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Giants vs. Chiefs, Week 8: 4 storylines for Monday Night Football matchup

Who will or won’t play for the Giants, and more things to consider before Week 8 game with KC

New York Giants v New Orleans Saints
Saquon Barkley
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The New York Giants face a tall task on Monday as they head to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs. Here are four storylines to watch during the week.

Is the cavalry coming?

Running back Saquon Barkley has missed two games, and most of a third with an ankle injury. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay has missed two games with a knee injury. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney missed Sunday’s game vs. the Carolina Panthers with an ankle injury. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard has missed three of the last four games, including last Sunday, with a hamstring injury.

That quartet arguably makes up the four best playmakers the Giants have on offense to support quarterback Daniel Jones. Could any of them be back in the lineup on Monday night?

The Giants decided not to place Barkley or Golladay on IR, which requires missing at least three games, after their Week 5 injuries. That means they believed both had a chance to be back for Week 8.

Shepard missed two games with his hamstring injury, returned Week 6 and caught 10 passes against the Los Angeles Rams, aggravated the injury and sat out against the Panthers. He worked out briefly before that game, then shut it down.

Toney is another player the Giants chose not to put on IR. Still, he has only missed one game with his current injury.

Coach Joe Judge was typically non-committal about the status of the team’s injured players.

“I think Wednesday is going to be the day of moving these guys around to see what they really look like,” Judge said. “We’ll be on the field as a team Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in one way or another, but in terms of really going for those players that are coming off the injury list, Wednesday will be more of a day of moving them around to give them an early week preview of it, so it gives us an extra day on the front end to see where they’re at. But, I don’t have any final answer on anyone who’s going to be up or down this week at this point just based on we have extra time.”

The Giants could, obviously, use all the offensive help they can get. The potent Chiefs’ offense is coming off a bad game in a 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans, but Kansas City has scored 30 or more points four times this season. The Giants have yet to hit the 30-point mark.

Replacing Jabrill Peppers

Being named a team captain is an honor, but for the 2021 Giants maybe it isn’t a good thing. Captains Blake Martinez, Nick Gates and now Peppers are all on season-ending IR. Barkley, another captain, has been missing time.

Peppers is the latest to go down, having suffered a ruptured ACL and a high-ankle sprain Sunday against Carolina. How will the Giants replace him?

Peppers had not been playing as much this season as he had in his previous two seasons with the Giants. When healthy, Peppers played nearly every snap the past two seasons. This season, he played only 58 percent of the defensive snaps, although that number does include one game missed with injury. Still, not the volume of snaps he had been accustomed to.

We talk about how Peppers can be a liability in pass coverage. His physicality, run defense, and ability to blitz are all, however, things the Giants will miss.

Julian Love is almost always the first option for the Giants when they need to fill a hole in the secondary. He will almost certainly figure more prominently in the Giants’ defensive plans now.

What, though, about Aaron Robinson? The rookie third-round pick was designated to return from the PUP list last week. The Giants have this week and next before they have to activate him or place him on IR for the remainder of the season. Could Robinson be ready to join the 53-man roster?

Robinson is just returning to practice after having been out since rookie mini-camp with a core injury. It is likely overly ambitious to expect him to be ready to play a significant role initially, but the Peppers’ injury and the Giants’ revolving door of slot defenders perhaps provides an opening to get Robinson on the field over the second half of the season.

The other issue is punt return. With Peppers out, the primary option would appear to be Dante Pettis. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson has averaged 8.8 yards on 53 punt returns in his career, but hasn’t done it regularly since 2018. Giants fans, and the Giants themselves, are waiting for a time when Toney gets an opportunity to return punts, and maybe kickoffs. He doesn’t seem healthy enough right now.

What ails the Chiefs?

The Chiefs were 14-2 and went to the Super Bowl last season. They were 12-4 and won the Super Bowl in 2019. Arguably, that makes them the best team in football over that time period.

This season has been different. The Chiefs are 3-4, tied for last in the AFC West. They are coming off a 27-3 beatdown by the Tennessee Titans.

What gives?

First, realize that the Chiefs losses have come to the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. That is four of the AFC’s best teams, with a combined record of 18-8 (a .692 winning percentage).

There are really two issues.

First, the Kansas City defense. Under the direction of Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs were a top-10 team in points against over the past two seasons. This year, Kansas City is giving up 29.0 points per game, 27th in the NFL.

Second, turnovers. The Chiefs have turned the ball over 17 times, five more than any other team in the league. Kansas City’s -10 turnover differential is tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for league-worst. Patrick Mahomes has already thrown nine interceptions. He had just 11 combined over the past two seasons.

Trade deadline

Will any of the players who take the field for the Giants Monday night be doing so for the final time with the team. The trade deadline is the following day, Nov. 2. With Peppers out for the season, the names most commonly speculated about are tight end Evan Engram and cornerback James Bradberry.

What it will come down to with Engram, Bradberry or anyone else is whether the Giants see those players as part of their future, or whether whatever compensation they can get will be more valuable.

The case of Engram might be particularly fascinating to watch. Giants’ fans want him gone, and have wanted him gone for some time now. Engram can be a free agent at the end of the season and a trade might be the best thing for both Engram and the Giants.

Judge and the Giants’ coaching staff, though, have steadfastly supported Engram. Since his Week 3 fumble, Engram has been productive for a Giants’ offense missing several key pieces. Over the last four weeks, Engram has 18 receptions (4.5 per game) on 23 targets. That’s a catch percentage of 78.3. He has one drop in 29 targets, a career-low drop rate of 3.4 percent.

I am interested to see both how the Giants, and the league at large, value Engram.