Has the apple soured? After a 7-2 start to the season that had the Giants in the thick of the playoff picture, there's a question of whether or not New York has already reached the apex of its season and is on the precipice of a downward slope. If the season ended today, they'd be in the postseason as the sixth seed in the conference. But does the road ahead lead to more wins than losses and will that ultimately boot them out of playoff contention?
First, it's worth noting why there's suddenly such pessimism in East Rutherford. After all, if you just touched down to Earth and looked at the standings you'd be looking at a club that is just two games out of the loss column for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. However, New York is coming off its third loss of the season and it has the capability of being a demoralizing defeat that has ripple effects that could be felt throughout the entire stretch run.
The most notable is the injuries that came out of Week 11. Against Detroit, the Giants had six players leave due to injury: cornerbacks Adoree' Jackson (knee) and Fabian Moreau (ribs) along with wideout Wan'Dale Robinson (knee), safety Jason Pinnock (jaw), center Jon Feliciano (neck) and right tackle Tyre Phillips (neck).
It has since been revealed that Robinson -- who was enjoying his best statistical game of the season -- suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season. That leaves Darius Slayton, Richie James, and the ghost of Kenny Golladay as New York's options at receiver going forward, further making them arguably the thinnest receiver room in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Jackson -- who suffered his injury on a punt return -- sprained his MCL and will miss at least a month, leaving New York without its top corner. Given the quick turnaround with their next game being against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, it may be a long shot for the rest of the injured Giants to suit up as well. If Moreau is sidelined, that's another starter in the secondary that'll be put on the shelf. The club has already been without safety Xavier McKinney after he hurt his hand in an ATV accident.
On top of the injuries, the Giants simply regressed against a Lions team that sported one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Coming into Week 11, Detroit had been giving up the most points (29.3) and yards per game (416.2) in the NFL this season. Against that unit, the Giants could only manage 18 points. All that was enough for the New York area to slam the panic button.
Specifically, it was Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley's struggles that should be most alarming for the club's prospects going forward. The Lions ranked 31st in the NFL this season in rushing yards per game, giving up an average of 160.9 through the first 10 weeks. On Sunday, Barkley could only manage 22 yards on 15 carries. He faced particularly tough sledding on first down where he averaged just 1.2 yards per carry (10 carries, 12 yards). As a team this season, New York's 4.4 yards per play on first down is the second-fewest in the NFL, so this has been a problem that stretches well beyond Week 11, but reared its head here with Barkley's inability to move the chains against a soft Lions run defense.
Meanwhile, one of the bright spots of the season for the Giants had been Daniel Jones' ability to not turn the ball over. Before Sunday, Jones' 1.3% turnovers per dropback ranked fourth-lowest in the NFL. However, he just rolled out his first multi-interception game against Detroit and showed some pretty poor field vision on both, particularly the pick to Aidan Hutchinson.
Aidan Hutchinson picks off Daniel Jones 👀😳 pic.twitter.com/NxJ5vL3ac2— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) November 20, 2022
Those issues I believe are connected. The offense, as it's currently constructed, needs to flow through Barkley. But, if the defense is selling out to stop him and forces Jones to drop back for a season-high 44 times like he did on Sunday, the turnovers are bound to happen and New York is suddenly playing a brand of offense that doesn't work to its strength. That's particularly true when looking at this bandaged-up offensive line that is allowing the second-highest pressure rate in the NFL this season.
The Giants have needed to play perfect football to overcome their deficiencies on the roster and through the first half of the season, they were largely able to, which is a credit to Brian Daboll. However, these injuries may make the thought of that being sustainable even more unrealistic.
Of course, there's also the Odell Beckham Jr. variable. Is it possible that a reunion with Beckham Jr. helps smooth things over on offense? Sure. That said, the protection in front of Jones needs to be better or it simply doesn't matter who is open in the passing lane. Also, it's important to note throughout this pursuit of a Beckham reunion that we truly don't know what kind of player the Giants would be getting. After all, he is less than a year removed from his second ACL tear. If he's the same guy we saw last season, he'll be a much-needed addition to this New York wide receiver room, but that's a bit risky to rest the fate of your season on.
at Dallas Cowboys
at Washington Commanders
at Philadelphia Eagles
New York has the most difficult remaining schedule in the NFL with their opponents owning a combined .678 win percentage. Given how shorthanded they are likely to be against Dallas and the fact that the Cowboys own arguably the top defense in the NFL, it's safe to say they drop the Thanksgiving matchup. Their most winnable games come in Week 13 against Washington and Week 17 against the Colts, which are both at MetLife Stadium. However, Washington has been plucky over the last few weeks with Taylor Heinicke under center, so that won't be an easy W and they'll most likely split with them down the stretch at best.
So, that brings the Giants to 9-8 on the season, which could still be good enough to reach the postseason as a sixth or seventh seed. The big question could be New York's Week 18 matchup against Philadelphia. If the Eagles have the No. 1 seed or another playoff position already locked up by that point, that could allow them to rest their starters in the regular season finale and give the Giants an easier path to victory. If that's the case and the rest of the season goes with the predictions above, 10-7 would almost certainly get them in, despite going under .500 down the stretch.
Do they go much further than that? Unlikely. So, we're most likely looking at a team that limps through the final weeks of the season and makes the postseason thanks to their early-season success. Beyond that, they're probably destined to be a sacrificial lamb to whatever NFC juggernaut they draw on Wild Card Weekend.