The New York Giants (2-2) are now headed in the right direction, tied for the lead in the NFC East. The San Francisco 49ers (1-3) are headed nowhere fast, sitting at the bottom of what is arguably the best division in the NFC, and desperately needing a win. Sunday night will be fun.
The Giants enter Sunday night's game as a team that has righted the ship. Two very impressive victories over their division foe and a formidable defense in Buffalo, and the Giants are right back in the thick of things in the NFC East. Their offensive challenges seem to be quickly dissolving, as they are averaging 25.5 points per game in what is quickly becoming one of the most efficient offenses in the league.
Quarterback Eli Manning is off to his best start in the last four years, having thrown just one interception through four games. That is tremendous improvement from averaging 3.5 INTs per game over the last three seasons. Eli has built his career on a balanced combination of quiet efficiency mixed with the occasional brilliant play. However, this season the efficiency IS the brilliant play, and it is producing offensive output that is making it hard to have a game plan for this team.
The 49ers have lost a lot. They have lost players to retirement and departure. They have lost a head coach to college football, which has seemingly altered the culture of their team. They have lost their swagger and offensive confidence. They have lost their defensive intimidation and teams are putting up big numbers weekly against them (except for the Packers... weird huh?). The 49ers have lost their way, and need to find some momentum. The Giants have found their formula and they are trying to build more momentum.
Sunday should be fun.
San Francisco at New York
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: New York -7
Three Things To Watch
1. Colin Kaepernick is Not Russell Wilson
Collin Kaepernick has lost his way. He is not the same quarterback that led the 49ers to a Super Bowl just a few years ago. His accuracy has all but disappeared. His instinct to run the ball seems to be in question. Collin Kaepernick is at the center of the offensive woes of the 49ers and until he can find himself, and his brilliance again, the 49ers will continue to struggle. Collin is not Russell Wilson, but he can be. He has to find that confidence within the current offensive scheme and trust his instincts. It's not that he is not Russell Wilson, it's just that his Russell Wilson is lost between his ears, and he needs to find it again.
2. Eli Manning is Still Eli Manning
The fact that Manning has only thrown one interception is just a small portion of the story. He is commanding the offense and managing the games with incredible efficiency (minus those four minutes in the first two games). He is leading the Giants offense and is doing what it takes to win games, making the big play when necessary. The Giants are making the most out of every possession and taking advantage of every opportunity, just with far more patience from their quarterback then they have seen. Manning is determined to be efficient and let that lead his play. And for him it works. He has a 62 percent completion rate, and an almost 40 percent conversion rate on third down through four games. Manning is among the top 10 in the league in touchdown passes with seven. However, his most shocking stat? He has only been sacked four times through four games. He is playing like he should be at this stage in his career.
3. The Giants' Defense Might Be Better Than We Believed
Here are some of the numbers:
-Ranked 1st in rushing defense with 69.8 yards per game.
-Ranked 11th in points per game ( which would be higher if they had learned to close games quicker) at 20.5
-Ranked 11th in touchdowns per game at 2.2
And despite giving up over 300 yards passing per game, they are tied for sixth in interceptions.
The Giants' defense is much better than previously thought at the start of the season. And if the offense continues to manipulate the game clocks with its own special brand of game efficiency, then this well rested defense will continue to make plays underneath the guidance of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. One of the greatest surprises is linebacker Uani Unga, who leads the team in interceptions and is second in solo tackles. He seems to be getting smarter with each game, and is making more plays, which is starting to feel like a Pro Bowl campaign push. His leadership and energy has been infectious to this defense, and everyone is feeding off his early play.
The Giants are hitting their stride at the perfect time, when the NFC East seems to be completely up for grabs. The offense seems to be rounding into form a little faster than the defense for a change, but everyone seems to be figuring things out. This news could not possibly be worse for a team that is trying to find its own identity. The 49ers' defense was slightly better against the Packers, though not dominant. The 49ers' offense is a different matter. If Collin Kaepernick does not find some momentum under the MetLIfe Stadium lights, it will be a long, long, night for San Francisco.
And for 49er fans, with no defensive pressure, no offensive identity, and no answer for Odell Beckham Jr.... it will be a long, long, night.
Prediction: Giants 28, 49ers 10
— 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. He can be heard on the radio of "Talkin NOIZ" and "The Football Show of Collin County." Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.