Coming into the season, the New York Giants were your trendy Super Bowl dark horse pick.
Now, the season has simply turned dark.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is out for the season after ankle surgery. So is fellow wideout and expensive offseason signee Brandon Marshall. Their running game is somewhere between anemic and awful. At 0-5, you sitting at home have as many NFL wins as the Giants do halfway through October.
As if this crisis wasn’t bad enough, Lady Luck dealt the Giants a road game Sunday night versus the red hot Denver Broncos. One of the top defenses will do battle against a team still figuring out who’s capable of even suiting up against them.
On paper, this one looks like a blowout. But what did Chris Berman used to say? “That’s why they play the games.” It’s part of a two-week test for this Denver team, who follow up this weekend by playing the 1-4 Los Angeles Chargers. Get by these two trap games and an Oct. 30 date with Kansas City (for first place in the AFC West) is their reward.
New York at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Broncos -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who will catch the ball for the Giants?
Four of the Giants’ top five wide receivers entering the season are sitting on the sidelines. Dwayne Harris (foot) joins Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall as out for the season while slot man Sterling Shepard (ankle) is out for the game.
That leads to slim pickings for Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense. Meet the new No. 1 wide receiver, Roger Lewis, who’s caught a total of two passes in the last three games. Meet your new No. 2 guy, Travis Rudolph, who was signed by the team on Tuesday. Rudolph is an undrafted free agent with no NFL experience.
Journeyman Tavarres King, also signed Tuesday, played for the Giants last year but has four career NFL receptions. Ouch. The bottom line is it’s a difficult night ahead for Eli Manning, who was already struggling for time in the pocket with an awful offensive line.
Perhaps one saving grace in all this mess is rookie tight end Evan Engram. He, along with running back Shane Vereen may be the only reliable offensive targets. But if Engram gets double-teamed... who does Manning throw to?
2. Will the Broncos’ defense wreak havoc?
The Broncos’ “D” gets an “A” for their first four games of the 2017 season. Denver leads the NFL in yards allowed per game (260.8 ypg), with only 50.8 of those coming on the ground. That’s nearly 16 yards ahead of the team in second (Philadelphia).
It’s amazing, considering those numbers the Broncos haven’t forced and recovered a fumble yet this season. But the feeble Giants’ running game, 30th in the league at 77.8 rushing yards per game gives them a chance to change that. Paul Perkins will be out, leaving Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, and Vereen splitting time. No one in this trio is exactly imposing against the Broncos’ dominating front line.
Meanwhile, Von Miller (above, right) must be licking his chops at the ability to attack Manning with a weakened offense and a deteriorating offensive line. Aqib Talib already has one interception and will be looking for more. If the Broncos can force a turnover early, this game could be over in a hurry.
3. Can all facets of the Denver offense stay happy?
Trevor Siemian was considered a shaky quarterback choice by some entering the season. But now? A QB rating of 89.0 through four games, seven touchdowns and just four interceptions have left him on solid ground in the Mile High City.
It has helped, of course, for him to have a solid run game. C.J. Anderson, in his fifth season in the league, is headed for a career year at age 26. On pace for more than 1,300 rushing yards, Anderson is complemented by former All-Pro Jamaal Charles. The former Chief has shown some flashes of his former explosive self and has been a valuable part to the Broncos’ multi-faceted offense to this point.
The backs have given Siemian more options and more time to develop. One place to improve is getting rid of the ball quicker, as he’s been sacked 13 times through four games. The offensive line could be better but so could Siemian as he looks to come into his own as the leader of his team.
The challenge Sunday will be to see how Siemian does against a solid New York secondary, especially getting his top two targets more involved. Both Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas have complained with their numbers down significantly through four games. In their last game against the Raiders, the duo combined for a total of 38 yards.
“Receivers? They’re always frustrated (laughing)," Denver head coach Vance Joseph said Monday. "They want to catch want to catch 10 balls a game. I like that. Especially from No. 10 (Sanders). I like his personality. He wants the ball every play. That’s cool. He should want the ball every play. He’s a competitive dude.”
The Giants’ season is over and they come to Denver reeling. Head coach Ben McAdoo is starting to feel the pressure, and he has the challenge of trying to turn things around with a shell of the team he started with.
The Broncos, with the Raiders taking a step back early in the year, have a chance to challenge the Chiefs in the AFC West. The defense is nasty as ever while the offense has shown signs of growth, but still has plenty of room for improvement.
It’s a pairing of two teams heading in wildly different directions and the final score should reflect that. What a shame this once highly-anticipated Sunday night matchup will be another blowout with bad ratings for NBC.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Giants 3
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.