For the first time in a long time the last week of the NFL regular season won’t be the last week of football for the New York Giants. On the strength of a dominant defense, a six-game winning streak, and no fewer than 10 wins, the Giants have punched their ticket into the postseason.
But before they can go to the dance, they will have to travel down I-95 and complete their season series with the Washington Redskins.
Washington won the teams’ first meeting, but the Giants looked like the more talented team on the field — though they couldn’t stop themselves from letting the game slip away with bone-headed mistakes.
What will happen when the Giants go down to their house?
Will the Giants look past Washington?
The first time around was one of the Giants’ bet offensive performances of the season, putting up 27 points and 470 yards of offense. That, however, was early in the season when the team had everything to play for. This time the Giants have a post-season berth awaiting them, and this game is (technically) “meaningless.”
With the Giants’ impending road trip to a playoff team to be determined, what will their strategy be for Sunday evening? Will they shrink back even further into their shell? Playing a preseason like offense could help conserve players like Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., as well as any new or unseen wrinkles in their offense.
On the other hand, going into the postseason with momentum, even if psychological, does have value. We’ve seen that in both 2007 and 2011 when the Giants got white-hot at the end of the season, becoming a Big Blue buzz-saw. It would also give the Giants a chance to use new wrinkles in live play, which can’t be simulated in practice. However, that would also put them on tape for their competition.
The players have said that they’re playing, but how much and what style of football remains to be seen.
*Ding-ding*... Round 3!
I will only mention this once, and I do so to talk about something else, but this is the third time Odell Beckham will face Josh Norman, so we all know that it will be a major story line.
Back in Week 3, the much ballyhooed rematch between OBJ and Norman fizzled, as the Giants’ receiver toasted Norman, who followed him all over the field. That week Beckham caught seven passes for 121 yards.
At the time, the Giants’ receiver was under fire for not producing up to his usual standards. Since that game, Beckham has returned to his previous heights, entering week 17 with 96 catches for 1,323 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Beckham is three touchdowns and 127 yards away from tying his career highs. More immediately, no Giants receiver has lead the NFL in receiving yards since 1932. Beckham second in the league, just 30 yards behind T.Y. Hilton for that honor, but also 10 yards ahead of Julio Jones.
If the Giants come out punching on offense, we could see something that hasn’t happened for 84 years, and that is significant.
Will the Giants run the ball?
The Giants — amazingly — ran 88 offensive plays against the Philadelphia Eagles. However, only 25 of them were running plays. Paul Perkins carried the ball 15 times, Rashad Jennings 9, and Sterling Shepard had a single carry.
With a snap distribution like that it would be easy to assume that the Giants just couldn’t move the ball on the ground against Philly’s talented defensive front. But a look at the results says they could. Perkins averaged 4.5 yards per carry while Jennings averaged 4.9 yards per run. The production wasn’t consistent — there were runs for no gain or a loss of yards — but they were able to run the ball and sometimes rip off chunks of yardage.
Will the Giants lean on their running backs, trying to get them into a rhythm before the play-offs? The first time the Giants played Washington they managed 120 yards on the ground, but it was Shane Vereen (11 carries, 67 yards) and Orleans Darkwa (10 carries, 53 yards) who were toting the rock. Rashad Jennings was dealing with a thumb injury, and Paul Perkins wasn’t yet ready to take a role in the offense. Now, both Vereen and Darkwa are on the injured reserve while Perkins has emerged as the Giants’ best running back.
So, will the Giants commit to a run game, or will they resort to the quick passing game they have relied on most of the year? We’ll just have to find out.