The injury-plagued Giants will be without a number of starters when they host the Bears on Sunday night in a matchup that could go a long way toward determining home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
New York (6-2) can pull into a tie with Chicago (7-1) for the best record in the NFC with a victory. NFC South leader New Orleans is also 6-2.
However, New York will again be missing several defensive starters, including both of its Pro Bowl defensive ends. Michael Strahan is out with a sprained ligament in his right foot while Osi Umenyiora will miss his third straight game due to a hip flexor.
New York’s starting defensive ends will likely be rookie Mathias Kiwanuka— who has started the last two games for Umenyiora—and Adrian Awasom—who spent the first seven weeks of the season on the practice squad.
“It’s a big adjustment and it’s going to be a big stage,” Awasom said. “You have to take advantage of opportunity when given.”
Linebacker Brandon Short (quad), reserve defensive end Justin Tuck (foot) and cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring) have each missed the last two games, although Madison practiced this week and could return. Linebacker LaVar Arrington is lost for the season with an Achilles’ injury suffered on Oct. 23 at Dallas.
New York’s problems also extend to the other side of the ball. The Giants learned Wednesday that Amani Toomer—the franchise’s all-time leading receiver — will miss the rest of the season after an MRI revealed a partial tear of his anterior cruciate ligament.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” Toomer said. “It was very disappointing when I got the MRI.”
The Giants do expect Plaxico Burress to return after he sat out last week’s 14-10 victory over Houston with back spasms. He practiced this week and was critical of the Bears defensive backs, calling them “very beatable.”
It remains to be seen whether the Giants can beat the Bears, given the injuries that have mounted.
“It is part of being in the National Football League,” New York coach Tom Coughlin said. “It happens to every team in the league. It is just something that we have to learn how to deal with. And we are going to focus, as we always do, on the guys who are going to play the game and put ourselves in the best possible position that we can.”
Chicago has serious injury problems as well, but not nearly the same volume as New York.
Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher has a sprained big toe on his left foot— suffered in the final minutes of last week’s 31-13 loss to Miami—and is listed as questionable. He hasn’t practiced this week, but still expects to be on the field at Giants Stadium.
“I still watch a lot of film, still watch practice pretty closely, so I should be OK. I’m not gonna get to hit and stuff like that, but I should be all right once I get back in there,” Urlacher said.
Bernard Berrian, who leads all Bears receivers with four touchdowns, suffered bruised ribs in last week’s loss and is doubtful for this game.
A sloppy effort resulted in Chicago’s first loss of the season last week. The Bears turned the ball over six times against the Dolphins and allowed a season-high 161 yards on the ground.
“We’ve gotten ourselves in position and now we have to finish the job,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We didn’t finish the job Sunday, but we look forward to that next challenge we get against the Giants.”
The challenge facing Chicago’s top-ranked defense will be slowing down the NFL’s leading rusher, Tiki Barber, who is averaging 121 yards per game during New York’s winning streak. Barber carried only 17 times last week, but still ran for 115 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
Offensively, Bears quarterback Rex Grossman has committed 10 turnovers in the last three games. He was picked off three times and also lost a fumble last week, and is tied with Detroit’s Jon Kitna with a NFC-high 10 interceptions on the season.
“He had four interceptions against Arizona and he had three the other day against Miami,” Coughlin said. “The name of the game is obviously pressure. And you have to have it on the quarterback in this league, no matter who it is, going into whatever game. You have to put pressure on the quarterback.”
The Bears have not had much success running the football this season, as starting tailback Thomas Jones has topped the 100-yard mark just twice and former first-round draft pick Cedric Benson has been used sparingly.
New York has not beaten Chicago at home in the regular season since 1969, losing the last four visits by the Bears. Chicago won 28-21 two years ago in the last matchup.