Whether or not you consider the New York Jets a rival of the New York Giants (I do, for what it’s worth), there’s no denying that this a huge game for both teams. The Jets could use a win to boost their chances at a Wild Card while the Giants desperately need a win this week to essentially save their season. Remind anyone of Week 16 of the 2011 season? In case you forgot, the Giants were able to beat the Jets then, and never lost again for the remainder of the season. Sunday’s game is a 1:00 start that you can view on CBS.
Ryan Fitzpatrick trimmed his monstrous beard before game action a week ago, and promptly played his best game of football versus the Dolphins. Fitzy’s season numbers are modest (58.5 completion percentage, 2,476 yards, 20-11 TD-INT rate, 85.4 passer rating), but he has gotten the job done for the Jets, who could strongly consider re-signing him. Meanwhile, Eli Manning has had a typical stellar season, but there have been some hiccups along the way. Last week was no exception. But Manning’s season stats (63.0 completion percentage, 3,021 yards, 23-9 TD-INT rate, 92.5 passer rating) are representative of a top 10 quarterback, and one that has a sound advantage over Fitzpatrick and the Jets.
The Giants have four running backs with very different styles in Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams. While it sounds good on paper to allow for copious carries for each of them, it simply doesn’t work. There aren’t enough opportunities for each player, and they have no chance at getting into a rhythm. The Jets are a much more conventional backfield. Chris Ivory leads the AFC in rushing yards with 766 yards, and backups Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley offer support. Ivory is a power back for sure, but he is also surprisingly shifty. This could be a rough matchup for the Giants’ porous run defense.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The Giants and Jets have no shortage of star wideouts on their rosters. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall have had nearly identical seasons, lighting up New York in the process. But the Jets have just a bit more depth than the Giants do. While Dwayne Harris has been an unexpected surprise for the Giants, Rueben Randle has been a major disappointment. The absence of Victor Cruz and tight end Larry Donnell due to injuries has really rocked Big Blue’s receiving corps. On the other hand, the Jets have an impressive collection of depth; in fact they use all 6 of their wide receivers regularly. Eric Decker is a red zone beast (51 receptions, 8 TDs), and the Jets’ depth receivers have combined for 49 receptions, compared to the Giants’ total of 38 (with 27 of those coming from Harris, who may or may not be considered depth). Interestingly, the Jets rarely pass to their tight ends; they have caught just 6 passes all year long.
The Jets and Giants used to be known for their dominating offensive linemen. Nowadays, the New York linemen have lost some of their luster. For the Jets, Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and Breno Giacomini are the key pieces, but they are all over 30 years old. The Giants have committed to rebuilding their line, but the process has gone along slowly. Ereck Flowers has been the definition of inconsistent in his first year protecting Eli Manning’s blind side. Right Tackle Marshall Newhouse will likely miss the game due to injury; 7th Round Pick Bobby Hart would start if Newhouse cannot go. With two rookies bookending the line and injuries to all three interior linemen (Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg are questionable, Geoff Schwartz is out for the season), the Jets’ old guard has the edge.
The Jets are among the NFL’s best at getting to the quarterback; they have sacked the quarterback 25.0 times on the season. The Giants are among the NFL’s worst at getting to the quarterback; they have sacked the quarterback just 12.0 times. Do I really need to tell you who has the edge? Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams have combined for 12 sacks, and nose tackle Damon Harrison eats up opposing running backs for lunch. The Giants’ pass rush is improving, but still pales in comparison to the Jets’ D-Line. Jason Pierre-Paul is the linchpin of the pass rush. While he is slowly getting more comfortable each week, guys like Robert Ayers Jr., Cullen Jenkins, and Damontre’ Moore need JPP to be double-teamed for them to generate pressure.
The Jets’ 3-4 defense features some key linebackers. DeMario Davis and veteran David Harris are the quarterbacks of the defense; they have averaged 68 tackles and 1.5 sacks this year. The Jets have had about one quarter of their sacks come from the linebackers, a worrisome trend for the Giants’ O-Line. Calvin Pace is still kicking in his 13th NFL season on the weak side, and Leger Douzable and rookie Lorenzo Mauldin split time on the strong side. The Jets have all the linebacking depth and pizzazz that the Giants are missing. With Devon Kennard and Jon Beason injured, the Giants will turn to Jasper Brinkley and Jonathan Casillas to partner with J.T. Thomas III. These guys can make tackles, but aren’t as threatening as the Jets’ LBs. The Giants need more players like the retired Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, and Carl Banks at linebacker, true playmakers that you feared lining up against. But right now, the Jets are the New Yorkers with flashy linebackers, giving them the edge over the Giants.
If the Giants have caught one break for Sunday’s game, it’s that Darrelle Revis and his projected replacement, Marcus Williams, are injured. In their stead, veteran Antonio Cromartie will match up against Odell Beckham Jr., a matchup favoring the Giants (per Pro Football Focus, Cromartie has been 14th-worst corner in football this year, a major fall from grace for the 4-time Pro Bowler). Opposite Cromartie will likely be either career backup Darrin Walls or second-year corner Dexter McDougle, with nickel back Buster Skrine covering the slot. Safeties Marcus Gilchrist and Calvin Pryor are sound tacklers and ball-hawkers over the top. The G-Men have a top cornerback combination at their disposal with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (the cousin of the Jets’ Antonio Cromartie) and Prince Amukamara. These guys are capable of limiting the damage done by Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. But depth corners Trevin Wade, Trumaine McBride, and Jayron Hosley have been picked on this year, and the play of the Giants’ safeties has been a major Big Blue bugaboo. With veteran Brandon Meriweather out for Sunday’s game, nondescript veteran Craig Dahl will partner with inconsistent rookie Landon Collins.
The Giants’ special teams are one of their strengths. Kicker Josh Brown is perfect on the season, punter Brad Wing is a hang-time extraordinaire, snapper Zak DeOssie still plays at a high level, and return man Dwayne Harris is ever-so elusive. The Jets have made a change at kicker due to injury, as Randy Bullock has taken over for the injured Nick Folk. Punter Ryan Quigley has improved each year in the NFL, and snapper Tanner Purdum has been with the Jets for 6 years. Their primary return men are Antonio Cromartie on kicks and Jeremy Kerley on punts.
The Giants and Jets both need this game badly. A game against your intra-state (heck, intra-stadium) rivals ought to get the Giants up for game time. Because you know the Jets will be looking to get off to a fast start, it’s important for the Giants to keep their wits about them early on and not give the game away. If everything goes according to plan, the Giants have a chance. Darrelle Revis’s injury may just give the Giants the lucky break they needed to win this game, albeit in their usually ugly fashion.
Prediction: 23-20 Giants (Record picking Giants games: 8-3)