Last Wednesday, when the NFL flexed the New York Giants upcoming game against the Cleveland Browns to Sunday Night Football, Big Blue had won four in a row. They owned first place in the NFC East, and appeared to be headed for the postseason. The Giants had more positive momentum than they’ve had in three years.
Now, just nine days later, the Giants have fallen out of a playoff spot. Their young starting quarterback Daniel Jones sustained his second injury in three weeks, putting his availability into serious question. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett tested positive for COVID-19, meaning tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens will call plays against Cleveland. Top cornerback James Bradberry was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, forcing him out of the Browns game as well. New York’s season outlook is bleaker than it’s been in over a month.
Such is life in the fickle NFL. A week’s worth of action can completely upend the mood of a fanbase. On the bright side, the Giants are merely one good Sunday away from being in the playoff picture. If they beat the Browns, and the Washington Football Team loses to the Seattle Seahawks, they’ll move back into first place in the NFC East. A Washington loss isn’t hard to imagine, but a Giants victory is a bit more far-fetched.
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Jones sprained his ankle while already playing through a pulled hamstring last week against Arizona. He was a limited practice participant on Wednesday, and Thursday’s practice was cancelled due to Garrett’s positive COVID-19 test. The second-year quarterback isn’t yet ruled out for Sunday’s game, but it’s unlikely the Giants start him considering how compromised he looked last week. Backup Colt McCoy looks poised to get his second start of the season. Throw in Bradberry’s absence, and New York will arguably be missing their most valuable player on both offense and defense.
Cleveland, on the other hand, will enter Sunday having won six of their last seven games. They lost an instant-classic shootout to the Baltimore Ravens Monday night, but have really turned a corner offensively the last couple weeks. The Browns have scored over 40 points each of their last two games, with quarterback Baker Mayfield throwing for a combined 677 yards and six touchdowns. If Cleveland can even approach that type of production Sunday night, the Giants 31st-ranked offense will have no chance of keeping up.
Here’s an overview of everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game, followed by a prediction for the finals score.
Where and When
MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday at 8:20 p.m. EST/5:20 p.m. PST
Cleveland: TE Austin Hooper (Questionable), WR KhaDarel Hodge (Questionable), C J.C. Tretter (Questionable), CB M.J. Stewart Jr. (Questionable), DT Larry Ogunjobi (Questionable), CB Kevin Johnson (Questionable), OT Jack Conklin (Questionable), OG Wyatt Teller (Questionable), CB Denzel Ward (Questionable), S Andrew Sendejo (Questionable)
Most Concerning Matchup: WR Jarvis Landry vs. S Xavier McKinney
The Giants have been getting by with little to no cornerback depth all season. On Sunday, that lack of depth could finally rear it’s ugly head. Landry, Cleveland’s top receiving threat, operates largely from the slot. Darnay Holmes, the Giants’ starting slot corner, sat out last week with a knee injury and is likely to miss this game as well. With Bradberry out, New York won’t have an outside corner worthy of travelling with Landry, which means that McKinney will man the slot much like he did last week.
Landry is one of the best pure route runners in football, so New York’s rookie safety could be in over his head. McKinney showed solid coverage chops for a safety at Alabama, but shadowing elite NFL slot receivers is asking a lot. The Giants can’t afford to allow McKinney to take Landry one-on-one much at all, so they’ll have to send him help in the form of bracket coverage or double teams. That could leave the rest of Big Blue’s back end more exposed than usual.
Most Promising Matchup: TE Evan Engram vs. SS Karl Joseph
The Browns’ major, and perhaps only, weakness right now is their secondary. Their safety play has been particularly underwhelming all season. Joseph has struggled this year as Cleveland’s starting strong safety, earning a paltry 50.5 overall grade per Pro Football Focus. At only 5’10”, he’ll be at a size disadvantage against the 6’3″ Engram.
As inconsistent as he may be, Engram is still the Giants’ most dangerous offensive playmaker. He was practically invisible against Arizona last week, but his matchup this week is too advantageous for New York not to try to exploit. If Kitchens wants to have success in his Giants playcalling debut, he’d be wise to get Engram singled up against Joseph as much as possible.
Keys to Victory
This one’s going to have to get ugly. Assuming McCoy starts, the Giants need to find enough success running the ball to sustain drives and keep possession for at least half the game. They’ll need to hit on a few calculated deep passes to exploit a Browns defense that will surely be stacking the box.
On defense, stopping the run is paramount. That’s easier said than done against this potent Browns rushing attack. If New York can sufficiently accomplish that, then maintaining discipline against screens and playaction bootlegs will go a long way towards curbing Cleveland’s offense. Without the injured Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns don’t have a deep passing game to be overly concerned with.
Final Score Prediction: Browns 24 – Giants 13
Whether New York has McCoy or a hobbled Jones at quarterback, this offense will be hard-pressed to score 20 points. Myles Garrett and the rest of Cleveland’s pass rush is a difficult challenge for Big Blue’s young offensive line, and the Giants don’t have the receiving talent to take advantage of the Browns’ sub-par secondary.
New York’s inability to string together first downs will overexpose this Giants defense. Ulitimately, they’ll let up a few touchdowns despite their best efforts.