Once again, the Giants have painted themselves into a corner. They need a win in Buffalo this weekend, not simply to clinch a playoff spot, but to avoid a mustwin game next week against a Patriots team hell-bent to finish 16–0.
These late-season slides are nothing new for the Giants, but the problems this year seem to be entirely correctable. In five of the last six weeks, the Giants have thrown the ball more often than they've passed it. It's a strategy that doesn't make sense, given how inconsistent and unproductive their passing game has been. The Giants need to refocus their offense, making the power running game their cornerstone. It's not only the recipe they need to reach the playoffs: it's also their best hope for making some noise once they get there.
GIANTS (9–5) at BILLS (7–7)
Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL The Giants' play-calling last week was perplexing. Despite the extremely windy conditions and a productive running game, Eli Manning attempted a career-high 53 passes. That's tough to understand, given how poorly the passing game was working. Receivers dropped almost as many balls as they caught, and the winds made it impossible to throw the ball very far down the field.
Why did the Giants throw so much? Because that's what the defense was giving them. The Redskins played a soft zone coverage that gave up the short throws underneath. Their corners and safeties both played off the line of scrimmage, taking away the deep threat by keeping the receivers in front of them. The goal was to lure the Giants into playing a dink-and-dunk game on a very windy day, and the Giants took the bait.
Look for Buffalo to try a similar strategy with their own cover two defense. They don't have a very good run defense and they rank next to last in sacks. Aaron Schobel leads the team with 5.5 sacks. No other Bills player has more than two.
The floundering Giants offense will have to go the rest of the way without tight end Jeremy Shockey, who broke his left leg in Sunday's loss to the Redskins. It's the third time in five weeks that a key player for the Giants has suffered a broken leg. It'll be tough to replace his intensity and fiery presence in the huddle, but a pair of rookies will assume his duties. Kevin Boss has soft hands and is a good receiver. Michael Matthews will handle the blocking duties.
Brandon Jacobs is expected to start Sunday, but he continues to be limited in practice because of a sore hamstring. He's the key to the Giants' running game and consequently their best hope for getting their offense out of its prolonged slump. In the last seven weeks, they've scored a total of nine touchdowns.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL It has been a rocky season for the Bills, but the young offense seems to be progressing. The numbers for rookie quarterback Trent Edwards aren't terribly impressive, but his confidence has earned him the trust of his coaches and teammates. He has a strong arm and can make all of the throws.
The Bills have another rookie making a big impact this season, running back Marshawn Lynch. He has a quick burst that helps him make plays to the outside. Although he missed three weeks with an ankle injury, he's poised to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Buffalo found another quality runner while Lynch was sidelined: second-year back Fred Jackson. His running style is similar to Lynch, but he's a much better receiver out of the backfield.
The biggest weakness for the Bills last year was their offensive line. They addressed it aggressively through free agency. Veterans Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker have helped shore up the pass protection and improve the run blocking. The best player on the Bills line is Jason Peters, a former tight end who's now playing left tackle. He's strong and athletic and was named this week as starter for the Pro Bowl.
The Giants would love to test Peters and his teammates with their relentless pass rush, but the Bills also have one of the league's best blocking tight ends in Robert Royal.
KEY TO THE GAME The Giants need to run the ball, especially if the weather turns bad, and not fall into the same trap as they did last week — and the Bills would love for Manning to throw 50 passes again. With Burress hobbled and Shockey out, the Giants need to admit that they can't keep putting their fortunes on Manning's shoulders. It's time to start grinding it out with their running game.
Lahman's Pick: Giants 21–17