Heading into their bye week, the Giants are one of the best stories of the NFL season, come-from-nowhere contenders off to their best start since 2012. They have rallied for wins, run the football with aplomb and sit seventh in scoring defense.
Quite a revved-up rebuild.
Over their final nine games, we’ll see if the G-Men are a team to be reckoned with in the playoffs or simply a pleasant surprise that ends up winning a few more games than anyone thought.
They are in a strong position right now – teams that start 6-2 make the playoffs 82 percent of the time. If they get to 7-2, that figure goes up to 91.9 percent. Just to be complete, teams that start 6-3 make the playoffs 73.2 percent of the time.
Here are five things to watch after the Giants bye week:
The Giants next two opponents, the Texans and Lions, are the only two teams in the NFL to have just one win and are a combined 2-12-1 after Houston lost to Philadelphia Thursday. Detroit hosts the Packers on Sunday. Obviously, there is a chance here for the Giants to get off to a fast second-half start. Both games are at home and the Giants play four of their next five games at MetLife Stadium.
But the second half also brings some potential potholes for the Giants. Five of the nine games are a tour of the rugged NFC East. The Giants play in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, a big test and the start of four straight division games for the Giants. Big Blue still has to play the undefeated Eagles twice, including the last week of the season in Philadelphia. They also have two games against Washington, which has won three in a row after a 1-4 start, and a Christmas Eve date in Minnesota against the 6-1 Vikings.
The Giants entered Week 9 with the fourth-best rushing attack in the NFL and it’s obviously been an enormous part of their offense. Saquon Barkley is second in the league with 779 yards, behind only Nick Chubb of the Browns, and Daniel Jones is a dangerous running quarterback (363 yards, third among QBs). But the Seahawks stifled the run in Week 8, holding the Giants to 78 yards on 28 attempts. Barkley had just 53 yards on 20 carries. What happens if teams are figuring out how to stop the Giants’ run?
The Giants are 30th in passing yards; Jones has only thrown for 200-plus yards twice all season. The receiving corps has been hit by injuries, though Wan’Dale Robinson and Darius Slayton have emerged as solid targets recently.
Get well soon
The Giants are hoping to get several key players back at some point after the bye, though it’s unclear exactly when for each individual player. They did not add players at the NFL trade deadline, so it’s clear they believe some of these impact players will be healthy and contributing.
Having blockers such as Evan Neal, Ben Bredeson and tight end Daniel Bellinger back in the lineup should help the running game. Kenny Golladay’s return from a knee injury would boost the receivers room and Bellinger has been a well-used target for Jones. Oshane Ximines and Azeez Ojulari would help on defense, particularly in pressuring opposing quarterbacks, and returns by Cor’Dale Flott and Aaron Robinson would enhance the secondary.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, the No. 5 overall pick, has been showing promise as a pass-rushing force and there could be more to come in the second half as he’s gotten close to the quarterback several times. Thibodeaux missed the first two games after suffering a knee injury in the preseason, but he’s been a big part of the defense since then and has seen a lot of snaps. The Seahawks mostly contained him last week, but he has already had two signature plays – his strip-sack of Lamar Jackson to help seal the win over the Ravens and the play where he sprinted downfield to tackle Jacksonville’s Travis Etienne. Overall, Thibodeaux has one sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, three passes defended and 14 tackles (10 solo).
Second half setup
Beyond whatever happens this season, the next nine games will be crucial for the Giants for evaluation purposes. They have monster decisions looming on both Barkley and Jones, who will be free agents after the season. They could only use the franchise tag once.
So far this year, Jones has been a winner, efficient and effective, if perhaps unspectacular. He leads the NFL with five game-winning drives, completed 65 percent of his passes (which would be a career-best) and has trimmed turnovers, which had bedeviled his game. He’s thrown only two interceptions. He probably should get some credit for performing with a group of receivers hurt by injury.
Barkley is not only the Giants best runner, he also leads the team in receptions and touchdowns. He has 968 yards from scrimmage, second in the NFL behind Tyreek Hill of the Dolphins, and is the threat the Giants felt he’d be before his knee injury. Last week, Giants GM Joe Schoen said on WFAN that he told Barkley he’d like the back to be here and believes Barkley feels the same way. We’ll see if that leads to anything more permanent.