by Scott Benson

In just about an hour, the Patriots will take the field at the Meadowlands to play the Giants in their final pre-season game of ’06.

The game will be broadcast locally on Boston’s WCVB and sent throughout the six state region via the Patriots regional television network.

Tonight seems almost like an afterthought to the high drama that will play out over the next few days in Patriots-land. Tomorrow is the deadline set for Deion Branch and his agent Jason Chayut to carve out a sign/trade agreement with another club. It’s presumed they won’t be able to do it, and there’s little doubt that the next week will be dominated by anticipation of the other shoe dropping. Will Branch be in the lineup a week from Sunday when the Pats open the season with the Bills? Or will the most contentious holdout in recent history continue?

Meanwhile, back on the field, the Patriots will try to continue the momentum of their largely successful pre-season, which has seen them outscore their last two opponents by a combined score of 71-3. The Giants, no slouches themselves, have won all three of their August practice games.

Many of the Pats starters are expected to leave the game in the hands of those who will be scrambling to make sure they’re still in Foxboro when the sun comes up Sunday. Among those will be rookie runner Patrick Cobbs, who’s turned more heads than Linda Blair lately, rookie linebackers Jeremy Mincey, Pierre Woods, and Corey Mays, rookie guard Dan Stevenson, and 1st year free agents like corner Antwan Spann and receiver Kelvin Kight. Among the veterans still playing for jobs is former Kansas City corner Eric Warfield.

The Patriots must trim back their roster to the final 53 by Saturday, and establish their eight-man practice squad by the following day. Tonight may tell the tale for those players that are still in the margins.

See you at halftime.