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December 18, 2016

 Coming off their Week 14 Sunday Night Football victory over the Dallas Cowboys, 10-7, the New York Giants face another big test as they look to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Detroit Lions (9-4, 1st NFC Central) travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants (9-4, 2nd NFC East) in a game that has important implications for both teams in the NFC playoff picture. This game will start at 1 pm Eastern, carried over much of the nation on Fox and on DirecTV CH 12. Fox’s #1 team will be on hand at a chilly, and likely rainy, MetLife Stadium with Joe Buck on the call, Hall-of-Fame QB Troy Aikman serving as his long-time analyst, and Erin Andrews on the sidelines. Detroit leads the all-time series between these two old NFL franchises, 22-20-1.

The Giants currently slot as the NFC’s #5 seed, and project as a Wild Card in the NFC playoff picture. With their second win of the season over Dallas (by a combined 4 points), the Giants clinched their first winning season since 2012, and remained alive in the NFC East pennant race. Now owning the head-to-head tiebreaker by the sweeping the season series, the Giants trail the Dallas Cowboys (11-2) by two games, with three to play. In a complete turn-around from a year ago, the Giants continue to win close games – behind their defense. The Giants’ rebuilt defense permits only 18.8 pts/game (7th in the NFL) and seems to gel more and improve each week, even with DE Jason Pierre Paul’s (7.0 sacks) untimely regular-season ending sports hernia surgery. New York has recorded 16 sacks over the last four games, led by DE Olivier Vernon (8.0 sacks) and SS Landon Collins, who has 5 INTs, five tackles for loss, three sacks, and a fumble recovery. Last week, undrafted rookie DE Romeo Okwara stepped in for JPP and placed tremendous pressure on Cowboys’ rookie QB Dak Prescott; Okwara registered a sack, a tackle for loss, and three quarterback hits. 

Here’s what remains on Big Blue’s regular season docket (all times Eastern):
Sun, Dec 18th vs. Detroit, 1 pm
Thu, Dec 22nd at Philadelphia, 8:25 pm (Thursday Night Football)
Sun, Jan 1st at Washington, 1 pm

Winners seven times in their last eight games, the Giants will face Detroit QB Matthew Stafford (66.7%, 3447 yards, 22 TDs, 7 INTs) at MetLife, outdoors and in the elements. Stafford sustained an injury to the middle finger of his right hand – his throwing hand – in last week’s 20-17 come-from-behind win over the Chicago Bears. The injury negatively affected Stafford’s velocity and accuracy against the Bears; with the finger injury, plus the cold, wind, and wet outdoors, Stafford may be hard pressed to move the ball down the field. The Lions, who rank 29th in the NFL with only 83 yards/game on the ground, face another week of leading rusher Theo Riddick (wrist; 357 yards, 3.9 yds/carry) out of the lineup, and will run into a hot New York defense. The Giants only allow 92 yards/game against the run, ranking 8th in the NFL.

On offense, the Giants have still not scored more than 28 points in a game this season. New York still ranks a paltry 31st in the NFL with only 78 rushing yards/game. QB Eli Manning (62.9%, 3290 yards, 23 TDs, 13 INTs) has turned the ball over 17 times this season. On top of his 13 INTs, #10 has fumbled seven times (four lost), including a bizarre play last Sunday night against the Cowboys where he dropped the ball as he began his throwing motion. Manning has accounted for 17 of the Giants’ 24 turnovers. If the Giants protect the ball, they should be in good shape. The Lions have set an NFL record this season with eight come-from-behind victories; they lead the NFC North by two games with three to play. This game figures to be close based on how these teams have operated all year, with a slight advantage to the Giants, as the Lions play their home games indoors. Playing outdoors in mid-December should factor in somehow in New York’s favor. The Giants get it done on cold and wet day, and run their record at home to 7-1. Big Blue, 24-13.

Elsewhere in NY football:

New York Jets (4-9, 4th AFC East). On Saturday night, the Jets play the first game of the weekend at MetLife Stadium, with an 8:25 pm Eastern start against the Miami Dolphins (8-5, 2nd AFC East). This game will be carried nationally by NFL Network, with Mike Tirico on the call with former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL QB, Doug Flutie. The Jets lead the all-time series of these long-time AFL/AFC rivals, 53-48-1.

In a 26-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, Dolphin QB Ryan Tannehill injured his left knee, spraining the ACL and MCL. Luckily, he will not need surgery, but he will also not play in game crucial to Miami’s playoff hopes. Veteran QB Matt Moore, who relieved Tannehill against Arizona, will start against the Jets; Moore was 3-for-5 for 47 yards and led the game winning FG drive against the Cards. Moore has 25 starts in his 13-year career, with 13 wins. But, he has only thrown 16 regular season passes over the last four years, and has not started since 2011, the year before Miami drafted Tannehill.

The Jets impressively rallied on the road against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, winning 23-17 in OT behind a career performance from RB Bilal Powell. Filling in for starting RB Matt Forte (792 yards, 3.7 yds/carry, 7 TDs), who injured his knee in the first quarter, Powell ran for 145 yards and 2 TDs, including a 19-yard game winning, walk-off TD with 8:25 remaining in overtime. It was the first time in the Jets’ history that New York won an overtime game on a running play. 

QB Bryce Petty had his good and bad moments during his first career start. He threw for 257 yards, with 0 TDs, and 1 INT. He did grow more confident as the game progressed, going 8-for-12 for 88 yards in the fourth quarter, and linked up with WR Robby Anderson on a 26-yard pass play in OT that setup Powell’s game winning TD. K Nick Folk drilled a 50-yard FG with :38 remaining in the fourth quarter to send the game into OT.

Miami will travel north into the uncomfortable cold environs of MetLife Stadium on Saturday night. With their backup QB going, look for the Jet defense to stuff Miami’s Jay Ajayi (956 yards, 4.9 yds/carry, 7 TDs) and force Matt Moore into predictable passing situations. Miami allows 133 yards/game on the ground, 30th in the NFL, and the Jets will take advantage of it. The Jets will do enough on offense, and inflict damage on Miami’s postseason aspirations. Jets, 26-17.
Buffalo Bills (6-7, 3rd AFC East). After a 27-20 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, the Bills return to action against the Cleveland Browns (0-13) in a 1 pm Eastern Sunday start at New Era Field in Orchard Park. This game will be season regionally on CBS, and on DirecTV CH 705. Tom McCarthy will have the call, supported by former NFL Safety, Adam Archuleta. 

The Browns are down to their last three games, looking to avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the second team in NFL history to go 0-16. Last week, Cleveland’s QB carousel spun back to season’s original starter, Robert Griffin III. Griffin only managed 104 yards passing in a 23-10 loss to Cincinnati, threw an interception, and was sacked three times. Browns’ Head Coach Hue Jackson said Griffin will start again this Sunday. RB Isaiah Crowell rushed for 113 yards on 10 carries vs. Cincinnati, and as one of the bright spots for the Browns this season, he has accumulated 1,017 total yards (718 yards, 5 TDs on the ground). 

The Browns are now the 7th team since 1962 to start an NFL season 0-13. The 2016 Browns join the aforementioned 2008 Detroit Lions, the 1980 New Orleans Saints, 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2011 Indianapolis Colts, 2007 Miami Dolphins, and 1962 Oakland Raiders. After the Bills, the Browns face the San Diego Chargers at home on Christmas Eve, and finish the season at the Pittsburgh Steelers on New Years’ Day.

Rumors continue to swirl about the future and job status of Bills’ Head Coach Rex Ryan. With the team’s fifth loss in seven games last weekend, the Bills are almost ensured of not making the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season. Ryan, 14-15 in his two years with Buffalo, would likely have to win out to save his job – and that may not even seal his return. There is a narrative in the Bills’ organization that the team’s talent continues to underachieve, placing a heavy burden, and potentially unattainable expectations, upon its coaching staff.

RB LeSean McCoy (976 yards, 5.2 yards/carry, 10 TDs) will run with abandon, and QB Tyrod Taylor (60.6%, 2520 yards, 13 TDs, 6 INTs) will keep his job from slipping away to former Ohio State standout, Cardale Jones – at least for one more week. The Bills will win 34-13, move to 7-7 and set up the last two games of the season – home against Miami on Christmas Eve, and at the Jets to close out the regular season on New Years’ Day.

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