The New York Giants enter the final quarter of their season with much loftier hopes than when it started. Big Blue came in to the year with a rookie head coach, a second-year quarterback, and the NFL’s worst combined record over the previous three seasons. Modest improvement was all that could reasonably have been expected. And yet, thanks to a stunning mid-season turnaround, the Giants find themselves in playoff position as the NFC East leaders.
With the Washington Football Team hot on their heels for the division, the G-Men still have plenty of work left to secure their first postseason berth since 2016. They’ll begin their critical season-closing four-game stretch against the Arizona Cardinals, their second consecutive NFC West opponent. Just a few short weeks ago, this matchup would’ve seemed to heavily favor the Cardinals. Arizona was 6-3, coming off a last-second victory over the Buffalo Bills that featured a spectacular game-winning play from their young, burgeoning quarterback and their star wide receiver. Now, with the Giants having won four straight and the Cardinals having lost three straight, these teams sit just a game apart from each other.
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This game is hugely important for Arizona as well, as they’ve fallen just outside of the playoff picture. They need to break their losing streak as soon as possible to snatch back an NFC wild card spot.
Aside from playoff implications, the major selling point of this game is the duel between second-year quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones. There’s still a slight chance Jones, who missed last week’s game in Seattle with a strained hamstring, won’t play. He did take first-team reps during the Giants’ Thursday practice, so odds are he’ll reassume his starting role on Sunday. Murray had been a dark horse MVP candidate earlier this season, but his play has tailed off dramatically after seeming to injure his right shoulder in Week 11. Jones had been playing well before his injury two weeks ago. It’ll be fascinating to see how these young quarterbacks fare in a meaningful December game.
Here’s an overview of everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game, followed by a prediction for the final score.
Where and When
MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST/10:00 a.m. PST
Arizona: WR DeAndre Hopkins (Questionable), LB Isaiah Simmons (Questionable), RB Kenyan Drake (Questionable), S Jalen Thompson (Questionable), LB De’Vondre Campbell (Questionable), S Charles Washington (Questionable), DT Rashard Lawrence (Questionable), CB Johnathan Joseph (Questionable)
Most Concerning Matchup: WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. CB Darnay Holmes
Holmes has exceeded any and every expectation that could possibly be placed on a rookie fourth-round pick. The UCLA product won the starting slot cornerback position out of training camp and has steadily improved with each game. His quickness has been a great foil for the typical slot receiver, who’s usually of the smaller, shiftier sort.
Fitzgerald, though, is not your typical slot receiver. The future Hall of Famer doesn’t have the speed he once did. He’s still every bit of 6’3 and 218 pounds. That kind of size could pose problems for the rather diminutive Holmes. A lack of size was a major reason Holmes, standing at 5’10 and weighing 195 pounds with relatively short arms, was moved to the slot from the outside cornerback position he played in college. He could be in tough fighting above his weight class against Fitzgerald on Sunday.
Most Promising Matchup: CB James Bradberry vs. WR DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins has taken on an outsized role in Arizona’s offense in his first year with the Cardinals. The former Houston Texan is the third most targeted receiver in the NFL this season, with nearly twice as many targets as Arizona’s number-two receiver Christian Kirk. The Cardinals’ reliance on Hopkins means neutralizing him will go a long way towards neutralizing their entire offense.
Fortunately for the Giants, they have just the man for the job. Bradberry has had an All-Pro worthy year, curtailing the production of number-one wideouts on a weekly basis. The former Panther has allowed a 58.7 completion percentage and 40.75 yards per game, according to Pro Football Reference. If Bradberry can effectively take Hopkins out of the game on Sunday, Murray will have to find other ways to cook up a successful passing attack.
Keys to Victory
Remember the game plan that worked so well against Seattle? Run it back this week, but with a few minor tweaks. The Cardinals and Seahawks are very similar offensively, as both have undersized, mobile quarterbacks that love to throw the ball downfield. The Giants’ defense can probably employ fewer two high-safety looks, as the Cardinals don’t have the deep threats Seattle does. But the focus should still be on limiting explosive plays and keeping Murray contained in the pocket.
On offense, a run-first approach will control the ball and capitalize on the momentum New York’s offensive line has built of late. Jones coming back in for Colt McCoy at quarterback will give the passing attack greater possibility, but the Giants should focus on establishing their ground game to assert dominance in the trenches, much like they did last week.
Final Score Prediction: Giants 27 – Cardinals 23
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has earned the respect to believe he’ll come up with a solid plan to contain Arizona. It’ll be up to New York’s offense to score in the mid to high twenties to secure the victory. With Jones back, and with Arizona having a middle-of-the-pack defense, there’s enough reason to think they’ll do so.