Life as a rookie head coach has been hard for Joe Judge. He inherited a flawed, rebuilding roster. He lost his offseason to COVID-19. He lost his best player, Saquon Barkley, to a torn ACL in Week 2.
None of that is his fault, of course, but picking up the pieces is his responsibility. And he knows that if he’s going to build his program, earn the faith of his players, and instill a winning culture, he’s going to have to find a way for them to win a game.
But when? That’s a difficult question for a team that, in a blowout loss to the depleted 49ers on Sunday, looked like it might be the worst in the NFL. That makes every game a challenge in what was already a challenging schedule.
Here’s a look at the Giants best and worst upcoming opportunities to get their first win before Thanksgiving. Or to sum it up: Thank the football gods they play in the NFC East:
Sunday at Los Angeles Rams (2-1)
Let’s assume the Giants aren’t as bad as they looked on Sunday, and they’re more like the gritty team that fought the first two weeks. First, that’s a big assumption. And second, this is a bad week for them to prove it.
The Rams are good, fast and explosive. Sean McVay remains one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL. The Rams have an array of receivers and tight ends who can test the best secondaries – and, as you probably know, the Giants don’t have the best secondary. The Rams are averaging 30 points per game and just lit up the Bills’ strong defense for 32, including 29 in the second half … in Buffalo.
The Giants getting to 30 points without Saquon seems as unlikely as the Giants holding the Rams to 30.
Win probability: As unlikely as the Giants finding a good pass rusher and No. 2 cornerback on the waiver wire in the next 24 hours or so.
Oct. 11 at Dallas Cowboys (1-2)
Yes, the division is pathetic, but the Cowboys are not. Consider this: Their two losses are at the Rams (by three points) and at Seattle (by seven). And while their win wasn’t pretty, they did have to engineer one of the most impressive NFL comebacks ever to beat the Falcons (two touchdowns and a field goal in the final five minutes).
The Cowboys’ defense may be somewhat vulnerable, but the Giants don’t have the firepower to match Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb. The Cowboys are an actual contender in a division that is basically trash.
Win probability: Slightly higher than the chances Ezekiel Elliott’s mom can convince him to remove his stomach tattoo.
Oct. 18 vs. Washington Football Team (1-2)
Again, thank goodness for the NFC Least, because this division is going to be good for a few Giants wins at some point, even if they really are as bad as they looked on Sunday. The WFT could be the place to start. They certainly have had their share of offensive struggles, and quarterback Dwayne Haskins – like Daniel Jones, part of the Class of 2019 – has been shaky. The Redskins can’t run the ball well, either, though they have done it better than the Giants have so far.
The problem here is that the WFT defense isn’t bad and their pass rush (13 sacks so far) is pretty good – dangerous, even, if Chase Young is healthy. Young, Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan (6 ½ sacks combined) are going to be hard for the Giants’ struggling offensive line to handle. That could be the difference in this game.
Win probability: According to ESPN analytics, the Giants offensive line’s pass block win rate is 46 percent so far. That seems about right for their chances in this game, too.
Oct. 22 (Thursday) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1)
Jones is the second lowest-rated starting quarterback in the NFL this season, with a passer rating of just 69.2. You know who’s worse? Philly’s Carson Wentz (63.9). Like Jones, he’s been under siege from a leaky offensive line. Unlike Jones, though, Wentz’s receiving corps is a Jets-like mess.
Based on that alone, the Giants would seem to at least be Philly’s equal this season. The Eagles can run the ball better with Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, and those two have been problems for the Giants in the past. But the Giants’ weakness is pass defense, and other than problematic tight end Zach Ertz, the Eagles don’t have the goods to test that … at least not yet.
Ertz may be enough and Wentz has the track record to show that maybe he can turn this around. But the Eagles, right now, look like the best shot at keeping the Giants out of the NFC East basement.
Win probability: 59.8 percent, which coincidentally is Wentz’s current completion percentage (a career low). If that goes up, though, the Giants' chances go down.
Nov. 2 (Monday) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)
The way Bill Belichick and the Patriots have thrived without Tom Brady in New England this season has been a major early storyline in the NFL. But Brady is thriving without them, too. The Bucs are scoring 27 points per game and they really haven’t kicked their offense into full gear yet. When that happens, they have enough weapons to be a very dangerous team.
How will the Giants stop a receiving trio like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scott Miller, while keeping tight ends Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard in check, especially when they don’t have the pass rush to pressure the greatest quarterback of all time?
I don’t know, either.
Win probability: The Giants were going to use this night to place Eli Manning in their Ring of Honor. Without his magic, their chances are about as good as the chances No. 10 will come out of retirement.
Nov. 8 at Washington Football Team (1-2)
Jones and Haskins will forever be linked, in part because so many erroneously thought the Giants preferred Haskins over Jones in the 2019 draft, and also because many in the Washington front office actually did prefer Jones over Haskins. So they will be closely watched and often compared in what could be a difficult season for both of them.
Jones, without Barkley, without a Chase Young-like pass-rusher, and without an offensive line that can handle a Chase Young-like pass-rusher, may end up on the short end of those comparisons this season. There’s a pretty good chance he and the Giants could lose one or both of their two games against the WFT. He’ll get the blame, even if it’s not really his fault.
Win probability: Right now, all these games among the NFC East bottom dwellers feel like a coin flip. Who’s healthy? Which young players have exceeded expectations by now? Who knows? For now, take your pick: Heads or tails.
Nov. 15 vs. Philadelphia Eagles (0-2-1)
So much of the Eagles’ season rests on this question: How much do they still believe in Wentz? Will they give him time to work out his issues? And can he? Or if things really go wrong, will they be ready by this point in the season to give rookie Jalen Hurts a shot?
Look, the Giants and Eagles both stink right now. But the Giants have more young pieces with potential and they have the feel, to many around the NFL, of a team that is starting to head in the right direction (slowly, of course … and Sunday’s disaster notwithstanding). The Eagles look like a team beginning a sharp decline.
How sharp? The answer to that will be the answer to whether the Giants have a shot to sweep them, or get swept.
Win probability: Much, much higher than the chances that the Giants will be playing meaningful games in December.