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Giants vs. Patriots storylines and predictions

For the 14th consecutive year, the Giants and Patriots close the preseason by facing one another. Here are five storylines to follow heading into the finale:

1. Whether or not starters play. After starters played the entire first half of last week's victory over the Jets, Giants fans might not see much of them, if at all, until Week 1 against Jacksonville. Coach Pat Shurmur did not announce anything specific in regards to playing time in the preseason finale against New England, only that there "will probably be some players that don't play this week." Fifteen-year veteran Eli Manning has not played in the final game of the preseason since 2014, and should the streak continue, Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta would get the bulk of the work.

"Yeah, we'll see as we get ready to play the game," Shurmur said. "I think anybody that goes in there, we want to see them play good football. I think that's the most important thing. On the short horizon here, we want the players to go in and play good winning football against New England and that's what we're looking for from all the players."

Is there anyone specific Shurmur wants to see play on Thursday night?

"I don't mean to be cryptic about this, but we'll see," Shurmur said. "Really when you come down to it, I want to let our list of injuries kind of settle here and then we're going to go in as a staff -- we haven't finalized who's playing in the game and before we do that as a staff, I certainly don't want to tell you something that's inaccurate."

2. Stars are aligning for Week 1. Running parallel with Odell Beckham Jr.'s rehab process has been his desire for a contract extension. The Giants announced on Monday that the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver signed a lucrative contract extension, 13 days before the season opener vs. Jacksonville.

"I think it was important [to get it done before the season] because we didn't want it to be a distraction," team president and CEO John Mara said. "We didn't want it hanging over him. We didn't want him worried about, 'What if I get hurt? I'm not going to be protected.' So, I think that was important to get it done before he actually started playing in games."

Beckham, who has not played in a game since suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 last year, has progressed to the point of participating in full team drills. He has looked like his old, energetic self to boot. His performance in the week of joint practices in Detroit was a major checkpoint for the Giants in terms of his health. Beckham noted that he took a "calculated risk" by going all out in practice this summer.

"The season is very, very close," he said. "Ultimately, if [the extension] was the day before, two days before, I had no doubt that it was going to get done. I'm just happy that it is done, and it's over with, and now you can move on and be great and do all those things that I've always dreamed of doing."

While all of this was going on, rookie Saquon Barkley, the second overall draft choice, returned fully to practice this week after dealing with a tweaked hamstring since Aug. 13. Odds are he will not touch the field on Thursday night, but he will most certainly be ready for the Jaguars, who also leaned on a running back taken in the top five last year in Leonard Fournette and advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.

3. Roster cuts coming. Gone are the days when NFL teams would first cut their rosters to 75 players before getting down to the 53-man limit. Since owners changed the rule last year, teams now go directly from 90 to 53 on the deadline, which this year falls at 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 1. The personnel department will have its work cut out after the market gets flooded with players this weekend. Remember, building a roster is a fluid, year-round process in the NFL.

Five Giants players to watch as they get set to face the Patriots Thursday night.

4. OV injury opens up opportunities. Outside linebacker Olivier Vernon, who was having a terrific camp, left Sunday's practice with a sprained ankle after getting his feet tangled up on a play. He has not returned to practice, opening the door for Okwara to get some reps with the first team. Okwara originally made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2016, appearing in 16 games with four starts in addition to one postseason start. He played in six games as a reserve last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

"He's done a good job," Shurmur said. "He's actually – he's caught our eye, again. I tend to watch edge players, so Romeo and obviously what Lorenzo's (Carter) been doing. They can crank up the pass rush, and I think he did a good job today based on what I saw."

The rookie Carter also got a bump up in Vernon's absence. Carter has nine tackles this preseason (three in each game) and a half-sack that he recorded with Josh Mauro against the Jets.

"Yeah, it's just a chance to get out there and get better," Carter said. "Just to test yourself against the starters to see what it's like. It's still football at the end of the day. You still go out there reading your keys and striking blockers. Just have to go out there and make the most of it."

Veteran linebacker Connor Barwin also increased his workload in practice after missing time since he signed with the team in late July. "Connor did well and he did a little bit more [in Tuesday's practice] as well," Shurmur said. "He's on the right path as well."

5. After punt return TD, Hunter is looking to be sharper in passing game. Hunter Sharp sparked the Giants last week with a 55-yard punt return touchdown against the Jets, but he wasn't exactly pleased with himself in the postgame locker room. "I'm happy, but it's hard to be happy because I didn't make plays on offense," he said. "I'm hard on myself, I really am." Sharp had no catches on three targets, including a drop on third down that he said he should have caught and knows coaches will hold it against him in his pursuit of a roster spot. He will try to redeem himself on Thursday night. "I hope it comes my way," he said. "I hope there's a bad pass, honestly, so I can make the QB look good."

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