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Jets' final preseason game contains more intrigue than usual

Quarterbacks Bryce Petty (left) and Christian Hackenberg (right) will likely get equal playing time in the Jets' preseason finale on Thursday night. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The New York Jets close the preseason on Thursday with their annual Backup Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles -- a 7 p.m. ET kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and most of the starters will get the night off, but the game has more appeal than your typical preseason finale because of lingering questions about the quarterback situation.

Top storyline: The quarterbacks, of course. Geno Smith also won't play, leaving the game to Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg. Presumably, Petty will start (he deserves the shot), but the objective is to give him and Hackenberg equal playing time, according to coach Todd Bowles. Ostensibly, Smith has secured the No. 2 job, but there are variables in play -- mainly, Petty's performance and potential trade offers (see: Minnesota Vikings). Bowles reiterated he's open to keeping all four quarterbacks, but the feeling among personnel people around the league is that four is unlikely.

On the hot seat: This is the most important game in Petty's fledgling career. Unlike Hackenberg, who doesn't have to sweat his roster spot, Petty needs positive results. He took a step back last week with an interception, raising the stakes for the finale. He doesn't lack confidence. Petty said he feels "so much better and so much more comfortable" than a year ago.

Players with the most to gain: The rookie wide receivers are waging an intense competition for the last couple of roster spots. We're talking about Charone Peake (seventh-round pick), Robby Anderson (undrafted) and Jalin Marshall (undrafted). Tough call here. Anderson has the most production, but he's still raw. Marshall can return punts and kickoffs, but he's had some drops at receiver. Peake has been fairly consistent throughout the summer. Keeping all three is "possible," Bowles said. That wouldn't bode well for veteran Jeremy Ross, who also has return ability.

Players with the most to lose: Two high draft picks from the previous regime -- cornerback Dee Milliner and tight end Jace Amaro -- could use a strong finish to their lackluster preseasons. The oft-injured Milliner, who has surrendered some big plays, is iffy with a cranky hamstring. Chances are, he's safe because his $2.1 million is guaranteed, but don't write his name in ink just yet. Amaro, who sat out last week with a groin injury, is battling Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Bostick for backups jobs.

Position battle to watch: Those two wannabe starters at right tackle -- Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale -- are still going at it. One of them figures to be the opening day starter, considering Breno Giacomini (back) still isn't practicing. The Ijalana-Qvale competition is "even right now," Bowles said. "I don't have a clear-cut winner that's going to take the spot if Breno doesn't play." Both will play against the Eagles. The Jets could add a right tackle over the weekend, but it's hard to find a starting-caliber player on the final cutdown.

Notables on the bubble: Cornerback Dexter McDougle (injured, won't play), nose tackle Deon Simon, linebacker Trevor Reilly and guard Dakota Dozier -- all former draft picks -- are fighting for spots at the bottom of the roster. CFL import Freddie Bishop is in the same boat as Reilly, trying to crack a crowded outside-linebacking corps. Kenbrell Thompkins, who began camp as the No. 4 receiver, also could be in some danger. He has missed practice time with a groin injury, opening the door for the rookies. Bowles said that Thompkins will be evaluated before the game, so there's a chance he may play. That Thompkins is a possibility for the fourth preseason game indicates his roster spot isn't locked down. They'd save $1.7 million by releasing him.