Who knew that a matchup of two 5-7 teams could be so intriguing? The Giants are somehow tied for first place despite their penchant for inexcusable fourth-quarter collapses, and the Dolphins are a worthy spoiler. If the Giants want to make the playoffs, they simply have to win Monday night’s game. Fun fact: the Dolphins have appeared in the most Monday Night Football games ever. Let’s hope as Giants fans that the Fins’ Monday Night magic has worn out.
Ryan Tannehill is a former top-10 overall pick, but has always been a good-but-not-great quarterback. In what was supposed to be his coming-out party, Tannehill has simply been status quo (61.4% completion percentage, 3,077 yards, 21-11 TD-INT rate, 88.3 passer rating). Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but the Dolphins surely expected better from Tannehill this season. For the Giants, it’s all about Eli Manning. The star QB has had a couple of slow weeks in a row, but still has solid numbers (62.3% completion percentage, 3,318 yards, 24-10 TD-INT rate, 91.6 passer rating). Both of these quarterbacks are unbelievably streaky, but Manning’s experience and “clutch” moniker give the Giants an edge.
The Dolphins’ running game has been in flux this year. Under previous head coach Joe Philbin, star running back Lamar Miller never got enough opportunities with the ball. But interim coach Dan Campbell has let Miller run freely in the last couple of weeks, and it has largely worked out for Miami. Miller is a shifty rusher (4.9 avg and 5 TDs) and an underrated pass-catcher (39 receptions and 2 scores). The Giants will again turn to their flawed running-back-by-committee, featuring Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams. I’d like to see the Giants use more of Jennings and Darkwa and less of Williams, but the Giants insist on providing carries for everyone, a strategy that hasn’t allowed for much success this year.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Old buddies Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry lit up opposing defenses together at LSU, but will now get the chance to face off against each other for the first time. Beckham has been phenomenal this season (78 receptions, 1,154 yards, 10 TDs), but has oftentimes been the Giants’ only convincing target. Dwayne Harris is elusive, but Rueben Randle has been inconsistent and Hakeem Nicks hasn’t gotten enough opportunities in the red zone to be effective. Will Tye has taken over for the injured Larry Donnell and has yet to catch a touchdown. Landry is the man to key in on for the Dolphins, especially with his partner in crime, Rishard Matthews, injured. Luckily for Miami, they have no shortage of secondary options. Young DeVante Parker has seen his role expand recently, Kenny Stills is a dangerous slot man, veteran Greg Jennings has still got game, and tight end Jordan Cameron is a true vertical threat tight end. While the Giants have Beckham to rely on, the Dolphins have much more depth.
The Dolphins have some studs on their O-Line in center Mike Pouncey and left tackle Brandon Albert, but struggle to put together anything else that resembles an offensive line. Guards Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner and right tackle Ja’Waun James struggle to keep Tannehill on his feet as well as provide holes for the dangerous Lamar Miller. The Giants caught a break here, because their O-Line isn’t much better. Left guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg are maulers, but ex-Dolphin John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse are not. Rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers is questionable for Monday Night. Neither the Giants nor the Dolphins have a very strong offensive line, so whichever one wins the battle could be Monday Night’s X-Factor.
Boy did the Giants catch a break by not having to face the injured Cameron Wake or the suspended Dion Jordan on Monday Night. But in their stead, the Dolphins haven’t crumbled. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is an unadulterated beast, and his counterpart, Earl Mitchell, stops the run. Ends Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby have combined for 9.0 sacks, and rotational players Quinton Coples (formerly of the New York Jets) and Jordan Phillips offer support. The Giants’ pass rush has gotten better each week, but is still one of the NFL’s worst. Jason Pierre-Paul has yet to notch a sack, but has been a factor in game action. Robert Ayers Jr. is questionable with a neck injury; he has 4.0 sacks in 8 games and had 5 QB hits vs the Jets. The Giants gave up on troubled end Damontre’ Moore on Friday; expect George Selvie and Kerry Wynn to play larger roles (combined 0.5 sacks but stout run defense). Defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins, Markus Kuhn, Jay Bromley, and Montori Hughes run hot and cold. The Dolphins have the playmakers on their D-Line that the Giants do not.
Miami has some solid-tackling linebackers at their disposal in Koa Misi and Kelvin Sheppard (combined 146 tackles). Jelani Jenkins and ex-Giant Spencer Paysinger rotate as WILL linebackers. While none of those names stand out, they get the job done for Miami. The Giants will be without Devon Kennard (foot) again on Monday Night. The absence of their best impact linebacker hurts Big Blue. While Jasper Brinkley (1 sack, 3 forced fumbles) has been a solid stopgap in the middle and outside linebackers Jonathan Casillas and J.T. Thomas III are quick, there are just too many missed tackles on the Giants’ defense to take them seriously. The Dolphins’ linebackers aren’t outstanding, but they beat the Giants’ beaten-up crew.
The Dolphins have a ball-hawking secondary for sure (11 interceptions on the season). Between leading tackler and interception-getter Reshad Jones (107 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 TDs) and lockdown corner Brent Grimes (3 picks), the Dolphins will make you pay if you throw their way. Bobby and Brice McCain are solid depth corners, and Michael Thomas is a good run-stopping safety. The Giants have ball-hawkers of their own (14 interceptions, 2 TDs), but don’t have Miami’s depth. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara should be able to shut down Jarvis Landry and co., but Tannehill will most certainly target inconsistent safeties Landon Collins, Brandon Meriweather, and Craig Dahl over the top. For the G-Men, the drop-off from star players to overexposed depth is a steep one, especially in the secondary.
The Giants’ solid unit of kicker Josh Brown, punter Brad Wing, and snapper Zak DeOssie hit a rough patch last week, as Brown missed his first field goal of the season (a kick that would have extended overtime) and DeOssie injured his wrist. Veteran snapper Danny Aiken will take over for DeOssie. The Giants are good at limiting opposing returns, and Dwayne Harris ensures strong field position every time he gets the ball (2 returns for TDs this season). The Dolphins have a rookie kicker and punter this year in Andrew Franks and Matt Darr, but 36-year-old snapper John Denney is battle-tested. Return men Damien Williams and Jarvis Landry are big-play threats to be accounted for.
It’s uncanny, isn’t it? The Giants’ opponent always seems to have an overwhelming edge, but the G-Men fight their hardest, get a fourth-quarter-lead, and proceed to blow it in catastrophic fashion. At some point, you almost don’t believe what you’re seeing. But still, perhaps stupidly, I’m taking the Giants to beat Miami in what would be a season-saving victory. The Giants simply must win this game if they want to be a playoff team.
Prediction: 30-24 Giants (Record picking Giants games: 8-4).