The Giants-Jets annual preseason meeting usually falls on the most meaningful weekend of a generally meaningless exhibition schedule. Not this year. With the teams almost always meeting in the next-to-last preseason game — where starters play into the second half — we won't get to see much from the starters in the preseason opener for both clubs.
The focus this year will be on the first football game at the New Meadowlands Stadium, with starters getting limited snaps in the first half.
And there will be enough to look for in the brief period of time that the starters do work to keep things interesting, before the game turns into the usual turnstile of scrub players who rarely figure into what happens in the regular season.
Here's what we'll be looking at in tonight's 8 p.m. game.
* Antonio Cromartie. Not every day you look at a cornerback with more importance than other positions, but with the Darrelle Revis holdout, Cromartie will be a focal point until Revis comes back ... er, if he comes back. Cromartie's athleticism is unquestioned; and he's even starting to be physical. No Steve Smith for the Giants tonight, but Cromartie will get enough solid competition to see where he's at.
* LaDainian Tomlinson. It's not every day that the first quarter of the first preseason game for a Hall of Fame player means something. But with Tomlinson switching uniforms this year, it will be interesting to see how he's utilized in limited playing time. In the Jets' intrasquad scrimmage last week, it was Tomlinson who started things off with a 70-yard touchdown reception.
* Mark Sanchez. It will be the quarterback's first "live" action since undergoing off-season knee surgery. And while we don't expect Sanchez to think about the knee (he has made a point of saying he really doesn't think twice in practice), we'll watch to see how he moves around in the pocket, especially if the Giants can put a rush on him. Sanchez's decision-making will also be under scrutiny; he has at times looked terrific in the off-season, at other times not so much.
* Santonio Holmes. The Jets' recently acquired receiver won't play in the first four games because of a suspension, but he does figure to get plenty of action with his new team. Holmes is an excellent route runner, and we expect to see that on display tonight.
* The Giants' defensive line. It has been a focus of camp from the start, especially how the Giants will mix and match with ends Mathias Kiwanuka and Osi Umenyiora. New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has tried different combinations — even using Kiwanuka some at linebacker. We'll watch his rotation, and get our first glimpse of rookies Jason Pierre-Paul, who has been working mostly on the left side, and tackle Linval Joseph.
* Aaron Ross. He basically had a washout of a season last year because of hamstring problems, but Ross has had an excellent camp so far. We'll see if it continues in game action.
* The Giants' safeties. With Kenny Phillips coming back slowly from his knee surgery, the chances are good that the Giants will start the season the way they start tonight: with big-time free agent acquisition Antrel Rolle and not-so-big-time-free-agent-acquisition Deon Grant. The two veterans figure to anchor a spot that was one of the big problems of last year's defensive meltdown.
* Matt Dodge. The Giants' punter replaces the veteran Jeff Feagles, who was the best directional punter in NFL history. It'll be his first test in a stadium where the winds are still a mystery. Wind direction was a key factor in the old Giants Stadium.
* Joe McKnight. The rookie running back will potentially play a major role this year, basically filling the spot of Shonn Greene from last season. With Greene taking over as the feature back after the departure of Thomas Jones, the Jets will look to McKnight to be a complementary back to take some of the load off Greene. First time McKnight was on an NFL practice field, he barfed. We'll see if he can get through his first game action in better shape.
* Matt Slauson/Victor Ducasse. Looks at this point like Slauson has the decided edge in the competition to replace Alan Faneca, although both Slauson and the rookie Ducasse will see some time at left guard.
* Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs is coming off knee surgery, and there's been some speculation, based on the rotation in training camp, that he might be pressed for the starter's role by Bradshaw. Could be a way of lighting a fire under the emotional Jacobs, too. He's never shy about expressing his disdain for the Jets; we'll see if he takes it out on them right out of the gate. Will also be interesting to see how Bradshaw runs. After off-season surgery on both feet, he is feeling much better and running with the kind of shiftiness he showed as a rookie in 2007.
* Eli Manning. No real concerns for the Giants here (other than to keep him healthy), but Manning is now fully healed from a foot problem that bothered him last year. It didn't prevent him from achieving his first 4,000-yard season, but it's notable that Manning is now injury free heading into this season. Or so the Giants hope.
* Keith Bulluck. The Giants signed him as a free agent just before the start of training camp, and there's a 50-50 shot he'll be the team's starting linebacker this season. He's been nursed along following knee surgery, so we'll see how the Giants deploy him throughout the preseason.