Pick a narrative: The Giants are peaking at the right time as they get healthier. Or, the Eagles are coming back to earth after soaring so high earlier this season.
Oh, if only the options were limited to those two choices. There are others, like this fear-inducing one: Jalen Hurts and company continuing to flex on the NFC. That’s a choice that is difficult to contemplate if you are hoping the Giants’ improbable run lives beyond Saturday night in Philadelphia.
If we’ve learned anything about the Giants under Brian Daboll, it’s that all things are possible, even a mammoth playoff upset. Likely? That’s another tale.
Here are five things to watch that could tilt the game when the Giants face their division rivals in the Divisional Round of the playoffs:
The last time the Giants won at Lincoln Financial Field, Tom Coughlin was the coach and Eli Manning was the quarterback. Yes, Week 8 in 2013 is a long time ago – wonder if the Giants boogied to “Royals” by Lorde, then the No. 1 song, in their locker room to celebrate? Anyway, the Giants have found it rough going in the City of Brotherly Love, losing their last nine games there.
The Eagles were 7-2 at home this year, losing to the Commanders and Saints, and are supported by a crowd that has – how to put this delicately? – a reputation. It will be a difficult atmosphere for the Giants. Here’s a sliver of good news, though how it impacts this game, we don’t know: The Giants are 6-2 on the road in the playoffs over the past 20 years.
Hurts still hurting?
The Eagles quarterback, who just might be the NFL’s MVP this season, injured his shoulder in Week 15, missed two games and then returned to clip the Giants in the season finale, though Big Blue played mostly backups. Hurts did not play like his normal self – the Eagles were obviously protecting him – and he rushed for only 13 yards on nine tries while completing 20-of-35 passes for 229 yards.
Hurts’ legs are a big part of the offense – he was fourth in rushing yards among quarterbacks with 760, one spot and 52 yards better than Daniel Jones. If his shoulder still aches and he’s less willing to run, that’s a plus for the Giants. But if Hurts is right, look out – he was 5-0 against playoff teams this year, ran for 13 TDs and threw for 3,701 yards and 22 scores in 15 games. He’s got two dynamite wideouts, too, in AJ Brown (Philly record 1,496 yards receiving) and DeVonta Smith (1,196 yards).
Daniel’s the man
What does Jones do for a playoff encore? He was marvelous in the win over the Vikings last week. And historic, becoming the first QB in NFL history to have 300-plus passing yards, two TD throws and 70-plus yards rushing. That lefty Statue of Liberty handoff he made was one of the coolest plays of the year, too.
One of the biggest stories of this Giants season has been Jones’ emergence – he’s a dangerous runner and accurate passer (completed a Giants’ record 67.2 percent of his throws) who limits mistakes. He’ll be challenged by the Philly defense, which was No. 2 overall, first against the pass (179.8 yards per game) and made a run at the NFL sack record, finishing two shy with 70. Four Eagles had at least 11 sacks, paced by Haason Reddick, who had 16.
Boston D party?
Hurts, Brown, Smith, tight end Dallas Goedert and running back Miles Sanders (1,269 yards rushing) are all mega-threats for the Eagles offense, obviously. But there’s something about Boston Scott, who always seems to get in the end zone against the Giants. In eight games against Big Blue, Scott has 10 touchdowns, including one rushing score in each of Philly’s wins this season. If you count the playoffs, Scott only has 18 career touchdowns overall!
Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale this week was unwilling to anoint Scott a Giant slayer, saying in his press conference: “It predates my time here. He’s a good running back. They’ve got a stable of good running backs. I can’t answer it. I know just because he scored, I don’t think he’s a Giant killer.”
Maybe it’s just a statistical quirk. If Scott has a knack against the Giants, though, that could be trouble. Adding that to an offense that shredded the Giants for 253 yards rushing five weeks ago in their first meeting? Sheesh.
There’s been much hand-wringing over the Giants’ wide receivers all season, what with injuries and the trade of Kadarius Toney. But the group led now by Isaiah Hodgins, who the Giants claimed off waivers from Buffalo in early November, has been effective.
Hodgins, playing on an aching ankle, had eight receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Wild Card Round win over the Vikings. He has a TD reception in each of his last three games and five of the last six. Darius Slayton had an alarming drop against Minnesota, but he also grabbed four passes for 88 yards – 47 of them on one long play – and had a team-high 724 yards during the regular season. Richie James matched Saquon Barkley with 57 receptions to lead the Giants and the much-maligned Kenny Golladay has delivered some impressive blocks recently.
A key element Saturday could be whether any of Big Blue’s receivers can get open against two of the NFL’s best cornerbacks – Darius Slay and ex-Giant James Bradberry.