Let’s look at some things to watch for on Sunday
The New York Giants enter a Week 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals with an opportunity to win the NFC East that they may or may not deserve. Let’s look at some of the key storylines leading up to Sunday’s game.
Meaningful November football? What’s that?
Sterling Shepard is the only Giants’ draft pick remaining on the roster who has been in a playoff game. Aside from Shepard, you can argue that no Giants’ draft pick on the roster — or any young player on the roster, for that matter — has ever played in a meaningful NFL November or December football game. Not one with the Giants being able to have at least a sniff of the playoffs.
Despite being 3-7, in the woeful NFC that is the position the Giants will be in this Sunday when they face the Cincinnati Bengals. They are a half-game behind the 3-6-1 Philadelphia Eagles. The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football Team, who face each other on Thanksgiving Day, are 3-7. Win Sunday and the Giants could find themselves with a share of the division lead with five games to play.
Deserved or not, that is reality. How will the Giants handle it?
“It’s a unique opportunity for us,” said tight end Evan Engram, one of those playoff-race newbies. “When it’s meaningful football and the playoffs are involved, everybody’s, like I said, sense or urgency goes up. For me, it’s different being here the last three years in the situations that we’ve been in. I know it’s different for a lot of the young guys that are here that are just coming into the league and getting their opportunity to play meaningful football. Like I said, our motivation right now is getting better each and every day and attacking each opportunity going into the week, like we have now going against Cincinnati. But it is a special opportunity that a lot of guys are ready for.”
The Giants are 5.5-point favorites, per the latest odds from SBD. It’s a game they should win against the Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon-less 2-7-1 Bengals. It’s one of only two games remaining on their schedule against a team with a losing record, the other being Week 17 against Dallas.
As the graphic above shows, Football Outsiders actually lists the Giants as the favorites to win the division. Sunday game against Cincinnati is one the Giants HAVE to win if they are going to make that happen.
That ‘must-win’ scenario is one many of these Giants have never faced before. Let’s see what they do with it.
Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow is out for the season after tearing an ACL and MCL last week against the Washington Football Team. That’s a bummer, even if — on paper — it makes the Giants more likely to defeat the Bengals on Sunday. I mean, admit it, you know you were looking forward to watching Burrow play, while hoping he didn’t play well enough to win Sunday’s game.
Brandon Allen will start for Cincinnati. No offense to Allen, but his family might be the only ones who really want to watch him play.
The Giants this week designated rookie safety Xavier McKinney (fractured foot) and edge defender Oshane Ximines to return from injured reserve. Coach Joe Judge said both players “have a chance” to be active for Sunday.
Giants fans will be particularly excited if McKinney, the team’s second-round pick, finally gets to make his NFL debut. The Giants thought McKinney could be a difference-maker for them in the back end of their defense.
Impact of coaching change
Much of the past week has been spent dissecting Judge’s decision to replace offensive line coach Marc Colombo with Dave DeGuglielmo. It’s a midseason move that is hardly unprecedented in the NFL, but it does carry uncertainty for a largely young offensive line that has improved in recent weeks.
Judge said Monday that the Giants are “not going to do anything to turn the offense upside down right here.”
Still, DeGuglielmo’s will be a different voice players are hearing. How will they react to it? Will their performance continue to trend upward?
John Schmeelk of Giants.com and yours truly had an interesting discussion about the offensive line on a recent ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast. The full episode is below, and our offensive line back-and-forth begins at the 19:30 mark. Give it a listen.
The Giants have four players — placekicker Graham Gano, tight end Kaden Smith, offensive tackle Matt Peart and wide receiver/punt returner Dante Pettis — on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Gano, who has made 21 of 22 field-goal attempts this season with his only miss coming from 57 yards, would be the biggest loss if he doesn’t clear the league’s COVID-10 protocols in time for Sunday’s game. He was the first of the four players to be placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, if he tests negative might be the most likely to be active on Sunday.
“A couple of the guys will [have a chance to play] not based on just the timetable the league puts us in. There are going to be a couple of those guys who will have an opportunity, not just because the timetable allows them to have the opportunity,” Judge said. “We still have to go through the week and the progression of where they are physically, how they handle the ramp up period, if the doctor clears them, all that good stuff there. The answer is yes and no. Some will have an opportunity to play, some will not.”
Peart has been rotating at tackle, mostly taking some snaps at right tackle from Cameron Fleming. The blocking of Smith, the No. 2 tight end, has helped the Giants improve in the running game. Pettis, recently claimed on waivers, was inactive last Sunday in his first game with the Giants.
If Gano can’t kick, the Giants will go with 25-year-old Ryan Santoso. He handled kickoffs in three games last season for the Tennessee Titans, but has never kicked a field goal or extra point in an NFL game. Santoso punted for four season in college at Minnesota, but did not handle placekicking duties after his sophomore season.
“Ryan’s a guy who has a huge leg, he’s shown a tremendous amount of improvement since he’s been here. It’s a unique skillset that he does all three, field goals, kickoffs and punts. He’s shown a lot of improvement in all three phases,” Judge said. “We have a lot of confidence in Ryan. He’s definitely a developing player. I think he has a big upside in this league for a long time, I really do. I’m pleased he’s been in our program and we’ve been able to hold onto him through this point. I’m really pleased with the work Tom and T-Mac have done with him. If he’s got to go, we have a lot of confidence he will be able to go out there and do the job effectively.”