FOXBORO – Real football is almost here, but before the Patriots kick off Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the fourth and final preseason game must be played.
This game, which is to be played against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium, is reserved for players on the bubble. It represents a game in which most players who get on the field won't make the Patriots' 53-man roster, but it'll at least give them an opportunity to get on some video that other NFL teams can review.
For example, last year's starting offense in this game had one player (Ted Karras) who made the Patriots' 53-man roster. Overall, excluding the special-teamers in the kicking game, only seven of 36 players who suited up in the Patriots' 2018 preseason finale made the opening 53-man roster.
That doesn't mean there will not be things to view on Thursday. Here are five things to watch as the Patriots take on the Giants:
No, Tom Brady isn't playing. That would be crazy. The biggest question is whether or not the Patriots will play one quarterback for the entire game. It's happened before with the likes of Ryan Lindley, Tim Tebow and, last year, with Danny Etling.
Will the Patriots let Jarrett Stidham play the entire game? It would be smart to give the rookie four quarters because, let's be honest, he might not play again this season. Could the Pats give Hoyer the ball? He didn't play in last year's finale but he also didn't play last week against the Panthers. Is he on the bubble with Stidham's rise?
The Patriots received some offensive boosts in the past couple of weeks. In a six-day span, the Patriots added Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon to their active roster. Edelman and Thomas were taken off the physically unable to perform list while Gordon was removed from the non-football injury list. All three players have yet to play in a preseason game. Do they need to?
It's not completely unheard of. In 2015, the Patriots started Reggie Wayne in order to get him some reps. (It didn't help.) Do Thomas or Gordon need some reps before Week 1? If they do, it'll be the story of the game. We think Edelman should be fine, so the Pats would be wise to keep him out until the first regular-season game.
You can't make the club from the tub. Several players haven't been able to play in all three preseason games because of injuries. The clock is ticking for all of them. We can't help but wonder if the likes of Stephen Anderson, Braxton Berrios, Obi Melifonwu, Trent Harris or Martez Ivey will be able to play after missing the Panthers game. All those names are on the bubble.
At this point, it would be a surprise to see Matt LaCosse, Cameron Meredith, N'Keal Harry, Derek Rivers or Shilique Calhoun play. It's unfortunate for Rivers and Calhoun as they were pushing for roster spots.
Also keep an eye out for injuries. Players who get hurt on Thursday night might have a tough time making the team.
The Patriots have featured some fun young receivers on the roster this summer. Soak up their gritty performances while you still can.
Gunner Olszewski has been a lot of fun to watch. A Division II cornerback, he looks raw as a receiver but has shown promise as a return man. He could be a preseason star on Thursday night. The Patriots probably know what they have in Jakobi Meyers, who we think makes the team. This game will be important for bubble players such as Ryan Davis and Damoun Patterson.
The same goes for tight ends Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert or even veteran Lance Kendricks. There's still room for a tight end to make this team.
Unknown bubble players
Every year, a small amount of surprise cuts are made. Keep a lookout for who plays in this game. That player, especially if he's a veteran, could be on the way out.
Last year, we thought it was Jason McCourty, who started the final preseason game, but he made the team. The same can't be said for Marquis Flowers, Jordan Richards or Cyrus Jones. For example, Mike Pennel was playing in the fourth quarter of last week's preseason game and was waived four days later.
Players such as Deatrich Wise, Duke Dawson, Ufomba Kamalu and Dan Skipper might be on the bubble, so keep an eye out.