Jimmy Garoppolo has one of the best preseason stat lines of any NFL quarterback. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The five things we’re looking for when it comes to Thursday’s preseason finale between the Patriots and the Giants:
Who is playing
As simple as this sounds, when it comes to a lot of players, whether or not they end up playing in the preseason finale can serve as an indication of their roster chances. If there are a few players who might be perceived as being on the bubble at this point in the summer (Chris Harper? Travaris Cadet?) who don’t play, history tells us that they have a good shot at making the final 53-man roster. There are a few exceptions to the rule, like Reggie Wayne (for reasons we’ll discuss shortly). But at the same time, don’t look for regulars like Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Jerod Mayo Thursday evening.
The snaps at quarterback
While there won’t be anywhere near the same level of scrutiny this time around — it would be surprising if Tom Brady plays, given his traditional workload in the preseason finale as well as the events of the last week — it’s still worth keeping an eye on. At least statistically, Jimmy Garoppolo is having one of the best preseasons of any quarterback in the NFL through the first three games, going 61-for-80 for 554 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Based on the improvements Garoppolo has shown over the course of the summer, the Patriots would love to see him continue on that same arc heading into the regular season. It’s also likely we’ll get our first glimpse of Ryan Lindley, who was signed as a camp arm earlier this summer after Matt Flynn couldn’t get on the field. Lindley has not seen any game action to this point in the preseason.
For the record, Brady has played in the fourth preseason game of the year on four occasions: 2002, 2003, 2010 and 2011. Here’s a look at his workload and production in each of those games:
2011: 5-for-9, 116 yards, 15 snaps vs. Giants
2010: 4-for-8, 51 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 13 snaps vs. Giants
2003: 8-for-10, 63 yards, 1 TD, 12 snaps vs. Bears
2002: 7-for-10, 59 yards, 20 snaps vs. Redskins
The veteran receiver got 21 snaps in his preseason debut with the Patriots last week against Carolina, and had zero catches on one target. Even though the final preseason affair usually is given over to youngsters and other potential bubble candidates, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wayne get a handful of reps Thursday against the Giants in advance of the regular season.
The final chapter in some positional battles
Coming into training camp, there were a few positional battles that were worth monitoring, most notably the third-down back and second corner. With strong performances over the last two games (as well as solid efforts throughout the course of the summer), running back Dion Lewis and cornerback Tarrell Brown appear to have the inside track on both jobs. That’s not to say the Patriots would cut the rest of the candidates, only to suggest that when it comes to Lewis and Brown, those jobs are theirs to lose at this point on the calendar. That being said, there’s still a chance for someone to make some noise when it comes to adding depth at either one of those positions. Cadet and James White are the two with the best chances to chip in at third-down back (Cadet may be playing for a spot on the roster Thursday night), while Logan Ryan and Bradley Fletcher lead a group of challengers who still could make a case for the second corner spot.
The new guys
The Patriots added return specialist Jalen Saunders and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels on Tuesday, and while expectations should be tempered when it comes to both of them (if they even end up playing), it’ll be interesting to see how much action they get. Daniels is a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder out of Notre Dame, an undrafted free agent who was signed by Minnesota. He didn’t play last season, but in 2013 with the Fighting Irish he caught 49 passes for 745 yards and seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, Saunders is a 5-foot-9, 165-pounder who is now on his fifth team since being drafted by the Jets in 2014 (Jets, Saints, Seahawks, Cardinals and Patriots). He’s played in 15 games in the NFL with 15 punt returns and an 8.3 average per return. He also has three kick returns to his credit with an average of 46.3 yards per return. While there’s the real likelihood at one of these players was signed as a stopgap for Thursday night by a team that’s shorthanded at both spots, if they make a good impression with the opportunities that will be given to them, they could end up sticking around.
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