Heading into 2016, the New York Giants were tied for 30th in strength of schedule rankings, giving them one of the easier schedules in the NFL. The schedulers were not as benevolent this year and the Giants are tied for 8th in strength of schedule, giving them a significantly tougher path to the playoffs. Here are the three games that I am most excited to watch.
Last season, the Giants-Cowboys games were some of the closest of the year. Terrence Williams failing to get to the boundary in Week 1 and the Giants’ defense clamping tight on the Cowboys’ offense in Week 14 were two of the defining moments of these games. The games figure to be just as good this year, despite the losses Dallas took in the offseason.
Must-see TV individual matchup: CB Janoris Jenkins vs WR Dez Bryant
These two scrapped and fought last year, with Jenkins getting the better of the matchup in both contests. Bryant was held to just 2 catches for 18 yards in the two games against the Giants. Jenkins had a pick in the Week 14 game, forced a fumble on Bryant and broke up a pass intended for Bryant that likely would have extended a potential game-winning drive for Dallas. Instead, Jenkins’ play ended the game. These two took the battle to Twitter in the offseason. Jenkins followed up that tweet with this bold proclamation. Jenkins is confident he can replicate his 2016 performances while Bryant is out for blood. This should be a good one.
Key overall matchup: Giants run defense vs Cowboys rushing offense
Dallas ranked 2nd in the NFL in rush offense in 2016. The Giants tied for 3rd in the NFL in rush defense in 2016. The Cowboys had the NFL’s leading rusher of 2016, Ezekiel Elliot. The Giants had the NFL’s best run-stuffer of 2016, DT Damon Harrison. Something’s got to give. The Giants held Elliot to just 51 yards on 20 carries in the first meeting. In the second meeting, Elliot totaled 107 yards on 24 carries but only had 21 yards on nine carries in the second half. The Giants run defense was able to contain him, likely the key to their two victories over the Cowboys last year. Dallas lost tackle Doug Free to retirement and guard Ronald Leary to free agency, while the Giants lost DT Johnathon Hankins to free agency. Replacing these players will go a long way towards determining who comes out on top in 2017. Can the Giants replicate their defensive performances?
The Giants and Broncos did not meet in 2016. They both boasted top-5 scoring defenses, two of the better secondaries in the league and underwhelming offenses. While this would likely be one of the more low-scoring games of the year, it has the potential to be one of the most interesting.
Must-see TV individual matchups: WR Odell Beckham Jr vs CB Chris Harris Jr, WR Brandon Marshall vs CB Aqib Talib
Beckham is one of the best wide receivers in the league. Harris is one of the best corners. Via PFF, Harris has allowed the fewest yards over the past five years. In his first three seasons, Beckham has compiled at least 1300 yards and 10 touchdowns. Harris gained fame for talking trash after the Super Bowl in earshot of Cam Newton. It will be interesting to see if Beckham can keep his composure when going up against Harris, who will play extremely tight coverage on him. Beckham has never played a corner as good as Harris. I expect this matchup to be like Josh Norman vs Beckham, minus the fireworks. This will be one of the best receiver-corner matchups of the year.
Marshall vs Talib will be equally interesting. Both are big, strong players who use their physicality to win individual matchups. Marshall and Talib are both trash talkers so expect some fireworks from this matchup. Talib made the top-10 corners list via NFL.com and at times, quarterbacks would have been better off throwing to the sidelines then throwing at Talib. Marshall brings production to the table, with eight 1,000-yard seasons and four double-digit touchdown seasons. You can bet that all four of these players have their eyes on this Week 6 matchup in Denver.
Key overall matchup: Giants offensive line vs Broncos pass rush
The Broncos ranked 4th in the NFL in sacks in 2016. The Giants’ two offensive tackles, Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart, were two of the worst offensive tackles in the league. Quarterback Eli Manning was frequently under pressure last season and was never truly comfortable with his blind side, likely a contributing factor in all those turnovers.
The Giants will have to find a way to block LB Von Miller and LB Shane Ray. If they are turned loose, they could wreck this game open and render the Giants’ playmakers on offense useless. The Giants may have to utilize newly-signed blocking specialist and tight end Rhett Ellison as an extra pass blocker against these two. If the Giants can keep Manning upright and comfortable in the passing game, they will likely win this game. Even against the Broncos stingy pass defense, there are simply too many weapons on the field for the Giants offense. Pay close attention to this matchup when the Giants go to Denver. This kind of game will show us how much the Giants offense has improved, if at all.
Must-see TV individual matchup: DE Olivier Vernon vs LT Trent Williams
Williams was the best left tackle in the league hands-down. He only allowed 16 pressures in 12 games and had PFF’s highest offensive lineman grade. Meanwhile, Vernon compiled the most pressures from the right side, with 142 via PFF. Vernon went up against Williams in Week 17 last year and was held without a sack. However, he sat for most of the second half, via Bleacher Report. So, we have yet to see these two go up against each other at full capacity. Look closely at this matchup when these two teams meet on Thanksgiving night. The winner of this matchup will have a large impact on his team’s success.
Key overall matchup: Giants’ secondary vs Redskins’ pass offense
Don’t be fooled by the Giants’ pass defense ranking 24th in the NFL. They had two corners, Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ranked in the top-10 on PFF’s rankings- the only other team to have this honor was the Denver Broncos. Eli Apple was no slouch for the Giants either, giving them three good to great corners. The Redskins’ pass offense ranked 2nd in the NFL last year and gave the Giants trouble the first time they met. While they lost DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder seems ready to step up and take his place. The Redskins added Terrelle Pryor in the offseason, a big, physical receiver who had a 1,000 yard season on a terrible Cleveland Browns team. Add in tight end Jordan Reed and this offense should be just as dangerous this season. Jenkins against Pryor is a great matchup and to make things better, they had a Twitter beef of their own last year after the Giants beat the Browns. The Giants’ safeties will also be tested, as Jordan Reed can really stretch the field. Going up against all these weapons will show us if the Giants deserve their ‘New York Pass Defense’ moniker.
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