FLORHAM PARK, NJ - The battle for New York begins Sunday afternoon and although the players don't particularly care about some imaginary trophy for football supremacy in the City they are well aware of the fact that many fans are treating this game as such. More importantly for both teams, both teams need this win, badly, to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Jets have the better record at 6-5 but are stuck in a five-way tie for the Wildcard spots, with no hope of winning the division, while the Giants, because they play in a horrendously bad division, are tied for the lead in their division and would only make the playoffs by winning said terrible division. We all remember what happened the last time this scenario presented itself, Victor Cruz took a short slant for 99 yards and a touchdown for a Giants win which sent the Jets season straight into the sewer and propelled the Giants not only to the playoffs but to becoming Super Bowl champions yet again.
Jets fans are hoping beyond hope that this time the tables turn and it's their team that pulls off the victory that can spring them into the playoffs (let's just start with the playoffs and not get too far ahead of ourselves with any Super Bowl dreams). On Sunday one fan base will own bragging rights for the next four years and feel good about their playoff chances and the other will quickly shift into seasonal depression.
WHEN: Sunday Dec. 6, 2015 1 pm EST
WHERE: MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, NJ
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Shut down ODB - Odell Beckham Jr. (and yes I know he hates the ODB nickname but I will always only refer to him as ODB and I say that with nothing but respect) has been the main topic of conversation all week long and for good reason, he's the Giants best player. But also he's the Giants only real offensive weapon. Eli Manning has completed 274 passes for 2,918 yards this season with 72 of those catches (26 percent of all catches) and 1,005 of those yards (34 percent of all receiving yards) going to ODB.
With Cruz out for the year the Giants have struggled to find a reliable second option in the passing game. They were hoping it would be Rueben Randle but he just hasn't stepped up to the challenge and while he's still capable of a big performance out of nowhere (seven catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 versus Washington) the Giants continue to be frustrated by his inability to get on the same page as his quarterback. Randle has 40 receptions for 511 yards and four touchdowns on the season but he only gained more than 50 yards in a game four times this season (51 yards, 55 yards, 68 yards and the 116 performance).
Because of the limited weapons for Manning, both his tight ends are injured as well, ODB is the only weapon that scares opposing defenses and their putrid rushing attack (87.2 yards per game at 3.7 yards per carry) doesn't help. The Jets will be without Darrelle Revis, robbing us of a spectacular matchup, and might also be without Marcus Williams but that shouldn't matter too much as the Jets weren't likely to leave ODB to be covered one-on-one anyway. They will just roll the coverage to bracket ODB and take him away and force Manning to use Randle, Dwayne Harris and Will Tye beat them.
Push Eli off his spot - The Giants offensive line has not been good this year. It appears they will get some reinforcements back as Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg look like they will return to the lineup but they will still have their hands full with the Jets defensive front. Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Leonard Williams will always be a challenge for any offensive line and with the Jets finally adding some speed off the edge with the likes of Lorenzo Mauldin and Mike Catapano they should be able to pressure Manning and rattle him.
It's always important to pressure any quarterback but even more so with Manning. If you can push him off his spot, so that he can't stay in the pocket and step into his throw history has shown us he can be rattled and throw passes, off his back foot, up for grabs. Rush Manning and force his hand and it usually works out well for the defense, allow him to get comfortable and he will carve a defense up regardless of who he's throwing to.
Balanced offense - The Giants have the worst ranked passing defense in the league (giving up 309 yards per game at 7.9 yards per attempt) and even though Ryan Fitzpatrick had his best game of the season last week the Jets must not get carried away with the passing game. It will be awfully tempting for Fitzpatrick to try to pass to Brandon Marshall or Eric Decker on every play but they can't lose sight of their running game.
The running game has yet to get back to the dominating level it was at in the beginning of the season but the Giants still allow 110.5 rushing yards per game at 4.0 yards per carry. Chan Gailey has talked about having a balanced offense all season, and for the most part has done an excellent job of achieving that goal, but it has occasionally slipped away from them. Sometimes the score dictated they shift away from the run but they can't let that happen on Sunday either. The Jets will have the opportunity to pass on the Giants defense but they need to get Chris Ivory back into a rhythm and let him wear down the Giants defense.
Win turnover battle - This is another obvious key to any game but it's even more important this week. As bad as the Giants defense has been at giving up yards they have been great at forcing turnovers. The Giants defense is tied for creating the second most turnovers in the league with 22. The good news is the team they are tied with is the Jets. As we've seen the games that the Jets control and win with relative ease they have also won the turnover battle, when they lose the turnover battle they tend to lose the game. This is true of most teams, in most games , but with both Fitzpatrick and Manning turnovers tend to come in bunches and neither of these teams are likely to survive losing the turnover battle.
Shane Vereen - Jets fans are all too familiar with Shane Vereen's work. The running back has been one of the best receiving backs in the NFL over the years. The Giants signed him this offseason hoping he would contribute like he did when he was with the Patriots, but while Vereen is their third leading receiver (40 receptions for 342 yards) it doesn't feel like he's been as impactful as they were hoping. Sunday would be a great time for him to make that impact felt and we all know the Jets tend to struggle against quality receiving running backs.
The goals for the Jets defense goes, in order, takeaway ODB, pressure Manning and don't let Vereen slip through the cracks.
Devin Smith - We've talked about how few weapons the Giants have outside of ODB, well the Jets are only a little better off. Marshall has had almost the same exact season, statistically speaking, as ODB. Marshall has 71 receptions (one less than ODB) for 931 yards (74 less yards than ODB) and they both have nine touchdowns. The Jets have a much better running game, when it gets rolling, and their number two receiving option is much better and more reliable than Randle (Decker has 51 receptions for 700 yards but also has eight touchdowns), but the Jets have failed to find a consistent third receiving option for Fitzpatrick.
Quincy Enunwa has contributed in a huge way as an extra blocker in the running game but hasn't been able to do much as a receiving target. The Jets have had success with using their running backs in the passing game but oddly haven't gone to that well enough (they should start doing that more). Last week they finally had Devin Smith step up to make two big catches, including one for a touchdown. Yes, it was only two catches but with Marshall and Decker they only need a handful of plays from Smith. Just enough to take advantage of defenses focusing on Marshall and Decker and make the Giants worry about him as well.
PREDICTION: Giants 24-23
So, I understand that you might be confused looking at that prediction after reading the article. The article sure strikes a tone where you might assume I was going to pick the Jets and normally you would be correct to think that. But last week I picked the Dolphins saying I thought the Jets were the better team and should win but I needed to see them play an all-around good game and win before I pick them to win another game. Well the Jets did exactly that and now I'm forced into the same spot as last week.
Again I think the Jets are the better football team (they are better at every position except quarterback and even that can go either way depending on the week) and they should win this game but I know the history of these two teams too well to pick the Jets. I think it will be a close game but I think somehow, some way, the Giants will find a way to win and the Jets will find a way to lose. I have no idea what that way will be but I need to see the Jets win, a game of this magnitude, against the Giants before I fall for the same trap again.
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (email@example.com)