Merry Christmas everybody! I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday break and got everything they wanted, but the NFL has got 16 more gifts for us still, and those are 16 key Week 16 games. One of the best games out of the bunch could end up being the New York Giants vs Minnesota Vikings matchup that you can see on Sunday Night Football on NBC. Here’s Overtime’s comprehensive game preview.
While the Giants will be without their top weapon, Odell Beckham Jr., on Sunday due to a suspension, don’t expect that to throw quarterback Eli Manning off of his game too much. Manning is having a fine statistical season this year (3,900 yards, 63.7 completion percentage, 32-11 TD-INT rate, 96.1 passer rating), and is always at his best when the Giants need him the most. His counterpart is Teddy Bridgewater, the 32nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Bridgewater has a great completion percentage (66.3%) and passer rating (90.4), but is still developing his touch on the deep throws (only 2,964 passing yards). His 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions suggest that Bridgewater still needs to improve as an overall passer, but his future is still bright nonetheless.
No one knew what to expect from Adrian Peterson in his return from a year-long suspension, but a rested Peterson has turned back the clock, posting his best season since his near record-setting 2012 (1,314 yards, 9 TDs). Second-year back Jerick McKinnon has the speed but needs more consistency. Surprisingly, Bridgewater is the Vikings’ second-leading rusher; he also has 3 rushing TDs. The Giants’ rushing attack got back into its groove after letting Rashad Jennings handle the bulk of the carries (Jennings has 181 rushing yards in the last 2 weeks). Backups Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa provide power and speed, respectively, but are a bit rough around the edges, and third-down back and pass-catching extraordinaire Shane Vereen could play a large role for the Odell Beckham-less Giants. Still, Peterson has an edge over most running backs in the NFL today, and the Giants will be hard-pressed to stop him.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The New York Giants’ wideouts are going to have a much different look on Sunday Night without the suspended Odell Beckham Jr. In his stead, big targets Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks are going to have to step up in the red zone, and slot man Dwayne Harris will need to use his speed to exploit the open field. Tight end Will Tye has played well the last couple of weeks, so look for Manning to target him heavily. The Vikings don’t have a traditional number 1 receiver, but they do have solid depth. Rookie Stefon Diggs and veteran Mike Wallace are legitimate deep threats that the Giants could find hard to cover, and tight end Kyle Rudolph is a favorite target of Bridgewater (team-leading 47 receptions, 4 TDs). Behind them, Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen are respectable options, and running back Peterson has 29 catches as well. If Beckham Jr. was playing, the Giants would have a big edge here, but his suspension costs the Giants dearly.
Neither the Giants nor the Vikings are known for their offensive lines, which could become X-Factors on Sunday. The Giants have a solid left side with rookie Ereck Flowers and stud interior linemen Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg. The right side, led by John Jerry and Marshall Newhouse, is a train wreck though. The Vikings lost star center John Sullivan and expensive right tackle Phil Loadholt in the preseason, and never really recovered. Center Joe Berger has been surprisingly good for the Vikings and there has been mild improvement from left tackle Matt Kalil, but Bridgewater is pressured on 47% of his dropbacks (per Pro Football Focus), an alarmingly high total. Both of these teams are embracing the rebuild in regards to their offensive lines.
The Vikings have a defensive line that excels at getting to the quarterback. The key player is right defensive end Everson Griffen, he of 8.5 sacks. Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter have combined for 9.0 sacks as well. The interior of the line stuffs the run exceedingly well, with ex-Giant Linval Joseph enjoying a solid campaign and young Shariff Floyd also providing pressure. The Giants don’t have that luxury on their injury-depleted line. Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers Jr. have provided steady production in the last couple of weeks, but still only have 7.5 total sacks. Kerry Wynn and George Selvie are good run stoppers, but they provide minimal pressure on opposing QBs (combined 0.5 sacks). DT Cullen Jenkins has 3.0 sacks, but ever since his partner Jonathan Hankins got injured, the Giants haven’t been as adept in the middle.
Minnesota made a steady effort to rebuild their linebacking corps over the last couple of years, and it has worked out well for them. Strong-side linebacker Anthony Barr has 61 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles, and rookie middle linebacker Eric Kendricks has 4.0 sacks and leads the Vikings with 76 tackles. Veteran weak-side backer Chad Greenway still has some gas in the tank as well. The Giants have a very depleted group of linebackers right now; they have missed Jon Beason and Devon Kennard, their two best LBs, for most of the season. Ex-Viking Jasper Brinkley has been serviceable in the middle, as have outside backers J.T. Thomas III, Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich, and nickel LB Uani ‘Unga. But “serviceable”doesn’t win games. The Vikings have the playmaking linebackers that the Giants need so badly which gives them the edge.
The Giants’ secondary is well-known for its ineptitude, even with star corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara trying their hardest (4 INT, 105 tackles). Depth corners Trevin Wade and Trumaine McBride have been punching bags for opposing QBs, as have safeties Landon Collins, Craig Dahl, and Brandon Meriweather. These guys just aren’t fast enough or good enough tacklers to merit respect from the opposition. Meanwhile, the Vikings have a young, speedy, hard-hitting secondary at their disposal. Veteran corner Terrance Newman has turned back the clock, first round pick Xavier Rhodes is a solid starter, Captain Munnerlyn is the slot man, and rookie Trae Waynes is still learning the ropes. Safety Harrison Smith is among the five best at his position, and Andrew Sendejo has 57 tackles and ably stops the run. The thing that separates the Vikings from the Giants in the secondary is their deep collection of talent, something that Eli Manning will have to be careful of.
Despite all the injuries to the Giants’ special teams corps, they have done a respectable job this year making tackles, and the trio of kicker Josh Brown, punter Brad Wing, and snapper Danny Aiken (replacing the injured Zak DeOssie) is steady and reliable. Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh has a big leg but is inaccurate (career 114-135, 84.4%). Punter Jeff Locke is nothing special, and Kevin McDermott is the rookie snapper. Both the Giants and Vikings have elite return men in Dwayne Harris (1 kick and 1 punt return TD) and Cordarelle Patterson (1 kick return TD).
The Giants and Vikings would match up quite well if Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t suspended. But with OBJ watching from home, the Vikings have an overwhelming edge. This game could finally be the kill shot to the Giants’ playoff hopes, bringing a disappointing season to its conclusion.
Prediction: 27-17 Vikings (Record picking Giants games: 10-4)