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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax: 10 things to watch vs. Giants

New England closes out the preseason with its traditional fourth preseason game against New York.


For the 13th consecutive year the Patriots and Giants will face off in the teams' fourth preseason game, the latest summer finale coming Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

It's an annual tradition unlike any other.

And while many will look at the fourth preseason game as nothing more than a scheduling formality, a placeholder prior to the NFL season opener seven days later on the same field, for the guys who see the bulk of the playing time on Thursday it's an important chance to show one more time what they are capable of.

"It's another opportunity. It's another opportunity. It's a finite number. It's not unlimited," Bill Belichick declared this week.

But not all preseason finales are played the same way. And the fact that the Patriots have just a week before the Thursday night opener against the Chiefs could affect how much action (if any) the top-line players get against the Giants.

As Belichick has emphasized in the past, every game is important to the people who play in it. That will be the case once again against New York.

10 things to watch for from the Patriots vs. the Giants in Foxborough:

Who and how much? -Playing time will be interesting on Thursday night. With just a week before the regular season begins, it's unlikely that the Patriots first teamers and top-end talent will see much playing time, if at all. In a similar situation back in 2015, with the Patriots preparing to host the Steelers a week later in the opener, Tom Brady led a crew of 33 Patriots who did not play in the finale, and that was out of a 75-man roster. This time around Belichick has 90 bodies to work with, adding to the possibility that even more players could sit the night out.

Brissett's time -Second-year quarterback Jacoby Brissett hasn't gotten a ton of reps this summer, either on the practice field or in preseason action. That should change on Thursday. It wouldn't be unheard off for the third stringer to play the entire 60 minutes. Regardless, Brissett should see plenty of snaps of live action and it will be interesting to see how he performs and puts the extra playing time to good use in his continued development.

No see 'ems - There is a good chance that a few players will go the entire preseason without stepping on the game field. That list would be likely to include linebacker Shea McClellin who has not practiced since very early in camp. Despite returning to the practice field it's possible that tackle Nate Solder and linebacker Dont'a Hightower will also sit out the entire preseason slate. Same for Matthew Slater. That probably makes sense at this point given their importance and veteran status, with a handful of reps in the preseason finale seemingly offering minimal reward compared to the risk for the team mainstays.

Tight call - The competition at tight end all summer has seemingly revolved around the No. 3 job behind Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. Now the question is whether Belichick keeps a No. 3 tight end at all. If he does, it would seem that trade addition James O'Shaughnessy would get the nod. But it's also possible that New England keeps just the two veterans, uses a tackle as an extra blocker and utilizes the roster spot for another more worthy position – such as running back. O'Shaughnessy's playing status and performance in the finale could be telling.

Yo, D.J.! -There is little doubt that the Patriots have a pretty loaded stable of running backs. Mike Gillislee made an impressive debut in Detroit. James White seems ready to go, while both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead have shined at different points this summer. D.J. Foster is looking to snag a roster spot for the second straight summer and took a nice step toward that with some impressive running as a traditional ball carrier against the Lions. Foster clearly has some potential and could be a guy who benefits from the roster spot opened up with Julian Edelman's knee injury, especially given his emergency potential to line up as a receiver. Like so many others, Foster's final status for 2017 is hanging in the balance heading toward Saturday's cuts.

Final roster run - At this point Belichick and Nick Caserio probably have a good idea of how the bulk of the 53-man roster will play out. But there is always a chance that something that happens – good or bad – in the finale could affect a final roster spot or special teams role. Few fans or media types may focus much on what happens in the kicking game in the fourth preseason game, but each snap is an opportunity to make one last run at the roster.

Practice squad -While some guys are competing for final roster spots, others are probably battling to solidify a spot on the Patriots practice squad after final cuts. While New England often adds talent from outside the organization to make up the initial practice squad, the bulk of that 10-man unit will come from the group of guys who can't quite make the 53-man list. So, really 63 guys could end up with the golden ticket of NFL jobs when the preseason comes to a close.

Vets all folks! - Every summer there seems to be a surprise cut or trade. Only Belichick knows if that happens against this summer. Could veterans like Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, O'Shaughnessy, LaAdrian Waddle, Foster, David Harris, Elandon Roberts, Justin Coleman and others be fighting to retain their roles in New England? Some of them probably are. Would Belichick be looking to swing a trade to add talent or depth at a weak spot like tackle or defensive end? He's always looking! The final week of preseason and cuts can be a stressful time for a lot of guys, not just young, unknown players.

Health -Whether guys end up making the team or not, there is no worse time to get hurt than the fourth preseason game. Guys want to have the chance to continue battling for jobs either in New England or elsewhere. Football is a sport where injuries decide so much. They often decide teams' seasons and players' careers. It's the unfortunate reality that hopefully won't be an issue coming out of the action against the Giants.

Something crazy -Over the years we've seen a lot of unique things unfold in the preseason. Brady played a single snap in 2015's finale, holding for a PAT. Guys sometimes play out of position or in a unique spot in the kicking game. Maybe there will be a trick play or formation that Belichick wants to get on the final tape of the summer to give future regular season opponents something to think about. Maybe it's just a freak play by a guy laying it all on the line to get noticed. Safe money says something out of the ordinary happens against the Giants. But you'll have to tune in to find out what it is! (Yes, I am part of the WBZ TV broadcast. So that could be seen as nothing but a self-serving, fingers-crossed plug. Just watch!)

Other things you'll be watching for as a Patriots fan? Let us know with a comment below!

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