For the first time in a very long time, the New York Giants are in the NFC Playoff Picture. Currently slotted as the first wild card team (5th seed), Big Blue looks prime to strike. This week, they’ll match up against a dangerous adversary, the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Bengals are only 3-4-1, they have made the playoffs for 7 straight seasons and have a reputation as one of the NFL’s finest teams on the road.
Kickoff is set for 8:30 on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. At halftime, the Giants will induct modern heroes Tom Coughlin, Justin Tuck, and Ernie Accorsi into the team’s Ring of Honor, which will make Monday a very special night.
New York Giants: Offense
Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, Head coach Ben McAdoo showed off a new offensive attack, utilizing the deep ball and the running game more often. One of these changes worked better than the other.
Eli Manning found many of his receivers deep downfield against the Eagles, resulting in 4 passing touchdowns and almost 300 yards in the air. Odell Beckham Jr. was used both in the quick passing game and down the field, creating an impossible matchup for the Eagles to cover. His supporting cast also had a big day, as Manning effectively spread the ball around.
However, the running game remained stuck in neutral for the Giants. While it is true that the Giants’ offensive line usually fails to create large holes for the Giants’ running backs, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins have to make do with what they have and change up their running styles to gain yardage. If the Giants can finally figure out a way to kickstart the running game, they’ll be a complete offensive team.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offense
Head coach Marvin Lewis, in his 14th year as coach of the Bengals, knows the type of team he has. The Bengals are a vertical threat offense, led by stellar quarterback Andy Dalton, matchup nightmare A.J. Green, and elite tight end Tyler Eifert. What sets the Bengals’ offense apart from the Giants’ though, is their ability to effectively run the ball. Jeremy Hill is on pace for a 1,000 yard season with 10 scores, and backup Giovanni Bernard is a top pass-catching option and change-of-pace rusher.
But the entire Bengals offense goes through one man: A.J. Green. Green leads the NFL in catches, yards, and targets. Green is impossible to cover man-to-man given his 6’4″ frame and insane hands, but the Giants will have to be physical on him and mix in zone coverage to limit Green’s impact.
Green will undoubtedly have a good game on Monday night, but if the Giants can limit him to only one touchdown, they’ll have a chance to win.
New York Giants: Defense
The Giants showed signs of their old selves on defense last week against Philadelphia, sacking the quarterback twice, stuffing the run, and stopping three 4th down tries. The Giants seemed to miss less tackles last week than they had in earlier games, perhaps an indicator of future success.
To beat the Bengals on Monday night, the Giants will have to stick to their guns: a wall of a defensive line and some creative blitzes. This strategy worked against the Eagles, and is the only way the Giants can limit the role of A.J. Green. If they pressure Dalton from all angles, he will not be able to get the ball to the NFL’s most dangerous playmaker.
Cincinnati Bengals: Defense
The Bengals’ defense is fierce on paper, but has not played up to its potential yet in 2016. Cincinnati has a staunch front-7, including disruptive defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, and Geno Atkins, plus vicious tackler Vontaze Burfict at linebacker. The Bengals will be without their starting middle linebacker, Rey Maualuga, for Monday Night’s contest.
The secondary isn’t the strong suit for the Bengals, which could be an advantage for Eli Manning and his array of targets. However, if the Bengals’ vaunted front-7 terrorizes the Giants’ patchwork offensive line on Monday Night, Manning will have a hard time getting the ball to anyone.
New York Giants: Special Teams
The Giants have a solid unit of special teamers. Robbie Gould has been consistent since joining the Giants, Brad Wing is a good punter, and Dwayne Harris is a threat to run back kicks and punts.
Cincinnati Bengals: Special Teams
The Bengals have had the same special teams unit for a couple years,but it may be time for a change. Mike Nugent, the usually-reliable kicker, has already missed 5 field goals this season. Punter Kevin Huber is solid, but return men Adam Erickson and Adam Jones have yet to bust any big gainers on the other side of the ball.
Monday Night’s game is going to be a very close game won in the trenches. On paper, the Bengals have the edge with their playmakers, but the Giants are playing at home, on a winning streak, and with some old friends in the house cheering them on.
It’s going to be a toss-up, but I’ll pick the Giants to win on Monday Night, a rare occurrence for the G-Men.
24-20, Giants (Record picking Giants games: 6-2)