Two NFC teams looking to bounce back after disappointing seasons will face off tonight when the New York Giants and Detroit Lions open up ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” Week 1 doubleheader. Both the Giants and Lions posted 7-9 records last season and will be introducing new offenses tonight, a process that had mixed results during the preseason.
The all-time series between the two franchises is tied at 20-20-1, but the Giants have won the last three meetings overall and the last five played in Detroit. The most recent matchup came in Week 16 last season, a 23-20 New York victory in overtime. The Giants needed a fourth-quarter interception returned for a touchdown to tie the game before winning it in overtime on a 45-yard field goal by Josh Brown.
New York Giants at Detroit Lions
Kickoff: 7:10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Detroit -6
Three Things to Watch
1. These are Now Jim Caldwell’s Lions
After going 29-51 in five seasons and making the playoffs just once, Detroit fired Jim Schwartz and replaced him with Caldwell. A longtime Tony Dungy assistant, Caldwell took over the Colts after his friend and mentor retired following the 2008 season, going 24-8 in his first two seasons, including an AFC title as a rookie head coach in ‘09. The bottom fell out in 2011, however, when Peyton Manning was sidelined due to a neck injury, as Indianapolis cratered to an NFL-worst 2-14. The losing would net the Colts their next franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck, but it also cost Caldwell his job. After a two-year stint with Baltimore, highlighted by him taking over as offensive coordinator prior to the Ravens’ Super Bowl run in 2012, Caldwell is getting a second chance as head coach with the Lions. His hiring was received with quite a bit of skepticism and head shaking, so it’s up to Caldwell to show everyone he’s the right man for this job. One way to do so would be to change the general perception of the Lions, a team that was characterized by missed opportunities, a lack of discipline and produced quite a bit of off-field drama during Schwartz’ tenure. A strong showing at home against a team considered to be less talented would certainly serve as a nice opening statement for the Caldwell era in the Motor City.
2. New Season, New Offenses
Not surprisingly, a head coaching change in Detroit means new coordinators. Jim Caldwell brought in Joe Lombardi, who had been New Orleans quarterbacks coach since 2009, to serve as his offensive coordinator. Everyone knows the numbers Drew Brees has put up with the Saints, so Lion fans are no doubt hoping for similar results from Matthew Stafford. Neither the quarterback nor the coordinator lacks for weapons to work with, as Golden Tate and first-round pick Eric Ebron have joined Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Meanwhile, longtime Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride retired, so quarterback Eli Manning was tasked this offseason with not only getting to know the new guy, but also learning a new offense. Tom Coughlin tabbed Ben McAdoo, quarterbacks coach for the Packers the past two seasons, to lead the overhaul of the Giants’ offense. Considering Gilbride had been in place the past seven seasons, it’s reasonable to expect some sort of learning curve for Manning and the Giants. And this inexperience certainly showed during the preseason. Now that the games count, however, there will be only so much tolerance and patience awarded these two “rookie” offensive coordinators, especially from fan bases eager to see their teams get back to the postseason.
3. The Battle in the Trenches
It may seem cliché, but one of the keys to consistently winning in the NFL is strong play up front. In this respect, Detroit seems to have a clear edge over New York when it comes to both lines. The Lions’ offensive line, young and somewhat inexperienced entering last season, found its stride as the 2013 campaign progressed and returns intact. On the other side of the ball, Detroit could have one of the NFL’s most disruptive defensive lines with last year’s second-round pick Ziggy Ansah and fellow draft classmate Devin Taylor manning the outside and All-Pro Ndamukong Suh and a recommitted and determined Nick Fairley anchoring the middle. Contrast that to the Giants, who are already dealing with a key injury to one of their best offensive linemen and will be fielding a starting unit that’s full of question marks. Defensively, the success of New York’s front four will likely come down to the health and performance of Jason Pierre-Paul. A defensive playmaker on par with a J.J. Watt or Von Miller, Pierre-Paul is looking to regain his 2011 All-Pro form now that he’s a year removed from back surgery. Pierre-Paul’s solitary importance to the Giants’ defense is yet another indicator why Detroit appears to be in much better shape up front, on both sides of the ball, entering this season.
After starting last season 0-6, New York would obviously love to get the 2014 season started on a positive note. Detroit meanwhile is looking to get the Jim Caldwell era started with a bang. The Giants are just two seasons removed from their most recent Super Bowl title, but this is a team that has struggled to maintain its roster amidst plenty of turnover. Even though the Lions are a team undergoing a coaching change, they don’t lack for Pro Bowl-caliber players on either side of the ball. New York has a championship pedigree and a potential Hall of Fame head coach in Tom Coughlin, but Caldwell has more talent and a clear edge when it comes to the line of scrimmage. The Giants won’t go quietly, but I expect the Lions to make enough plays to give the home fans plenty to cheer for and likewise their new head coach his first victory.