Just because it is Christmas Day that doesn't mean Ernie Palladino and I are going to change the schedule for our weekly roundtable. Here are Ernie's answers to our weekly questions. As always, mine can be found over at Ernie's Giants Beat.
1. OK, ask the question again. Do the Giants make the playoffs?
Ernie's Answer: First of all, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. And you should only hope the Giants don't go into that sweet good night after Sunday. Lose to the Panthers, and it would take a real Christmas miracle to get them into the playoffs. But realistically, I think they'll beat the Panthers, and then have a 50-50 shot to beat the Vikings. The way I figure it, both the Packers and the Cowboys are going to take a loss. But between the two, I believe the Cowboys have a better chance of losing than the Packers. And that might just come in their finale against the Eagles which, if I'm not mistaken, will be played at the same time as the Giants-Vikings game. Nothing like a nailbiting scenario on the last Sunday of the year, right? Now, the question is whether the Giants can beat the Vikes. In all likelihood, they'll need that game. But the Vikings could be playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, so they'll compete for real. What should give you hope is that Carolina just beat them, so why not the Giants? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the Cowboys open the door for them, and the Giants walk through it. And wouldn't you like to see Jerry Jones' face when that happens?
2. Was the pass rush that produced five sacks against the Redskins real, or was it a one-game mirage?
Ernie's Answer: You'd like to think that unit has turned a corner, but I'm reluctant to do so. First of all, they were going against a Washington line that had played well despite fielding seven different lineups. Common sense tells you that with that many changes -- they had their eighth different alignment going Sunday -- something was going to snap, and it turned out to be Jason Campbell's pass protection. The Panthers are in a similar situation with replacements at both tackles, and the right tackle, Geoff Schwartz, is making only his second start this week. They do, however, pick up the blitz a lot better than the Redskins, and quarterback Matt Moore does a good job of moving around in the pocket. So I'm not anticipating a duplication of last week's effort. However, if they can charge the "A" gap like they did against the Redskins, guys like Jonathan Goff and Justin Tuck might be able to get sufficient pressure on Moore to force him into some mistakes. That would be just as good as sacks. I'm not that confident that Osi Umenyiora is going to get to Moore as he got to Campbell for three hits and a sack, but you never know. He's probably tired of getting pushed around all year.
3. The offense has put up 30 or more points in four of the last five games. Is it Eli, or is it Gilbride?
Ernie's Answer: Oh, it's Eli. Gilbride can call all the plays he wants, but unless Manning puts the ball on the money, his receivers aren't going to have a chance to catch it. And Manning has been on target if he's been anything these past few games. In four of the last six games, his quarterback rating has been 111.5 or higher, and the last two have been close to perfect. In the two games against Philadelphia and Washington, he's gone 46-of-64 for 659 yards and six touchdowns against no interceptions. That's elite throwing, right there. And that's despite Manning seeing a lot of pressure from the Eagles' pass rush. Now, let's give Gilbride some credit here for smoothing out that run-pass ratio that was so lopsided earlier in the season. That always helps to keep defenses honest. And it has become invaluable in the offense's effort to move the ball downfield and get that Red Zone scoring up. It's no coincidence the Giants ran 31 and 30 times those two games, while Manning passed 38 and 26 times. But again, if Manning hadn't been as accurate as he has despite December weather that has always proved vexing to him, the offense would not be operating at the efficiency it is now.
4. How shocking would it be if Carolina wins Sunday?
Ernie's Answer: I wouldn't be shocked. Maybe mildly surprised. This has been such an up and down season that the Giants could well come out flat despite the historic nature of the game (the final Giants game at Giants Stadium) and the playoff implications. We've seen it happen before this season. Plus, they haven't won back-to-back games since the five-game win streak that started the season. But I'm not really expecting that. Between all the factors involved, I believe the Giants will crank it up and put on a strong showing and jump to 9-6. And then they'll louse it all up in Minnesota to finish 9-7 and, probably, out of the playoffs.