What do the Jets and Giants have to be thankful for? Both teams have lost two of their last three games but still remain in playoff contention. The Giants enter the weekend tied for first place in the NFC East, while the Jets are just a game out of the wildcard chase. Here's a look at the challenges they'll face this weekend.
GIANTS (6-4) AT TENNESSEE TITANS (3-7)
(Sunday, 4:15 p.m., FOX)
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
On Wednesday, running back Tiki Barber criticized the coaching staff for abandoning the running game in last week's game against Jacksonville, saying it was a slap in his face. Barber, who entered the weekend as the NFL's leading rusher, had just 10 carries for 27 yards in the Giants 26–10 loss. Some credit must go to the Jaguars defensive line for their strong run defense, but Barber's point is still a valid one. With a struggling passing game and the league's best running back, it just doesn't make sense to stop doing what you do best.
Eli Manning seems to have regressed in recent weeks, displaying poor throwing mechanics and poor decision-making. Over the last two games — both losses — Manning has completed just 44% of his passes, with one touchdown and four interceptions.
In fairness to Manning, however, the receiving corps deserves some of the blame for the problems with the passing game. With Amani Toomer out for the season and Tiki Barber's role as a pass receiver limited because of his thumb injury, Manning needs more help. Plaxico Burress is dropping too many passes, and tight end Jeremy Shockey has just one catch that's gone for more than 20 yards.
The Titans rank next to last in both yards (375.9) and points (25.6) allowed a game. Young cornerbacks Adam " Pacman" Jones and Reynaldo Hill have struggled in coverage, which has made it tough for the Titans to blitz or bring defenders up in the box to attack the run.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Travis Henry leads the Titans ninthranked rushing offense. After being slowed by a foot injury in September, Henry has become one of the league's most productive power runners. He's topped the 100-yard mark four times in the last six games, including 143 yards in Tennessee's upset win over the Eagles last week. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow uses zone blocking as the foundation of their running game, and short touch passes when they go to the air.
Rookie quarterback Vince Young has tremendous athleticism and the ability to make big plays either with his arm or his legs. The Titans have gone 3–4 since he became the starter, but the few big plays he's made can't overshadow the general lack of consistency. He has been held below 100 gross passing yards in four of his seven starts.
You get the sense that Young could do more if he had better receivers to work with. Drew Bennett is capable of having a big day — 8 catches for 106 against the Jets in Week 1 and six for 115 against Baltimore two weeks ago — but he is just as likely to be shut down by teams who focus their coverage on his side. Bennett has been held to three catches or fewer in seven of the Titans 10 games. Brandon Jones, the other starter, hasn't done much. Tight end Ben Troupe was a dangerous target in the red zone, but he's out for the remainder of the season after breaking his ankle last Sunday. The sleeper might be Bo Scaife, Young's former teammate at the University of Texas, who'll start at tight end with Troupe sidelined.
KEY TO THE GAME The Giants defense had held teams below 85 yards rushing in four of five games, but injuries have left them very porous. They surrendered 118 rushing yards to the Bears and 165 to Jacksonville. If they can't find a way to stop the Titans from running all over them, they don't stand a chance against the better teams on their schedule in December.
Lahman's Pick: Giants 21–16
HOUSTON TEXANS (3-7) AT JETS (5-5)
(Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Running back Cedric Houston returned from a knee injury and rushed for 50 yards on 11 carries last week. His size and strength make him a good compliment to scatback Leon Washington.
Chad Pennington had a shaky outing last week against an aggressive Bears defense, throwing a red-zone interception for just the second time in his career. He'll have a much easier time against the Texans, who don't do a good job of pass coverage and haven't been able to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback David Carr is quietly having the best season of his career. The pass protection has improved, and as a result he's completing a league-high 70% of his passes. But while the offense has been able to move the ball at times, they've had a hard time getting the ball into the end zone. Carr hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in any of his last four games, and the Texans have scored an average of 16.5 points per game over that stretch.
Carr has an impressive group of receivers to work with. Andre Johnson leads the league with 74 catches. The addition of veteran Eric Moulds and rookie tight end Owen Daniels gives Carr a trio of dangerous receivers.
The backfield committee of Wali Lundy and Samkon Gado has been effective at times, but neither is good enough to take over the game. With the Jets defense giving up nearly 150 rushing yards per game, look for the pair to get plenty of opportunities.
KEY TO THE GAME The Jets rise and fall on the shoulders of Chad Pennington. When he avoids interceptions they win and when he turns the ball over they lose. The same will hold true this week.
Lahman's Pick: Jets 27–14