THE GAME: The Giants (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (3-0) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, on Monday, Oct. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
THE WEATHER: It looks like it'll be a really nice fall night in Minnesota with temperatures in the mid-60s … but none of that will matter because the game will be played in a dome.
WHAT IT MEANS: This is far from a must-win for the Giants, but it will be very interesting to see how they respond to their first loss -- and an ugly one at that -- of the Ben McAdoo era. They're in a slightly dangerous stretch, too, with a trip to Green Bay following this one. But this is more about momentum and McAdoo's team establishing an identity than it is about survival in the playoff chase. If they can rebound from that hideous loss to Washington by beating this really good Vikings team on the road, their confidence will be soaring.
PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Orleans Darkwa. With Shane Vereen (triceps) out for the season and Rashad Jennings (thumb) iffy for this game, Darkwa could be the workhorse. He looked pretty good in limited action last season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry (36 carries, 153 yards) and had 53 yards on 10 carries (plus a touchdown) last week against the Redskins while filling in for Jennings for a stretch.
Darkwa, in his short time with the Giants, has looked like a good, hard, powerful runner who hits the holes with speed and can push a pile. The problem for him in this game, though, is that the Vikings' aggressive, dangerous defensive line looks like a mismatch for the Giants' offensive line, especially with Bobby Hart again filling in on the right side for the injured Marshall Newhouse. It could be a tough spot for him. He also may get some help from Bobby Rainey, who presumably will take at least some of Vereen's role as the third-down back.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Giants LT Ereck Flowers against Vikings DE Everson Griffin. The Vikings sacked Cam Newton eight times last week and Griffin had three of them, giving him four for the season and putting him well on his way to his third straight double-digit sack season. Flowers, in his second NFL season, has been better than he was during his rocky rookie year and his awful summer, but he still has his undisciplined moments that result in a bad penalty or an untimely sack. The 6-6, 329-pounder has been flashing the power, strength and ability that made him a first-round pick, but the quick, 6-3, 273-pound Griffin will be his toughest test to date.
As a whole, the Giants' offensive line will have its hands full with a Vikings rush that will be coming heavy at Eli Manning inside a very loud stadium. It'll be hard enough for them to hear the calls and make adjustments and it's most difficult on the tackles out on the ends. This whole scenario feels like a recipe for disaster, but a good game by Flowers, keeping Griffin relatively in check, could go a long ways towards quieting the crowd and making Manning's job a little easier.
INJURY REPORT: The Giants' final injury report doesn't come out until Saturday, but it appears that Newhouse (calf) is out again and Hart is in at right tackle. At safety the Giants are scrambling without Darian Thompson (foot) and probably without Nat Berhe (concussion). That leaves them with only Landon Collins and undrafted rookie Andrew Adams, though cornerback Leon Hall could drop back to safety in a pinch. Ben McAdoo opened up the door for a receiver to play safety too, and while that seems unlikely, keep in mind that cornerbacks Eli Apple (hamstring) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) are iffy too, so Hall might not be able to switch positions. Check back for updates on them, though their status might not be known until the Giants' plane departs for Minneapolis on Sunday. And the same goes for Rashad Jennings (thumb), who has been limited at practice this week. He hopes to play and has even been working on catching passes out of the backfield -- one of the things he said his injured thumb makes it most difficult to do -- but his status is definitely uncertain. And if he does play, figure it will be in a limited role.
As for the Vikings, they obviously go into this game without their two most important players -- QB Teddy Bridgewater and RB Adrian Peterson. Sam Bradford has been efficient as Bridgewater's replacement. The running game, though, ranks dead last in the NFL (51 yards per game) and it's unlikely to get any better with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon splitting Peterson's role. They've also lost left tackle Matt Kalil (torn labrum) and could be without G Alex Boone (hip) this week, and probably DT Sharrif Floyd (knee) too.
THE PICK: There's not much to like about the Giants' chances in this game. First of all, despite Manning's jokes about the Vikings not having his number, they sure look like they do. The Giants are 2-5 against the Vikings in the Eli Era, including 1-3 in Minnesota. And Manning has completed just 54.1 percent of his passes against them for 1,445 yards, only five touchdowns and a whopping 14 interceptions. In three of the eight games, he's thrown three or more picks. Given his usual cool and calm demeanor it's hard to say a team is in his head, but … well, that's sure how it looks.
Now consider the Vikings' defense is one of the best in the league and their pass rush might be the best (it staked that claim by sacking Cam Newton eight times last week). Add in the loud crowd in the new stadium fired up by the Vikings' 3-0 start, which could cause problems for the Giants' offensive line, which is basically a problem waiting to happen. And factor in this, which to me might be the most important thing to consider: The Vikings are plus-8 in the turnover ratio and have only given the ball away once, as they try to win without their top two players by being smart and not sloppy. The Giants, meanwhile, are minus-6 and the next takeaway by their $200 million defense will be their first.
I'm not worried about that no takeaways thing and I expect it will change, but on the road, in a loud place, against a team playing this well? I don't see it happening. But I could definitely see the Giants, without their top two running backs and against a team that has been pick-happy against Manning, giving the ball away at least a few times. So this is no indication of my feelings overall about the Giants. This feels more like a blip-on-the-radar game. But it's a bad spot, a bad matchup, and I've just got a bad feeling about the whole thing. … Vikings 23, Giants 10.
MY RECORD: 1-2.