Giants Preview

For the seventh straight year, the Vikings meet the New York Giants, but this is a Giants team that has completed its transition from the team that beat the Vikings 41-donut when they met at the Meadowlands in the playoffs. At 6-2, the Giants have become one of the favorites in the NFC and they look to remain unblemished at home and keep the dream alive of a matchup of the Manning brothers in Super Bowl XL.

For a team that doesn't play in the same division as the Vikings, no team has a more consistent and persistent non-division rivalry than the Giants. This year will be the seventh straight season that the Giants will appear on the Vikings schedule. Despite their own ups and downs, the Giants have beaten the Vikings each of the last three years at the Metrodome and the last time they met at the Meadowlands was the infamous 41-0 game that was the beginning of the end for the Vikings of that era.

The Giants that the Vikings face Sunday is a much different Giants team than the Vikings have faced in recent years. The biggest difference in the 6-2 Giants of 2005 is the development of Eli Manning as a quarterback. After struggling as a rookie, Manning has shown tremendous growth. He is on pace to throw for 3,600 yards and 28 touchdowns. He has thrown just five interceptions and has a passer rating of 84.3. He has made the Giants a two-dimensional threat that doesn't have to rely on the running game.

When the Giants choose to run, they can dominate time of possession. Tiki Barber is still one of the game's premier backs and is averaging five yards a carry, despite carrying the ball 20 times a game for a 95-yard average. He is a breakaway threat who can take any run the distance and is also dangerous as a receiver but isn't used nearly as often in that capacity anymore. Joining him in the backfield is 255-pound rookie bowling ball Brandon Jacobs. He is a short-yardage back, who like Barber, has scored five rushing touchdowns. When the Giants get in close, there is little reason to risk throwing an interception when Jacobs can finish off drives. He has just 26 carries this year, but five of those have crossed paydirt.

When Manning first started at midseason of 2004, he had little rapport with his wide receivers. He went almost exclusively to Jeremy Shockey, who the Vikings are going to be forced to key on since he's on pace for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns and matches up well against a Vikings defense that has surrendered 10 touchdowns to tight ends this season. But Shockey is far from the only weapon. Free agent signee Plaxico Burress, who was all but run out of town in Pittsburgh, has come into New York and led the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He's on pace to catch 90 passes for 1,300 yards and 10 scores. Also in the mix is former No. 1 receiver Amani Toomer, whose numbers are down, but is still contributing three or four receptions a game – giving Manning more weapons at his disposal.

Perhaps the most underrated improvement on the Giants has been their offensive line. A decimated group last year due to injuries, the front wall of tackles Luke Petitgout and Kareem McKenzie, guards David Diehl and Chris Snee and center Shaun O'Hara have become a foundation for the offense this year. The oldest member of the line is Petitgout and he's just in his sixth season. If they stay healthy, this group could be together for the next four or five years. Not only have they opened holes to put the Giants on pace for a 2,000-yard rushing season and 20 rushing TDs, they've allowed Manning to get sacked just 12 times. If they give Manning protection from the Vikings defensive front, it could be another long road trip for the Vikings, who have been outscored 133-34 on the road this season.

While the offense has showed tremendous improvement, the defense has maintained its slot as being one of the best in the league. Up front, the Giants are led by defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. While everyone knows of Strahan's sack prowess – he already has 6.5 sacks this year – Umenyiora is a new name to many casual fans. In just his third year out of Troy State and an incredible talent with good speed and athleticism, he has the speed to drop in coverage with tight ends and backs as well as the speed to rush the quarterback – he has six sacks to his credit this year as testament to that. On the inside, the Giants have third-year man William Joseph, who has been something of a disappointment after being a first-round pick, and Kendrick Clancy, a free agent signee who has never been a full-time starter for an entire season in his six-year career. The Vikings' primary objective will be to attack the middle of the defensive front, because Strahan and Umenyiora are going to give Mike Rosenthal and Bryant McKinnie all they can handle.

The G-Men will find themselves shorthanded at linebacker with Carlos Emmons not expected to play. The underrated LB corps of the Giants includes MLB Antonio Pierce, a free agent signee from the Redskins and Nick Griesen, a fourth-year man who, like Pierce didn't become a full-time starter until midseason of last year. Taking Emmons' spot will likely be second-year man Reggie Torber, a player the Vikings might target with passes to Jermaine Wiggins. If the Giants have a weakness heading into this game, it would be here and the Vikings will likely try to exploit the short zone – where Brad Johnson likes to throw anyway.

The Giants secondary is also going to be shorthanded. Just as the Vikings lost starter Fred Smoot with a broken collarbone, the Giants won't have Will Peterson, who is out with a back injury. In his place will be second-year man Curtis Deloatch and rookie Corey Webster. This could create some favorable matchups, as the Vikings will likely to attack either of them than test fifth-year man Will Allen too often. While he doesn't have any interceptions, his coverage skills are very good and many opponents have shied away from throwing his way too often. At the safeties, the Giants have 12-year veteran Brent Alexander and second-year man Gibril Wilson. The two are both big hitters and solid in run support, but can be burned over the top. The Giants have surrendered more than 2,000 yards in the air thusfar this season – 250 yards a game – and the combination of age on Alexander which has caused him to lose a step and the inexperience of Wilson could be something the Vikings try to exploit – especially with Peterson sidelined.

Oddsmakers have made the Giants 10-point favorites for good reason. They've won every home game they've played this year and the Vikings have been crushed in all four of their road contests. For Minnesota to win, the team will have to play a perfect game and, with the skills the Giants bring on both sides of the ball, that will be a very difficult goal to accomplish.

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