The Geno Smith era for the New York Giants will begin on Sunday.
Earlier this week, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo announced that Smith would start against the Oakland Raiders. This will snap Eli Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive starts in the regular season, the second longest in NFL history. Brett Favre is the record holder at 297 straight games.
Smith, a second-round pick of the Jets (39th overall) in the 2013 draft, is 12-18 in 30 career starts. He has thrown more interceptions (36) than touchdowns (28) in his career (34 games) while posting a 72.3 passer rating.
The Raiders are coming off of a 21-14 victory over the Broncos last week. At 5-6, Oakland is just a game behind sputtering Kansas City for first in the AFC West. The Raiders are still very much alive in both the division and wild-card race, but now need to find more consistency on both sides of the ball as they head into final month of the regular season.
The last time these two teams met was in 2013, a game New York 24-20 at home. Manning struggled in that game (140-1-1) but still fared better than Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor (122-0-1, rushing TD), who now plays wide receiver for the Washington Redskins (but is on injured reserve).
New York at Oakland
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 3 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Oakland -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Geno Smith
With Eli Manning being benched this week, all eyes will be on Smith in his first start as a Giant. New York hopes Smith can help turn around the team’s struggling offense, which has been among the worst in the league.
The Giants are 31st in the NFL in scoring at 15.6 points per game. They managed one first down in the second half last Thursday night game against Washington, and that came on their final drive when the game was out of reach.
McAdoo said via the Giants website that he is confident in Smith’s ability.
“First thing, you see him make throws that very few people can make in the National Football League, let alone anywhere else, so he has an arm. He has some anticipation with that arm. He can throw guys open, so it’s not just the arm strength. He has the touch,” McAdoo said. “He’s been humbled, and I think when you’ve been humbled, I think your best can come out.”
Smith may only get one shot as the team also is expected to give Davis Webb, their third-round pick from California (87th overall), a look at some point as part of their evaluation of the quarterback position. For Sunday, however, Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, will serve as the backup to Smith.
2. Seth Roberts
With Michael Crabtree suspended and Amari Cooper (concussion/ankle) not likely to play on Sunday, Roberts will need to step up in a big way.
In 10 games this season, Roberts has caught 24 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown. New York has struggled against the pass (258.2 ypg, 29th), so it will be interesting to see how Oakland offensive coordinator Todd Downing and Derek Carr choose to attack the Giants through the air and how involved Roberts is in the game plan.
Besides having their issues stopping teams from the throwing the ball, New York also will be without cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who recently went on injured reserve, so the secondary will not be at full strength.
3. Marshawn Lynch
After struggling to offer much production of any kind, Lynch (above, right) has put together two of this better performances in the last two weeks. Since Oakland’s Week 10 bye, Lynch has posted 67 rushing yards against both the Patriots and Broncos. That’s his second-highest single-game total this season (76 vs. Titans in Week 1). He also had a touchdown and caught three passes for 43 yards in last week’s home win against Denver.
New York is second to last in the NFL in rushing defense at nearly 132 yards per game. That number has grown to 151 yards on the ground per contest over the last four, including 122 on 31 carries in the Thanksgiving night loss to Washington.
Considering Carr will likely be missing his top two wide receivers, this is as good a time as any as Lynch to take advantage of what is a good matchup on paper and do his part to carry the Raiders’ offense.
While Oakland will be without Michael Crabtree and most likely Amari Cooper, there’s still enough offensive firepower to cause problems for a Giants’ defense that has had its own share of issues. Derek Carr is one of the better quarterbacks in the league and should still be able to make plays against a defense that isn’t at full strength in the secondary and hasn’t been able to generate much of a pass rush (20 sacks, tied for 26th in the NFL).
And while the Raiders have even fewer sacks (19), Khalil Mack and company won’t make things easy for Geno Smith in his first start for the Giants following the surprise benching of Eli Manning. Considering New York’s offensive struggles, it’s possible that Mack could have a huge day.
Either way, Oakland should cruise to a win at home on Sunday to keep the Raiders very much in the thick of the AFC West and wild-card races.
Prediction: Raiders 27, Giants 13
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of www.giants.com)