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It's make or break time for the Giants

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Neil Reynolds | 10:57 UK time, Thursday, 3 December 2009

The NFL playoffs begin on Saturday January 9 and BBC Radio 5 live sports extra will chart every step on the road to the Super Bowl with our commentary teams bringing you the action each weekend from the United States.

For the New York Giants - the preseason Super Bowl favourite of many pundits, myself included - the playoffs begin this weekend when they take on the Dallas Cowboys in a must-win game being called live by the BBC duo of Darren Fletcher and Greg Brady from 2100 on Sunday.

That may sound like a rash statement with five weeks remaining in the regular season, but the Giants have got themselves into a bit of a pickle. After opening the year with five straight wins (albeit against fairly weak opponents), they have lost five of their last six encounters and are two games behind the Cowboys in the ultra-competitive NFC East. If they lose on Sunday, the Giants will be three back with four to play.

That makes this a fascinating encounter and means I will be following the game very closely on Sunday, even though I have a rare weekend off from the studio.

The widely-held belief is that the Giants have lost their identity, particularly on offense. That is true, to some degree. They have certainly forgotten that 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs is a defensive end-sized battering ram who should be used to to power through the tackles.

The Giants should be running Jacobs a great deal in order to wear down the defence with his strength. That was their approach when they finished fourth in rushing during their Super Bowl season of 2007 and when they led the league in rushing last term. But Jacobs has just 23 carries in the past two games and most of those have been to the outside, which does not suit his skill-set.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin has been let down by Eli Manning and Brandon Jacobs this seasonGiants coach Tom Coughlin is yet to see Eli Manning and Brandon Jacobs hit the heights of the 2007 season

But it is not a simple case of running the ball more. While some of New York's play-calling has been questionable, the offensive line has also been a real problem. Even though it features the same guys who dominated the league in 2007 and 2008, that unit is just not getting enough push up front. Too often, Jacobs is getting trapped in the backfield and he is finding very little running room.

That might explain why the Giants are attempting to run outside more and have taken to the aerial attack with greater frequency than in previous years.

Talking of the passing game, it would be wrong to point to the loss of Plaxico Burress as the reason the Giants are floundering. The receiving corps of Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks has been one of the few consistent strong points this season.

Eli Manning has struggled with a nagging heel injury that just will not go away. He insists he is fine but even Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has admitted his star passer is not right. Eli has not been stepping down on his injured foot as he throws and that can mean passes float all too easily off target. That is not good news when you play in the often-windy Meadowlands of New Jersey.

And Manning's injury is not about to get any better. In fact, it has worsened in the past few days. By sub-consciously protecting his injured heel, Manning has developed a stress reaction in a bone in his right foot. He is now, according to team doctors, in real danger of suffering a stress fracture that would end his season.

David Carr has a lot of starting experience from his time with the Houston Texans but it is fair to say the drop-off at the quarterback position would be huge if Manning were to be sidelined for the remainder of the year.

The recent slump is not all down to the offence. The guys on the defensive side of the ball have to hold their hands up as well. New York once had the most feared pass-rush in the business - just ask Tom Brady from the Super Bowl a couple of years back.

The Giants felt they had added strength to that unit when they spent $58 million on the pairing of Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. The result has been just one sack. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiawanuka can also be a quarterback's worst nightmare but they have a combined four sacks in the last six weeks.

That is simply not good enough, particularly as the Giants are struggling in the secondary and have also lost their emotional leader at middle linebacker in Antonio Pierce.

This is a team that has not carried out the basic tasks that Coughlin insists upon - toughness, good blocking, taking care of the football and making solid tackles on defence. And it is a club extremely low on confidence. The Giants have lost the swagger and physicality that seems to have been a hallmark of the team for years.

But all is not lost. The Giants are one game out of the NFC playoff spots behind the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. And they have three important NFC East match-ups in a row as they take on Dallas followed by the Eagles and the Washington Redskins.

And those divisional match-ups will mean a great deal to Giants players and fans alike. Given the geographical spread of the 32 teams in the NFL, there are very few derby games like we enjoy in the Premier League. Of course, the Giants are one of the few exceptions as they share a stadium with the New York Jets, although the clubs rarely meet as they play in different conferences.

So the divisional meetings take on the feel of the traditional derby games we would be used to here in the UK. And the Giants-Cowboys rivalry is one that has been running ever since the Cowboys entered the NFL in 1960. The two franchises have a glittering history, combining to win 12 NFL Championships (Giants 7, Cowboys 5), with eight of those coming in the Super Bowl era.

There is no love lost between the players, the fans enjoy a 'healthy' rivalry and with so much at stake and with New York's season hanging by a thread, this should be a fierce, hard-hitting battle. It certainly needs to be just that if the Giants are to have a chance of keeping their season alive.

Game of the Week

See above.

Prediction: Dallas Cowboys 28, New York Giants 24

You can catch live commentary of a big NFL game every Sunday at 2100 GMT on BBC 5 live sports extra throughout the season. (Available on the web to UK users only).

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I put their problems down in large part to their drubbing down in the Superdome. They've never gotten over that. Not sure why, but since then it's their defense especially that has been way short of its effectiveness of the previous couple of years.

    The NFC East though is going to be decided by who won't choke. The Cowboys they have choking down to an art; the Eagles have serious injury problems; and the G-men are low on confidence.

    Which is why so much hangs on Sunday's game... my bet is that it will be scrappy as hell, and the Giants will edge it 16-13 to keep the East a three-way race.

  • Comment number 2.

    Let's Go Cowboys!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    I think even though mathematically they have a playoff chance, this is not going to be this season. I honestly don't think that they have the capacity to score the required points to beat people like the Cowboys, who are beginning to find their stride.

    It will be unfortunate but that's football.

  • Comment number 4.

    As a Giants fan I am optimistic about this game I just feel that the turn-around point is about to come. They would probably be 7-4 except for a silly call against San Diego.

    At home to the cowboys I believe they will get back on track and if they do get going they are one of the best in the league.

    However this is a must win match for New York.

    Prediction: New York Giants 20 Dallas Cowboys 17

  • Comment number 5.

    Neil, spot on. A loss for the Giants and it's time to say goodbye. This is a beat up team, in the same way as the Steelers are going through the mill right now. The difference is Big Ben's concussion is a quick fix hopefully. Eli's played hurt for too long and risks a long term injury if he stays out there. Coughlin's got no options, so that's why he's there. As for the Cowboys, I just cannot see them winning the big one with Romo. Eli's big bro and Drew Brees hold the keys to the trophy cabinet right now. The Saints looked every bit the real deal on Monday and will rock the Louisiana Dome with home advantage all the way. I have never seen a team throw so many formations at New England - big Bill was in a tailspin. A hot sunny final in Florida is all Sean Payton needs.

  • Comment number 6.

    Cowboys are a damn good team they just have a sorry coaching staff. they beat there self agiant the gaints, gaints should'nt have even been in the game.

  • Comment number 7.

    I can't believe how far the Giants have fallen since 2007/08. I wonder how much the off field antics of some of the players has affected the team as well.

    Even if the beat a poorish Cowboys team i don't think they are going to get into the playoffs. The eagles will beat them next week, and i fancy the Eagles to face the Saints in the NFC decider.

    Neil, i would be interested to hear your take on whose going to make the wildcard games and who you think is going to go all the way. This year has thrown up a lot good games and potential Superbowl champions. Aside from the Colts/Saints and Vikings you couldn't rule out the Eagles, Steelers (barring any more injuries) or even the Packers going all the way.

    I think most peoples money is on a Colts/Saints superbowl and if so that could be the shoot out to end all shoot outs. But i can't help thinking that i would love to see the Vikings finally win the big one.

  • Comment number 8.

    The reason the NFC East is so ultra-competitive is that there are 3 franchises of the same calibre, i.e. mediocre-to-good, inconsistent and weaker than last year.
    This being the case, my G-men have a good chance of beating the Cowpeople, but I fear they´re mentally not up to it. This has been a horrible season strewn with injuries, a total lack of continuity and very little good fortune. Oh and the stars have not delivered.

  • Comment number 9.

    PSFeen (#7)- I'm officially ruling the Packers out, with or without official powers! C'mon, really? In any event, I don't think Rodgers can take a full play-off schedule worth of Packer "protection", and still appear in Florida physically intact! It would be a blessing in disguise if they ventured no further this year and dealt with that horrible o-line during off-season.

    But agree with your inclusion of the Vikings as Super Bowl contenders, both as a realistic and romantic option. Likewise 'dem Saints, particularly where they've come from after Katrina, when the franchise nearly sunk into the bayou with the rest of Louisiana.

    Neil - Great piece on the Giants' fall from grace and long may it continue. I thought they were punching above their weight by getting their name on the trophy in 2007 - The Pats blew it. I echo calls for your views on the wild-card race. If I had money to burn, I'd put in on the 49ers to sneak in, particular given their outside/overlooked odds. Only partial biasm here, but just look at their remaining schedule...

  • Comment number 10.

    I'd like to revise some of my above predictions and say only that the Cleveland Browns will enjoy a restful new year.

  • Comment number 11.

    Indeed, after that weekend of football i'm glad i'm not a gambler as i would have lost a packet over the weekend. What has happened to the Steelers, its madness, has any defending superbowl team ever looked as poor the following season. Great result for the Giants but i still can't see them beating the eagles next week.

  • Comment number 12.

    @psfeen

    the Tampa Bay buccaneers. who interestingly enough are currently locked into a 3-way battle for the number 1 draft pick with Cleveland and St. Louis.

    may be something to blog about Neil?

 

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