation of a three-time champion defense is now a severe issue, especially with the doom scenarios surrounding Ty Warren and his reported injured hip.
Warren is "being evaluated by our medical staff and we'll see what becomes of that," said Bill Belichick this week.
All of a sudden, the Pats are left with Pro-Bowler Vince Wilfork, 32-year-old reclamation projects Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren, serviceable Mike Wright, intriguing Myron Pryor and the still unavailable for duty Ron Brace, who hasn't yet passed the physical.
Belichick and defensive boss Pepper Johnson will be looking for anyone who can play here.
Backing it up the hype
Of all the newcomers, rookies and young potential starters, my eyes are going to be transfixed on rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes out of Florida.
He's been the loud tackler in the bunch in camp, the guy getting his nose into places that don't bode well for offenses.
Can the rookie do it at game speed? With only Jerod Mayo a legitimate commodity at linebacker, Spikes and a host of others should see ample opportunities to earn playing time.
Jermaine Cunningham and Tyrone McKenzie lead the list of wannabes, looking to join Gary Guyton and Tully Banta-Cain in the rotation.
Corner marks the spot
We've heard all the talk about Darius Butler and the leaps he's made. We've been bludgeoned by the talk of rookie Devin McCourty and his athleticism.
And we've talked at length of the "savvy" shown by Leigh Bodden last year, which earned him a four-year, $22 million deal in the offseason with over $10 million guaranteed.
But can of these guys, not to mention Terrance Wheatley or Jonathan Wilhite play cornerback for a contender in the National Football League?
It hasn't been a great camp for the corners. Now, is that the amazing Moss and Welker show that has cranked it up a notch? Or do these guys all head to the list of failed replacements for Asante Samuel which includes Deltha O'Neal and all the rest.
Is Chung ready?
Second-year safety Patrick Chung was the workout warrior, the film-monger, the young Patriot most likely to succeed.
He's ready to communicate and lead, standing next to Brandon Meriweather in the middle of the field. But can he cover anyone?
A fine run-support safety he may be, but at some point in the NFL game, a safety has to play pass defense. Chung must use tonight's game to prove he can handle the chore.
Tate, Price and Edelman
No, it's not the latest law firm that will work hard to get you your money.
They are young guns of this receiving corps. Who is going to be the guy to fit in the No. 3 or 4 spot with Moss, Welker and possibly Torry Holt?
All three have looked sharp in camp, albeit against the Patriots defensive backs, creating a chicken/egg scenario.
Live from Fresno
OK, maybe not Fresno, but somewhere in Northern California holdout Logan Mankins will join you in spying the guys up front where Nick Kaczur is hurt and Belichick holds community auditions to fill that left guard slot.
Does this team need to cave and pay Mankins? Your answer will be dictated by the pass protection and run-blocking tonight.
Position from hell — tight end
Nobody filled out the uniform and looked the part of an NFL tight end better than Ben Watson. And all that first-rounder did was disappoint in these parts.
Tonight, rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez get their shots.
Brady deserves a reliable guy to fill that void. These two draftees have first run at the job.
All in all, it should be entertaining. Remember, these are the defending Super Bowl champs in town.
New Orleans is now the measuring stick by which the Pats were once measured.
In August, the NFL will never be considered must-see TV, but this time around, it's a pivotal week on the New England football scene.
E-mail Hector Longo at firstname.lastname@example.org.