The New York Giants sit atop the NFC East, but still enter a must-win situation as they prepare to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The road going forward is a challenging one and getting things back on the winning track after a tough loss to the New Orleans Saints is critical.
The return of All-Pro defensive anchor Jason Pierre-Paul could not come at a better time. Simply put: Jason Pierre-Paul is ready to return and the New York Giants are ready for his return. Pierre-Paul has returned back to the fold, hungry, silently angry, and with a lot to prove to himself and to the organization that has stood by him throughout this entire experience. He returns at a time where the Giants need an infusion of talent and ability to add to their young defensive line. Linebacker Uani Unga and DE Kerry Wynn have attempted to step in the shoes of JPP and provide QB pressure up the middle and on the edges, but it has only amounted to nine sacks for the season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still finding their way behind their young QB and No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 draft, Jameis Winston. He is completing passes at a 58.6 percent clip, which is the fifth-lowest among starting quarterbacks in the NFL. His growth this season has seen some progress over the last three games, as Winston has led the Buccaneers to wins in two of their last three games. The offense has leaned heavily on the run, led by a bounce-back season from RB Doug Martin. The matchup sets up well for the Buccaneers against the Giants, who have given up an average of 131 yards rushing per game. However, that may all change on Sunday. JPP is back.
New York at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: 3:05 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: New York -2.5
Three Things to Watch
Jason Pierre-Paul will be the focal point of this game Sunday, no matter what else happens. All eyes will be on what kind of performance he brings, and the impact it has on the Giants’ defensive line. If JPP plays like JPP, it will be the shot in the arm the Giants’ defense needs, and it will free up others so this unit can start functioning the way coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had in mind before he lost his top pass rusher and playmaker on that side of the ball. If JPP is still trying to get up to speed or worse, then the Giants will have to continue to lean on their offense to keep them in games.
2. Jameis Winston Under Pressure
Assuming that JPP is in fact JPP, then this a major problem for QB Jameis Winston. If this season has proven anything for the Buccaneers, it’s that the young rookie does not handle the pressure well yet, and teams that can get to Winston in the pocket cause plenty of trouble for Tampa Bay’s offense. Winston has been sacked 14 times and has thrown seven interceptions. Opposing defenses also have forced four fumbles against the Bucs’ running game. This is a team that has not proven that it can handle pressure well. But all of the pressure starts with what can be applied to Winston. The Giants will be determined to create problems for the rookie and that could be enough to secure a victory.
3. Eli Has Been the Man-ning vs. Tampa Bay
The last time Eli Manning faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers things went very well. He threw for 510 Yards and three TDs in a 14-point comeback victory. Manning has done well against the Bucs in his career, as he’s yet to lose to Tampa Bay in three career starts. In those three games, the Giants have averaged 27.3 points per game. The Bucs have yet to find a way to slow down the Manning-led attack, and that was without Odell Beckham Jr. to account for.
This one is simple. If Jason Pierre-Paul plays like vintage JPP in his first game back and energizes this Giants defense, then Jameis Winston will experience one of the longest days of his life. If JPP is not quite himself, or worse, then the Buccaneers have a shot to win this game at home against a passing defense that gave up 500 yards and seven touchdowns to Drew Brees last week. It’s hard to imagine, however, that an organization as careful as the Giants would send a man out on the field with JPP's physical limitations except for one reason and one reason only – JPP looks like JPP.
Prediction: Giants 31, Buccaneers 17
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.