The undefeated Patriots look to complete their perfect (pre)season against the Giants Thursday night, the final tune up before roster cuts this weekend. We heard something similar last decade, but this one matters a little less than 2007 did. No, this is the preseason and records don't matter, but there's still plenty of intrigue to be played out at the bottom of the roster.
The team has had a good summer, avoiding any devastating injuries, though the loss of starting center David Andrews will sting. Most impressive is how their young rookies and second-year players have continually made positive strides over the last month.
Projected starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn has assimilated into the lineup, while all the rookies have shown improvement nearly every time they take the field. That bodes well for the long-term health of the franchise, as the additions of players like Jake Bailey, Jarrett Stidham and Byron Cowart have re-energized their respective position groups.
Question do still remain, even at the top of the roster on the offensive side of the ball. While Wynn is an intriguing new blindside protector, most of the wide receivers and tight ends who will be playing in the season opener against the Steelers have yet to take the field. They'll figure it all out like they always do, but how exactly it will come together is still anyone's guess.
Defensively, the only question is how good they can be. They have all the pieces and depth across the board. At the very least the defense will be able to keep games close if the offense goes through an adjustment period like they often do in September.
What are the keys to the fourth preseason game that will feature mostly backups and those unlikely to make the team? Let's dive in.
Jarrett Stidham played two-thirds of the third preseason game, giving rise to talk that he could be in line to be the only backup QB the team keeps. Stidham has played well but is he ready to hold the fort should Tom Brady get hurt? How the Patriots play the final game with Stidham and Brian Hoyer will be hotly debated. Does Stidham just need the experience and play the whole game like Danny Etling did last year? Will they want to put Hoyer on display for other teams to consider? Or will they just balance it out and let each get a little work? How many quarterbacks they'll keep will be a hot topic for discussion on Friday and Saturday until the cuts are finally announced.
Hold On for One More Game
Rookie Jake Bailey won the punting job and had some boomers in the third preseason game against the Panthers. But he also had a bad hold on Stephen Gostkowski's missed field goal that left Gostkowski with Ace Ventura flashbacks saying "laces out." Simply put, the pressure will never be off Bailey this season, but in this final game it would be reassuring to see a couple good placekick holds by the rookie.
The swing tackle spot, usually a decent role in the offense and one that has been vital due to injuries over the years, is still very much in question. The on-roster contenders are Dan Skipper and Cole Croston, who both got looks at left and right tackle against the Panthers. The ultimate swing tackle might even be on another roster right now, but for now it will be another primetime audition for Skipper and Croston to secure a roster spot.
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch during the Patriots preseason Week 4 matchup against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, August 29, 2019.
Slot Receiver Death Match
Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and N'Keal Harry would appear to be the roster locks at the wide receiver position. Phillip Dorsett and Demaryius Thomas are right behind them, leaving a dogfight for one, maybe two, more roster spots between Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios and Gunner Olszewski. Meyers is the favorite of the trio, leaving Berrios and Olszewksi going head to head. They're similar players, slot receivers with punt return abilities. Berrios will be looking to make up ground after missing Week 3, and watching Olszewski pop as a returner. Both would be practice squad possibilities as well. How much the team wants to retain either will be in large part a result of their performances against the Giants.
Will the Week 1 Tight End Please Stand Up?
Will we see Matt Lacosse for the first time since Week 1 when he got hurt? He's been at practice this week, a sign that he should be ready to go. Lance Kendricks and Ben Watson, both suspended anyway for Week 1, haven't been at practice, meaning there isn't much depth to work with. Ryan Izzo got a long look against the Panthers and could get further action this week. Stephen Anderson and Eric Saubert must also know this is their last chance to make an impression. Hopefully the Patriots can come out of this game feeling good about at least one tight end for the opener against Pittsburgh.
The Patriots wrap up their impossible dream undefeated (pre)season by defeating the Giants 38-35. Haven't we seen this movie before? Hopefully none of the few players that will have an impact on the regular season get hurt. And hopefully those players who could use a redshirt year sustain just a minor enough injury to land them on Injured Reserve for the year, keeping them in football and giving them another crack at it next summer.
Then it will finally be time to turn the page to the regular season, the most exciting time of the summer.