Three weeks into the 2021 NFL season and the contenders are beginning to separate in the NFC.
The Rams look as good as advertised with a rocking 4-1 start, the only loss coming to the undefeated Cardinals. The Giants? Not so much. They're just 1-4 with much of their top talent banged up.
Perhaps the one thing that might slow down this Rams team is, well, biology. West Coast teams tend to play worse and cover the spread less often when they play at 1 p.m. ET.
Will that be enough for the Giants to topple the Rams? Los Angeles has won two straight in this series — including a 51-17 road win in 2017 — after dropping the previous seven dating back to 2002.
Los Angeles (4-1) at New York (1-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who is left on the Giants' offense?
Few teams can boast as many injuries as the Giants. At least as far as key offensive contributors go.
Quarterback Daniel Jones is questionable as he works back through the concussion protocol. Running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and wide receiver Kenny Golladay (knee) are doubtful after missing practice this week. And even wideouts Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton remain questionable after missing the last two games due to hamstring injuries.
That's going to be a problem if many or all can't play because their replacements have left much to be desired. Mike Glennon has thrown two picks in 25 attempts, and Devontae Booker is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Tight end Evan Engram has been healthy the last three weeks, but the former first-round pick is consistently disappointing with just 103 yards on 11 receptions.
The Giants' one bright spot lately has been 2021 first-rounder Kadarius Toney, who set a franchise rookie record with 10 receptions for 189 yards last week. And that performance got cut short when he was ejected in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch.
And that punch leaves plenty of question as to how the Giants will use Toney in the near future. Head coach Joe Judge is notoriously tough on players and said that he would handle the punishment in-house.
2. Can the Rams' defense get back to elite?
Los Angeles had the No. 1 defense last season when it came to both points and yards allowed per game, but the 2021 season has been a near-180. The Rams enter Week 6 ranked 12th in scoring defense, 23rd in total defense, and just 29th in third-down defense.
Some of that has to do with key departures, notably defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who is leading the cross-town rival Chargers to a 4-1 record as a rookie head coach. The team has also had trouble replacing free-agent defensive backs John Johnson III and Troy Hill. But they still have two of the biggest stars on any defense: Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
The Rams have another level of defense they can play at, and Sunday should provide a golden opportunity to do so. With so many key skill position players banged up, the Giants should have trouble moving the ball against the Rams.
Los Angeles has yet to hold an opponent under 300 yards this season, something the defense did in 11 of 18 games last campaign, including the win against the Giants. That should be a goal on Sunday. If not, there's reason to worry that the Rams may not have the defensive horsepower of recent seasons.
3. How do the Rams spread around touches?
The Rams may not have any name-brand stars on offense, but their strength comes from their wide array of weapons. That made it concerning early on when they leaned heavily on one running back or wide receiver in particular.
Darrell Henderson Jr. and Sony Michel have each received double-digit carries in two games, but one running back has gotten more than 80 percent of the non-quarterback carries in the other three contests.
Similarly, the Rams leaned heavily on Cooper Kupp early on. Through Week 4, he received double-digit targets every week, and no one else totaled more than 25. Kupp can be expected to receive more volume out of the slot, but at that rate, the offense was growing too predictable.
Coming off their first loss of the season, the Rams found a great balance in their win over the Seahawks. Henderson and Michel each received double-digit carries and scored. Robert Woods finally had a breakout game (12 rec., 150 yds.), and three different receivers reached 68 yards.
Maintaining that balance and unpredictability going forward will be key to keeping opposing defenses on their toes.
History tells bettors to avoid taking West Coast teams playing at 10 a.m. body time, but this Giants team is in bad shape. If Jones and one or two of the injured receivers play, maybe there's potential for a back-door cover, but this Rams team is playing on a different level than New York right now.