Although the calendar shifts to 2017 tomorrow, the NFL season will still be in its final stages of the 2016 season on New Year’s Day. As for the New York Giants, they’ve clinched a playoff spot, their first since 2011, as the 5th seed. However, the notion that Big Blue has nothing left to play for is far from true; the Giants have to continue to tune up the team for the playoff push.
Sunday’s contest against the Washington Redskins will have significant meaning for the host Redskins, who sit at 8-6-1 and can make the playoffs with a victory over the Giants. Thus, the Redskins will pull out all the stops with a potential trip to the postseason at stake.
Kickoff is set for 4:30 on FOX on Sunday.
New York Giants: Offense
Through 15 games, the Giants still have yet to put out a complete offensive effort. Eli Manning has decent numbers, but he has been wildly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Despite Manning’s struggles, he has no shortage of quality targets to throw to. Odell Beckham Jr. has turned in perhaps his best overall season after a slow start (he needs just 4 catches to reach 100 receptions on the season), and Sterling Shepard is a legitimate weapon in the slot, as his 8 touchdown catches can attest. Even Victor Cruz has shown some signs of life lately, hauling in 8 catches for 84 yards against the Eagles last week.
But to give Manning the balance he so desperately needs offensively, the Giants will need to stick with the ground game and run the football. Paul Perkins has been a breakout star over the past few weeks, and has allowed Rashad Jennings more rest, which has benefited both of the Giants’ running backs.
It’ll be up to the Giants’ offensive line to create holes and to protect Manning on Sunday, something that has been a tough task this season.
Washington Redskins: Offense
The Washington Redskins are a streaky team, but their offense is firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs. Kirk Cousins has dramatically improved his game this season, throwing both short and deep with tremendous accuracy, reducing his interceptions and boosting his reputation as a top quarterback. Of course, Cousins has one of the NFL’s finest collections of targets at his disposal, including vertical threat and matchup nightmare tight end Jordan Reed, as well as wideouts Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, and of course, DeSean Jackson.
Cousins has been at his best though when the Redskins’ power running game has been trucking, as it has for most of this year. Robert Kelley has been a true diamond in the rough, compiling 671 rushing yards and 6 scores after signing as an undrafted free agent. The Redskins have a mean offensive line that creates holes for Kelley, and few are better at shedding tacklers with brute force than “Fat Rob”.
New York Giants: Defense
While the Giants’ offense remains a work in progress, the Big Blue defense has been the major factor in the Giants’ playoff push. The Giants’ defense has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the NFL (24) and has playmakers at every level of the field.
The defensive line will still be without Jason Pierre-Paul, but Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Jonathan Hankins have more than picked up the slack. The linebackers have gelled together in a 4-man rotation, and the secondary has 15 interceptions on the year to go along with 92 pass breakups, the second-best total in the NFL.
Perhaps the best part of the Giants’ defense this year has been its resiliency on “goal-to-go” situations; the Giants are only allowing an average of 4.42 points in those scenarios and only give up touchdowns 47% of the time when backed up. Both of those stats lead the NFL.
Washington Redskins: Defense
To partner with the Redskins’ high-powered offense, the defense has taken leaps forward this season. The Redskins have 37 sacks on the season, 7th-best in the NFL. They have also forced 21 turnovers, including 13 interceptions.
The Redskins are a very fierce tackling team. Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy, and Perry Smith are hard-hitting linebackers, and veteran safeties Will Blackmon and Donte Whitner can still force fumbles with the best of them. In the secondary, the Redskins boast a top 1-2 punch of shutdown corners in Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland.
Norman has not done a particularly good job of actually covering Odell Beckham Jr. whenever they’ve faced off, but his teams have won both games, giving Norman the ultimate edge in the highly-publicized feud.
New York Giants: Special Teams
It’s official: the Giants have a dominant group of special teamers. Robbie Gould is a battle-tested kicker, Brad Wing is one of the league’s top punters at nailing balls inside the 10-yard-line, and Dwayne Harris and Odell Beckham Jr. are threats to go the distance whenever they have the ball. Harris even has 12 special teams tackles, the leader of a unit that has yet to allow a return touchdown.
Washington Redskins: Special Teams
The Redskins aren’t too shabby on special teams, either. Dustin Hopkins has missed 7 field goals this year, but most of those misses have been from beyond 50 yards. Punter Tress Way gets the job done, and return men Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder are dangerous (Crowder has a punt return TD this season).
When looked at on paper, the Giants and Redskins are pretty evenly matched. The Redskins have a better offense, but the Giants have a superior defense. The Redskins will be playing for their lives, while the Giants seemingly have nothing to lose. However, the Giants do not want to coast into the playoffs on the heels of two divisional losses and will not rest their starters.
Maybe it’s just a hunch, but I don’t think the Giants go down without a fight. It will be close, but I think the Giants can win this game under the right conditions.
27-23 Giants (Record picking Giants games: 10-5)