East Rutherford, NJ -- The Patriots are readying for another matchup in the Meadowlands, this time against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
New England has declared the following players inactive for their Week 12 tilt with the Giants: CB Alex Austin, RB Jamycal Hasty, OT Vederian Lowe, WR Jalen Reagor, and DE Sam Roberts. The Giants inactives are RB Jashaun Corbin, S Gervarrius Owens, LB Carlos Basham, OT Evan Neal, and NT Dexter Lawrence.
Starting with the quarterbacks, reports came in late Saturday via the Boston Herald's Andrew Callahan indicating that Mac Jones will start for the Patriots on Sunday. After being benched in the final minutes of a loss to the Colts before the bye week, Jones held off backup QB Bailey Zappe in practice to at least reportedly start Sunday's game under center.
Although he's been benched on three separate occasions this season, including late in a one-score game vs. the Colts, the bottom line is that Jones has outperformed Zappe at every turn. The former first-round pick was decisively the better quarterback in training camp, and despite leaving the door open for the second-year backup to take his job, Zappe has yet to seize the opportunity.
After releasing third-string QB Will Grier on Saturday, Jones and Zappe are the only quarterbacks active for the Patriots this week. The Pats don't have an emergency third quarterback. With undrafted rookie Malik Cunningham as the only other in-house option, Cunningham wasn't elevated from the practice squad for Sunday's game in New Jersey.
As for how the offense will look around Jones, starting left tackle Trent Brown (ankle) is officially active after missing the last two games with multiple leg injuries. This comes as a mild surprise after Brown revealed the severity of a high and low ankle sprain along with an MCL injury to his knee. Brown's last start was his worst of the season in Miami, with the veteran tackle saying he was doing more harm than good for his team against the Dolphins (four QB pressures).
The Patriots have a contingency plan for Brown by signing backup OT Conor McDermott to the 53-man roster on Saturday. McDermott, who has started the last two games at left tackle, took Grier's spot on the active roster. McDermott has not allowed a sack in pass protection in two recent starts. But he has allowed several hurries, contributing to a shaky day for the offensive line against the Colts in Frankfurt. New England's starting offensive line projects as follows: LT Conor McDermott/Trent Brown, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Sidy Sow, and RT Mike Onwenu.
Along with the quarterback, this group will need to sort through a Giants defense with the second-highest blitz rate in the NFL under veteran DC Wink Martindale. Jones's grasp of setting protections to block blitz pressure likely contributed to head coach Bill Belichick's decision to stick with the third-year quarterback for another week, per reports.
Lastly, on offense, wide receiver DeVante Parker (concussion) will return from the lineup for the first time since Week 9. Parker took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit in the loss to the Dolphins. The hit mistakenly didn't draw a penalty flag, but the league fined Dolphins safety DeShon Elliott for the collision. The Pats active receivers are JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte, and Tyquan Thornton.
Moving over to the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense will be at full strength against a Giants offense that scored 24 points in undrafted rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito's first-ever win in the NFL. After missing the game against Indy, linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (hamstring) is active. Starting cornerback Jonathan Jones (knee) and DL Deatrich Wise (shoulder) are also active after carrying questionable designations into the game, while CB J.C. Jackson also returns after missing the game in Germany due to personal reasons.
For the Giants, depending on your rooting interests as a Patriots fan, it's either good or bad news that the Pats' offensive line won't need to deal with star DT Dexter Lawrence on Sunday. Lawrence, who leads all interior DLs in Pro Football Focus grade this season, is inactive due to a hamstring injury.
This game between the Patriots (2-8) and Giants (3-8) could have conflicting rooting interests. With the Pats playing out a disappointing season, Sunday's game is pivotal in deciding draft positioning for the 2024 NFL Draft. Still, those coaching and playing for the Patriots are trying to win a game on Sunday. A quarterback competition might ignite a fire under Jones, which may have been Coach Belichick's goal with his gamesmanship this week.
The Patriots and Giants kick off at 1 p.m. ET at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.