In the blink of an eye, the preseason is over. After Thursday night's match-up between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, the next time either take the field, it will count. As such, each team goes into this game with one thing in mind: remain healthy. But for 44 players (22 on each team), it will mean the difference between a career in the NFL and having their name listed on the waiver wire.
Head coach Tom Coughlin said he expects his projected starters to play between 12-15 snaps, while Bill Belichick may not play his at all. As a result, fans will enjoy a college-like atmosphere where players are fighting for their very survival. So, while the game itself may be considered the least important from a preparation standpoint, it couldn't be more important for those hoping to land a spot on the 53-man roster.
Shuffled, then Reshuffled Offensive Line: With David Baas and David Diehl out with injury, the Giants attempted an offensive line re-shuffling last week that had Jim Cordle at center and Justin Pugh at right tackle. It didn't work as well as offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and coach Coughlin wanted, so they plan to introduce reshuffled line version 2.0 on Thursday night. This time, Kevin Boothe will shift from left guard to center, with James Brewer taking his first career snaps in Boothe's former position. Meanwhile, on the outside, Pugh will remain. Hopefully this unit has better luck than the previous one.
Back-Up Quarterback Competition: Given the amount of injuries the Giants have sustained over the last 2-3 weeks, it's becoming less logical for them to carry three quarterbacks into the regular season. As such, the importance of this game for David Carr, Ryan Nassib and Curtis Painter becomes paramount. It was already obvious that one would be jobless by this time next week, but there is now a possibility that a pair could be unemployed. Nassib will follow Eli Manning in the first quarter, with both Carr and Painter receiving second half snaps. Each throw will be of the utmost importance for the trio.
Tim Tebow: Don't pretend you don't get sucked in. Whether you love the guy, hate the guy or are indifferent towards him as a person/player, there's literally no chance you're immune to the non-stop Tim Tebow coverage. As such, Tebow will be a focal point of the game and broadcast on Thursday night as he battles for a spot on the Patriots' 53-man roster. And while head coach Bill Belichick has praised Tebow, he still has to earn his way onto the team. A week ago, the Giants likely cost Geno Smith a starting job and, pending his heath, may have saved the career of Mark Sanchez … for now. So what do they have in store for Tebow?
Health: It's not so much that fans will be watching for health so much as they'll be praying (religious or otherwise) that no remaining projected starters get injured. That is the sole key to all preseason games, but especially the finale.
Tick. Tock. It's only a matter of hours now.
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