By the time the Giants and Vikings face off for their Sunday night primetime affair, Big Blue’s fate could already be decided.
The NFC East-leading Washington Redskins (7-7) will have already played the Philadelphia Eagles (6-8) on Saturday night, and if the former defeats the latter, the Giants (6-8) will have been officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Despite that, they still can’t worry about what they can’t control, so head coach Tom Coughlin will need to still have them ready to play, regardless of what they’ll already know.
What Big Blue will know for certain, though, is that electric Pro Bowl wideout Odell Beckham Jr. won’t be available to play. Beckham was suspended for this game following his out of body – and mind – experience last week against cornerback Josh Norman and the Carolina Panthers. It’s a crippling blow to a Giants offense that has leaned heavily on the Manning-to-Beckham combo.
The wideout has a staggering 151 targets in his 14 games and has accrued 91 catches for 1,396 yards and a league-high tying 13 touchdown receptions. That’s a lot of production missing from the lineup.
Beckham’s absence means Manning will need to be judicious with the ball, as he’s throwing to a receiving lot that has a lot to be desired without No. 13 on the field. The Giants can only hope the supporting cast can elevate themselves and play above their collective means.
It’s not an ideal situation for the Giants, but if anyone can make chicken salad out of chicken guts, it’s the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
Metro takes a look at the key storylines to follow during this all-important contest (8:30 p.m. kickoff time, NBC).
What to watch for:
1. Can Eli shoulder the load?
Statistically, Manning is enjoying a career season in the second campaign under offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The way Manning has grasped the complicated offense and boosted his already elite status is staggering. If only he played in this system his entire career, Manning’s legacy may be thought of even higher than it already is. He’s coming off a streak in which he’s thrown four touchdowns in each of the last two games, and has notched 3,900 yards, 32 touchdowns, and just 11 interceptions on the year. Those are solid numbers, if not Pro Bowl-level numbers. He’ll need to be even better in Minnesota, though, sans Beckham, if the Giants are to have any chance of upsetting a Vikings squad that is also playing with a bit of desperation. If he’s not up to the task, the game could get even uglier than last week’s start against the Panthers.
2. Possible shootout?
Manning’s counterpart, Teddy Bridgewater, can be streaky, as his recent month of play has showed. He’s coming off easily his best statistical day of the season, when he torched the Chicago Bears for 231 yards, four passing touchdowns, and one rushing score. The previous week against the Arizona Cardinals, he had 335 yards passing. But Bridgewater can also be forced into costly mistakes and head-scratching performances, as the two previous games before his recent hot streak confirmed (118 and 174 yards passing, respectively). Whichever Bridgewater shows up could determine the outcome. The Giants’ secondary has been porous this season, allowing 308.4 yards per game, including eight games this season in which an opposing quarterback threw for over 300 yards. If they allow Bridgewater to remain hot, the skies could be filled with footballs, Sunday night.
3. Vikings’ running game looking to make Big Blue black and blue.
Star running back Adrian Peterson will be in the lineup, despite his ailing ankle. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer deemed Peterson “good to go” during his conference call with the New York media. Anyone who faces the Giants’ run defense should be good to go, though, as Big Blue is yielding 4.1 yards per carry and allowing 114.6 rushing yards per game. Peterson has been stifled some recently, as he’s been held under 70 rushing yards and only scoring once in the past three games, but that’s likely due to the recent hot streak by Bridgewater -- and opposing defenses stacking the line of scrimmage and daring the young passer to beat them. But if Peterson is anywhere near 100 percent, it’s safe to say Zimmer will look for his prized running back to carry the load on offense. If the Vikings find a way to gain that balance and get the good version of Bridgewater to pair with Peterson, the Giants’ season will essentially end at TCF Bank Stadium.
Big Blue notes:
- When asked about the pregame encounter between Beckham and Panthers’ practice squad safety Marcus Ball, Giants punter Brad Wing said he doesn’t remember hearing any homophobic slurs directed at his good friend and teammate. He said Beckham was definitely shaken by the pregame encounter, and feared more for his safety when Ball refused to shake his hand and offered a cryptic message (“I’ll be the reason you don’t play today ... and other days”). Despite his proximity to the fracas, Wing said no one at the league offices has asked for his eye-witness account until reporters did today.
- Norman was punished by the league for his role in Beckham’s meltdown, but noted he will appeal his $26,044 in fines.
- The Giants brought back safety Brandon Meriweather, whom they released last week to make room for defensive tackle Barry Cofield. Meriweather’s return is necessary, as safety Cooper Taylor – whose solid play originally made Meriweather expendable – is in the concussion protocol.
- Fullback/defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock (knee) was placed on season-ending injured reserve to make room for the Meriweather signing.