Sunday Night Football will feature two teams with disparate trajectories, and viewers could see one of the NFL’s all-time skill mismatches when the New York Giants decide to pass the ball.
But this NFL season’s provided consistent weirdness, so it cannot be automatically assumed the Denver Broncos — the team with its arrow pointed up — will rout the Giants and treat viewers to a dull game.
The Chiefs’, Eagles’, Jets’ and Giants’ respective standings entering Week 6 illustrate some of the oddities that have transpired early this season.
On that subject, here are five bold predictions for Sunday night’s Giants-Broncos game.
Eli Manning will throw a pick-6
This is a brutal assignment for Manning, who is 1-2 against the Broncos. No quarterback will be working with a worse assortment of wide receivers — this includes Kevin Hogan’s Browns target cadre — than Manning this week. Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and probably Sterling Shepard are out. Second-year undrafted free agent Roger Lewis is the only healthy wideout from last week’s roster, and the Giants could supplement him with three players signed this week.
Tavarres King, Ed Eagan and Travis Rudolph are the other men tasked to face Denver’s No-Fly Zone. Isolating this part of the game, it’s like the final showdowns in “The Replacements,” “Necessary Roughness” or “Little Giants” — or, come to think of it, basically most football movies — which featured hopelessly out-talented coalitions going up against a menacing antagonist.
It sets up as a nightmare scenario for Manning: national television, an embattled offensive line and Von Miller attacking a stationary quarterback whose targets might not be open too often. As a result, there will be opportunities. If Aqib Talib is getting that 11th pick-6, this may be his best shot in 2017. Chris Harris also has three of those, while Bradley Roby has three defensive TDs since 2015.
This would be a good night to start Denver’s D/ST.
Giants will cause issues for Broncos’ offensive line
Big Blue still has good starters on its defensive front, and the Giants are going to pose problems for the Broncos’ middling-at-best offensive line.
Khalil Mack and Melvin Ingram showed how vulnerable the Broncos are to edge rushers in pass protection, and in addition to Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, the Giants boast strong defensive tackles in Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson. Both are among Pro Football Focus’ top-rated interior defenders this season, with Snacks in particular capable of disrupting Denver’s interior O-line.
This will be a good test for the Broncos’ interior quartet; Max Garcia and Allen Barbre still rotate at left guard. Despite the immense disadvantage the Giants’ offense has, it won’t be a surprise to see this game fail to creep into blowout territory for a while because of the up-front duel.
Menelik Watson-vs.-anyone will be the particular battle that causes Cris Collinsworth to lavish praises upon a defender. The Broncos experienced this last season when the NBC color man raved about Justin Houston demolishing Ty Sambrailo.
Shaquil Barrett finishes with multi-sack stat line
Miller is averaging a sack per game thus far, but he’s also been the second-most-chipped defender in football through Denver’s bye. Shane Ray is not yet back, and Barrett spends most of his time rushing against left tackles — where turnstile Ereck Flowers plays.
More unique data. The most chipped defenders in the NFL from last season and so far this year pic.twitter.com/cotg8IVoes
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 5, 2017
While Barrett’s not an incredibly flashy pass rusher and known more for his run defense, he won’t be double-teamed. He hasn’t finished with more than one sack since a 2015 game in Cleveland (1.5), but with the No-Fly Zone muzzling Manning’s slew of practice squad promotions outside and Miller requiring a multi-man commitment throughout, Barrett will have a great chance at making an impact rushing the passer.
Davis Webb’s name will become talking point
Manning going up against the Broncos with this skeleton crew of receivers presents a floor lower than the time Denver held Aaron Rodgers to 77 passing yards on a 2015 Sunday night. While this defense hasn’t shown itself to be quite that good, with it ranking 11th against the pass, it still poses trouble for a quarterback that’s struggled without Beckham since his career began.
The Giants are likely to be 0-6 after this game, and a 36-year-old quarterback suddenly no longer plays into the team’s timeline. A third-round rookie from a spread college offense, Webb likely isn’t ready. But with Manning now possibly not the quarterback in 2018, his through-2019 contract notwithstanding, the New York media likely begin broaching the subject of getting the Cal product some experience to judge if he can be a successor.
Manning did this to the less accomplished Kerry Collins in 2004 and hasn’t missed a start since taking over midway through that season.
Giants still cover the spread
There are recent examples of the Broncos taking care of business against depleted teams at home, as referenced by 16- and 18-point wins over the Texans and Raiders, respectively, last season. And the Giants have issues beyond wideout, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie being suspended and Landon Collins not practicing as of Thursday.
But this has the makings of a too-good-to-be-true game.
Even with the Giants reeling and the Broncos coming off a bye, it’s hard to be confident they will win a game by more than 13 points. Their offense is not built to do this, and dating back to the Peyton Manning era, this defense has developed a habit of letting teams back in games. They did this despite dominating the Chargers for much of Week 1 and also nearly allowed EJ Manuel to bring the Raiders all the way back.
A scenario where the Broncos struggle to pull away in a low-scoring game, or the Giants sneaking back into the one- or two-score range with a late Shane Vereen touchdown, makes sense in a prime play-down-to-the-competition spot.
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