While our calendars have shifted to 2016, the NFL is just entering the prime of its 2015 season now. While the playoffs are right around the corner, there will be no more football for the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles, two teams with 6-9 records on the outside looking in. The season is finally over for these two after Sunday, and there will be sweeping changes for both of these organizations in the coming months. Their Week 17 matchup is on Sunday at 1:00 on FOX.
Eli Manning’s strong statistical 2015 season hit a bit of a rut last Sunday Night in Minnesota. While his numbers are still elite on the season (4,134 yards, 33-14 TD-INT rate, 63.1% completion percentage, 93.6 passer rating), it’s anyone’s guess which Eli Manning will show up any given Sunday. Usually it’s the two-time Super Bowl MVP version, but a cold, blustery day in the Meadowlands could have any quarterback shaking in his boots. Eagles fans generally love or hate Sam Bradford; a middle ground is practically nonexistent. But while Bradford’s numbers don’t look outstanding (3,405 yards, 17-13 TD-INT rate, 64% completion percentage, 84.6 passer rating), he is sneaky-good QB. The Giants can’t afford to give Bradford too much time, otherwise he could easily exploit a battered Giants secondary.
On paper, this seems like a mismatch. The Eagles have DeMarco Murray, the 2014 NFL rushing champion to partner with former 1,000 yard-rusher Ryan Matthews, 3rd-down-back extraordinaire Darren Sproles, and speedy Oregon graduate Kenjon Barner. The Giants have underrated Rashad Jennings to start, but only impatient Andre Williams, underutilized Shane Vereen, and inconsistent Orleans Darkwa as depth. But it’s the Giants who shockingly have the advantage at the running back position in Week 17 due to a couple of key things: ball security and overall momentum. Whereas the Eagles’ RBs have fumbled 5 times and struggle to find a clear-cut starter (Murray has been a colossal failure) , the Giants have only fumbled once and have finally found a hot hand in Rashad Jennings (262 rushing yards in the last 3 weeks).
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The Eagles are so pass-heavy that they don’t even carry a fullback, instead electing to have 3 wideouts or 2 tight ends on every snap. Jordan Matthews is having a standout year (78 receptions, 943 yards, 6 TDs), but he gets little support from his wide receiving brethren. First-round pick Nelson Agholar has been a bust, Riley Cooper doesn’t utilize his large stature to his advantage, and Josh Huff didn’t see enough touches under ex-head coach Chip Kelly; the Eagles hope that this changes under Pat Shurmur. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek command attention from defenses though (combined 91 receptions and 5 TDs). The Giants will rely heavily upon Odell Beckham Jr., who should be fresh coming off of his suspension. Against the Eagles’ flimsy secondary, impending free agent Rueben Randle, slot man Dwayne Harris, and tight end Will Tye need to have big days in order to provide space for Beckham.
The Giants and Eagles both have incomplete O-Lines at this point in time. For Big Blue, it’s clear that Ereck Flowers is a keeper, Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg are studs, and the right side is nonexistent. Meanwhile, the Eagles have some solid veterans in Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, but they are beginning to lose a step. Lane Johnson is a nice right tackle, but generic backups Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin don’t get the job done at the guard spots. The Giants and Eagles both allow a lot of pressure on their quarterbacks, meaning it could be a long day for Eli Manning and Sam Bradford.
The Giants’ defensive line has really come alive of late, but it isn’t enough to save their season statistics or their reputation. Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers Jr. have just a combined 9.5 sacks on the season, but 7.5 of them have come in the last 5 weeks. Rotational ends Kerry Wynn and George Selvie have only 1.0 sack, and while Cullen Jenkins has been good in his 12th NFL season, he has no support from his fellow DTs. The Eagles’ big star on the D-Line is Fletcher Cox. His 9.5 sacks, 63 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles in 2015 could make him a rich man this offseason. Solid nose tackle Bennie Logan is injured; Beau Allen will start in his place. Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry have combined for 4.5 sacks opposite Cox. While neither team has a deep pash rush, Cox’s presence gives the Eagles a big edge.
Here’s a (not so) fun fact for the Giants: all 3 of their starting linebackers are on IR. Without Devon Kennard, Jon Beason, and J.T. Thomas III, the results of Giants’ LBs have been mixed. Jasper Brinkley has been surprisingly good at making tackles, but he is 30 years old. Jonathan Casillas, Uani ‘Unga, and Mark Herzlich have their moments as well but ultimately miss too many tackles and rarely apply pressure off of blitzes. The Eagles generate lots of sacks from their linebackers. Outside blitzers Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin have 12.5 sacks and are always in opposing quarterbacks’ faces. Inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Kiko Alonso have struggled opposite tackling machine Mychal Kendricks and injured Jordan Hicks. Still, the Eagles’ linebackers get more pressure, make more tackles, and are healthier than the Giants’ do, which gives them the edge.
Neither the Giants nor the Eagles are known for their secondaries. The Giants have strong starting cornerbacks in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara, but struggle with their depth. Trevin Wade mans the slot and has his ebbs and flows, while Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley’s small statures hurt them. The Giants haven’t had good safety play all year long, but 2nd-round pick Landon Collins has come on of late. Unfortunately, Brandon Meriweather is near the end of his career and backups Craig Dahl and Cooper Taylor are injured. The Eagles’ big defensive acquisition was Byron Maxwell, and he has failed miserably for Philadelphia. He is injured for Sunday anyway, which means that inexperienced corners Eric Rowe and Jaylen Watkins will have to stop Odell Beckham Jr. by themselves, which is a difficult task. Nickel back E.J. Biggers has been victimized this season as well. Safeties Walter Thurmond III and Malcolm Jenkins are ball-hawkers that Eli Manning will have to watch out for. With injuries ravaging both of these teams’ defensive backfields, we could be in for an offensive field day.
The Giants are going to have to use a third-string long snapper this Sunday in Tyler Ott, as Zak DeOssie and Danny Aiken have injured their hands. Ott will snap to consistent punter Brad Wing and reliable kicker Josh Brown, who have to be among the NFL’s best kicker-punter combinations. The Eagles have 2/3 of a solid unit of their own in veteran snapper Jon Dorenbos, and precise punter Donnie Jones, but strong-but-inaccurate kicker Caleb Sturgis holds the Eagles’ special teams back. Return men Dwayne Harris (NYG), Josh Huff, and Darren Sproles (PHI) have a combined 4 return TDs on the year and multiple big gains.
This is game that means nothing to either of these teams, but is a game that means everything to these teams. While the winner and loser is meaningless for the standings, the Eagles are trying to show that they can win without ousted head coach Chip Kelly and the Giants are attempting to save Tom Coughlin’s coaching bacon. Both the Giants’ and Eagles’ rosters are playing for their NFL careers on Sunday, which could turn a supposed “dud” game into a hotly-contested one.
Prediction: 30-17 Giants (Record picking Giants games: 11-4)