Of course, the team has only played four games, so the standings as of now mean nothing. But hopefully, those early divisional losses won’t come back to haunt Big Blue.
Over the next four weeks, the Giants will get into the heart of a very difficult schedule. After playing three of their first four games in primetime, the team will finally have four straight Sunday games at regular times.
Injuries, especially to Hakeem Nicks and the defensive secondary, have taken their toll on the Giants, but it’s time for some other guys to step up and make an impact. These next four games will be critical for the Giants in defending their NFC East crown and Super Bowl title.
Week 5, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants, Oct. 7, 1 p.m.
Browns lead all-time series 27-20-2 (including playoffs)
After the tough Sunday night loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants will have the chance to take their anger out on the weak Cleveland Browns (0-4). The Browns are a very young team and have appeared overmatched through four games.
Now if the Giants had been undefeated through their first four games, the game against the Browns could have shaped up into the ultimate upset: Browns defeat the reigning Super Bowl champions in their building.
However, the Giants are hungry to get back in the win column after their 2-2 start. The last time these teams met, the Browns beat the Giants 35-14, but that was a completely different Browns team.
This year’s Browns team is led by two rookies: quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson. Richardson has been a spark plug offensively, but he hasn’t been able to play consistently, averaging just 55.5 rushing yards per game. Weeden, a former pitcher in the New York Yankees minor league system, owns the worst quarterback rating (60.4) in the NFL so far.
So while it’s been a struggle on offense for the Browns, the defense has been even worse, allowing 403.2 yards per game (25th in the league). The defense does have 13 sacks, ranking it fifth.
Eli Manning and the Giants will hope to exploit the Browns defense early and often. Big Blue’s defense needs to focus on containing Richardson and forcing Weeden into making rookie mistakes. The Giants are ranked second in total passing yards per game at 321.5, so it might be tough for the Browns defense to contain Manning.
No game in the NFL is ever a sure thing, but the Giants coming off a tough loss against a team that is 0-4 should be able to get the win.
Week 6, New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, Oct. 14, 4:25 p.m.
All-time series tied 18-18 (including playoffs)
Other than an unexpected loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the San Francisco 49ers have been a dominant team in the NFC. The team has run the ball well, averaging 167.0 yards per game (third in NFL) and has only surrendered 65 points defensively.
Speaking of defense, the 49ers have left off right where they were from last season. San Francisco ranks third in total defense at 277.2 yards allowed per game, which breaks down into 79.5 rushing yards per game (fifth) and 197.8 passing yards per game (fifth).
Regardless of stats, the 49ers are out to prove to the Giants that last year’s NFC Championship game was a fluke. The 49ers beat the Giants at Candlestick Park in mid-November, but the Giants earned a 20-17 overtime win in January on Lawrence Tynes’ game-winning field goal, which sent the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Other than a few special teams blunders, the 49ers were in the game the whole way. Expect them to come out with a vengeance against Big Blue in Week 6. The Giants typically play better on the road than at home, but still this is a tough match-up.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith is in the top-10 in quarterback rating, but he’s been his typical inconsistent self through four games. He’s been sacked 12 times, so the Giants defensive front has to keep getting pressure on him.
If there is a defense in the NFC that can stop Manning and the Giants passing attack, it’s the 49ers. The defensive line and linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are extremely athletic and can cause havoc in the offensive backfield.
If the Giants defense can play well, this should be a low-scoring game and will come down to whichever team makes the least amount of mistakes. The Giants had trouble containing Vernon Davis in both games last year, so Smith may target his big tight end often.
This would be a great win if Big Blue can pull it off, but it’s certainly a tall order.
Week 7, Washington Redskins at New York Giants, Oct. 21, 1 p.m.
Giants lead all-time series 92-64-4 (including playoffs)
If there was ever a must-win game in Week 7 of a season, this could be it for the Giants. Even if the team loses the previous two games, this game will be critical in trying to get the Giants a divisional win.
The Redskins surprisingly beat the Giants twice last year led by quarterback Rex Grossman. The Giants went on to win the Super Bowl, but these games against Washington were pretty pathetic.
Now, Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is quickly changing the culture in our nation’s capital. He has four rushing touchdowns in four games, is averaging 63.0 rushing yards per game and is ranked fourth in the league with a 103.2 quarterback rating.
The Redskins are first in rushing offense (175.5 yards per game), led by Griffin and running back Alfred Morris. The team has averaged 30.8 points per game (fourth) and 421.8 yards per game (third).
So with all these great offensive statistics, why are the Redskins just 2-2? Well, the defense has allowed a whopping 415.2 yards per game, ranking 29th in the league.
Based on the Giants poor defensive performance against the mobile Michael Vick, Griffin III may have success running the ball and escaping potential sacks to make big plays down field. Then again, if the Redskins continue their poor defensive play, Manning will pick apart their secondary en route to a big day.
This game might be a slugfest, coming down to whoever has the final possession. It’s a key game for both teams, but just like the 49ers will be looking for revenge at the Giants, the Giants feel the same way about the Redskins.
Either way, the Giants should be able to earn a home victory against a rookie quarterback, albeit a talented one.
Week 8, New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, Oct. 28, 4:25 p.m.
Cowboys lead all-time series 57-42-2 (including playoffs)
By the time Week 8 rolls around, much will have changed for both the Giants and the Cowboys. The Cowboys earned a close victory on opening night against Big Blue but since then have scuffled to a 2-2 record.
Just like the Redskins game, this is another huge divisional match-up in which the Giants will attempt to dig themselves out of the early divisional record hole. And one key fact favors the Giants: Big Blue has never lost in three games at the new Cowboys Stadium.
Manning seems to rise to the occasion whenever he plays in Dallas, and based on trends, expect this continue, even though the Cowboys are currently ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense (277.5 yards per game).
While Tony Romo ranks eighth in passing yards, he’s also thrown a league-leading eight interceptions. If Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and the defensive front can pressure Romo, he’ll be forced into making mistakes.
However, if the first game proves anything, the Giants gave up big play after big play to Dallas receivers Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree. The depleted Giants secondary may really struggle in trying to stop these talented receivers.
Again, looking this far down the road is difficult, since much will change, but there will of course be a few constants: These teams hate each other; it’s a huge divisional game; and the Giants can’t afford to be swept by the Cowboys.
If the Giants can finish 3-1 in their next four games, they would be 5-3 overall halfway through the season. The Browns game should be a win, but of the other three, the Giants really need to win the two divisional games.
So if Big Blue falls to San Francisco, it’s imperative to win the next two so they can even their divisional record at 2-2.
It’s certainly possible to win all four games, but a 3-1 record would put the Giants in a good place.
Follow Jim Mancari on Twitter at JMMancari.