Happy Veterans Day weekend to everyone out there, and hope everyone gets to say "thank you" to someone who has served -- for me, it's great to back and blogging after six months, serving abroad in support of our great Nation.
The NY Football scene here in November, now at Week 10, certainly looks different than we would have imagined it back in the preseason. The Giants are as dysfunctional as we have seen them in several decades, coming off last weekend's embarrassing 51-17 loss at home to the surprising Los Angeles Rams. New York is 1-7 for the first time since 1980, and last week allowed more their most points at home since a December 1964 game at Yankee Stadium against Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns -- let all of that sink in for a minute. Back to the here and now, there is discord in the locker room, leaks throughout the media, General Manager Jerry Reese and second year coach Ben McAdoo are under scrutiny, and with that as a backdrop, the 1-7 Giants limp out to San Francisco to play the rebuilding 49ers, who are 0-9.
Historically one of the great rivalries in the National Football League, this game will mark the first time since 1984 that two teams will meet in Week 10 or later, with a combined one victory. Thinking back to the '80s, '90s, and the 2011 NFC Championship Game, it is difficult to believe that the once proud Giants and 49ers have only one combined win in mid-November, but that's where we are. The Giants lead this all-time series, 16-15, and the two franchises are square at 4-4 in the postseason.
This game will be a 4:25 pm Eastern start at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The game will be televised regionally on FOX and on DirecTV Channel 715. Veteran play-by-play man Chris Myers will have the call, with former Dallas Cowboy Daryl "Moose" Johnston as his analyst partner, with support from Laura Okmin on the sideline. This will be the Giants' first ever game at Levi's Stadium, which opened in 2014. The Giants last played in San Francisco on October 14, 2012, less than nine months after defeating the 49ers in the 2011 NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park. The Giants won that 2012 game, 26-3.
Entering this game, the two teams have a combined 34 players on Injured Reserve (IR). The Giants are expected to return a few key players to the lineup this week, including RT Justin Pugh (back), LB Jonathan Casillas (back/neck), DE Kerry Wynn (knee), and DE Oliver Vernon (ankle). Vernon has been out the last four games for Big Blue; both he and Casillas are listed as Questionable. The Giants will also return CB Janoris "Jackrabbit" Jenkins to the lineup after his one-week suspension. The Giants will be without LBs Devon Kennard (quad), Kennan Robinson (quad), and B.J. Goodson (ankle). During the week, the Giants re-signed LB Kelvin Sheppard (who started 16 games for them in 2016, plus the playoff game in Green Bay); Sheppard may immediately be inserted again as a starter at Middle Linebacker. That certainly illustrates the desperate straits that the Giant defense finds themselves in entering this weekend.
On offense, the Giants do have a few bright spots, led by TE Evan Engram (34 receptions, 412 yards, 4 TDs) and RB Orleans Darkwa (67 rushes, 345 yards, 5.1 yds/carry, 1 TD). Look for the Giants to line up with two tight ends against the 49ers and feed Darkwa the ball. QB Eli Manning (63.2% completion, 1820 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs) will look often to Engram and second-year WR Sterling Shepard (23 catches, 333 yards, 1 TD) who returned last week, and was one of the few beacons of hope in the debacle vs. the Rams.
Unlike the Giants, San Francisco planned to be in transition-mode this year with a new General Manager in former Tampa and Denver safety, John Lynch, and a first-year Head Coach in Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan last served as Atlanta's Offensive Coordinator in their run to Super Bowl LI last season. For San Francisco, their most interesting storyline is the recent acquisition of QB Jimmy Garropolo from the New England Patriots. HC Kyle Shanahan indicated this week that C.J. Beathard (50.9% completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs) will start for San Francisco. However, Garropolo did have his first full week of practice, and it is hard to imagine that he will not find his way into the lineup soon. RB Carlos Hyde (124 rushes, 494 yards, 4 TDs; 40 receptions, 268 yards) serves as San Francisco's most potent offensive weapon system.
How I view it: the Giants appear to be in complete disarray, but they will right the ship and get a win in San Francisco. The Giants will have enough playmakers return on defense to place pressure on Beathard, or even Garropolo. Look for the Giants to establish the run with Darkwa, and for #10 to effectively move the ball downfield to Engram, Shepard, and WR Tavarres King. It will not be artistically beautiful, but the Giants will come out on top and win their second game of a disappointing 2017 campaign -- let's call it Giants, 23-17.
Meanwhile, the New York Jets (4-5) return to the field ten days after we last saw them soundly defeating their AFC East rivals, the Buffalo Bills, 34-21 on Thursday Night Football (November 2nd). On the periphery of the AFC Wild Card race, the Jets will travel to the west coast of Florida to take on another disappointing and underachieving football team in the 2-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets are 10-1 all-time against Tampa Bay, have won the last eight in this series; the NYJ are 3-1 in Florida against the Bucs.
This game will be a 1pm Eastern start at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It can be viewed regionally on CBS and on DirecTV Channel 706. Veteran football and basketball play-by-play man Kevin Harlan will have the call, supported by his long-time analyst partner, former NFL QB and MVP, Rich Gannon, and from the field by Otis Livingston.
For the Bucs, QB Jameis Winston will not play, as he was recently shut down after an MRI revealed damage to his throwing (right) shoulder; he is out at least for the next two weeks and maybe much more as this season continues to spiral downward for second-year Tampa HC Dirk Koetter. In Winston's place, the Jets will face an old friend in QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick takes the reins for a Tampa team that has been unable to establish a running game, whose defense cannot get off the field on third down, and has failed to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Tampa's top WR, Mike Evans, will not play as he serves a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness, after hitting Saints' CB Marshon Lattimore in the back.
For the Jets, RB Matt Forte (knee) is out. Look for RB Bilal Powell (83 rushes, 390 yards, 2 TDs) to take on the bulk of the workload this week in the backfield, with support from rookie RB Eli McGuire (61 rushes, 237 yards, 1 TD). DE Muhammad Wilkerson (toe/shoulder), CB Morris Claiborne (foot), and RG Brian Winters (abdominal) all practiced this week and are expected to play.
QB Josh McCown (70.4% completion, 1980 yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs) will work the ball down field to a depleted receiving corps. WR Jeremy Kerley's recent four-game suspension for PED use, coupled with a practice injury sustained by WR ArDarius Stewart, leaves the Jets with only three healthy wideouts -- led by WR Robby Anderson (31 catches, 483 yards, 4 TDs) and WR Jermaine Kearse (31 catches, 380 yards, 4 TDs). TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a former Buc claimed by the Jets off waivers in September 2016, leads the NYJ with 33 catches, for 221 yards, and 3 TDs.
How I view it: this may be a tricky spot for the Jets in Florida. The two veteran QBs -- McCown for the NYJ and Fitzpatrick for TB -- have combined to play for 15 different teams in their careers. That speaks to their resilience, perseverance, and ability to lead teams. Fitzpatrick, who started 27 games for the Jets in a strong 2015 season and a more disappointing 2016 season, knows both squads well and it would not be surprising to see Tampa play better under his steady hand, than Winston's. The Jets are better rested and get some key players back on defense. If they can run the ball early and establish some control on the offensive side of the ball -- in any way similar to their effort against Buffalo ten days ago (41 rushes, 194 yards, 3 TDs) -- they'll seize control of the game. But, if they let Tampa hang around and gain momentum, this could turn sideways. We'll stay positive here with the Jets, NYJ 27-20.
Hot Stove Baseball. The Yankees managerial search continues to be the number #1 topic as the Stove now starts to simmer. The Yankees have now interviewed Joe Girardi's long-time Lieutenant and bench coach, Rob Thomson. On Friday, they interviewed former Cleveland Indian and Seattle Mariner pilot, Eric Wedge. The big news here is that the Yankees will now look to also interview 2003 ALCS hero, Aaron Boone, an baseball ESPN analyst -- and maybe also former Cubs and Red Sox C (and Dancing With the Stars headliner), David Ross. Ross is also an ESPN baseball analyst. It will be interesting to see where this goes....late last week, the Mets picked up an $8.5 M option on IF Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera, who turns 32 in November, hit .280 with 14 HRs and 59 RBIs for the Mets in 2017 and has been a key part of the Met infield over the last two years with his ability to play 2B, SS, 3B and mentor young players.