A Thanksgiving night feast... of two teams who have been "stuffed" by injuries
What are you thankful for this holiday? For both of these NFC East teams, their answer is simpler than most: the ability to still put both starting quarterbacks on the field.
I say that because virtually everyone else on these teams, it seems, is sitting on injured reserve. There could be a fantasy football team fielded by those players alone, from the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. to the Redskins’ Chris Thompson. Through it all, Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins are managing through diminished expectations and frustrated fan bases seeing postseason dreams slip away.
At least the Giants fans, so far, have gotten used to that feeling. The ‘Skins slipped into purgatory in just the last two weeks, blowing winnable games against the Vikings and Saints. In the case of New Orleans, they were up 15 points with six minutes left only to throw the game away in overtime.
Suddenly, at 4-6, the Redskins likely need a 6-0 finish to have any type of postseason shot. And the Giants? It took them nine games to show signs of life, a suffocating defense finally snuffing out the Chiefs last week. That OT win ended a humiliating streak of nine straight games of allowing a touchdown to an opposing tight end.
Now, we’ll see if the Giants keep tightening up their play under head coach Ben McAdoo. As recently as a week ago, McAdoo was reported to be Mac-A-Done but this Giants franchise simply doesn’t change coaches in season. That provides a rare opportunity to save his job if 2-8 can somehow become 6-10 or 7-9.
The journey starts here, a Thanksgiving night game that could determine little more than which franchise will avoid the dreaded NFC East basement.
New York at Washington
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 23 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Redskins -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Samaje Perine earn a full-time job?
The weakness for the Giants “D” this season has been their play against the run. They rank just 30th in the NFL, allowing 132.7 rushing yards per game after surrendering 134 to the Chiefs last weekend.
The Redskins, further hobbled by the loss of versatile running back Chris Thompson are thin at the position entering this game. Both he and Rob Kelley are out, leaving the rushing duties to Perine, their fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma.
But maybe leaving Perine (right) in charge in the backfield can be a good thing. He starred on Sunday, rushing for 117 yards in the loss to the Saints. It was the first 100-yard performance for Washington this season and it helped open up the field for Kirk Cousins, who had a spectacular game (322 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs).
Perine now has a chance to earn the full-time job for the rest of 2017 and beyond. Simply stepping up in back-to-back weeks might be enough to put away the beleaguered Giants.
2. Can Giants head coach Ben McAdoo remain aggressive?
Following a brutally honest meeting with all his players last week McAdoo came out swinging against the Chiefs. The head coach followed a playbook all 1-8 teams need to be able to win, pulling out unconventional strategy to keep their opponent on its heels.
Among the surprise plays were a fake punt; a halfback option pass, and a college-like play where the tackles lined up wide of center. The team also went for it three times on fourth down, including from the Chiefs' 36-yard line with two minutes left to play.
I think that level of creativity from the coaching position, even though it was only moderately successful, invigorated this team. By showing he wasn’t giving up, McAdoo got rewarded with a team that didn’t give up on him. There’s also a realization from both sides that this partnership will now last the season. If McAdoo wasn’t fired after the 49ers game, it’s not going to happen before the end of the year.
That said, there were still a number of lucky breaks that went the Giants’ way. The miracle, fourth-down catch by Sterling Shepard set up the team’s game-winning field goal in overtime; without it, we were probably looking at a tie.
The offensive talent level for the Giants right now means they’ll only score so many points. These types of trick plays have to be in the book and they must continue to use them on Thanksgiving night.
3. Can the Giants' secondary step up one more time? Or will Cousins have another spectacular game?
New York's secondary, despite missing Eli Apple, had its best game of the season Sunday against likely Pro Bowl candidate Alex Smith. Smith entered the game with just one interception through his first nine games; against the Giants, he threw two.
Add in another pick, from Travis Kelce on a trick play and the Giants suddenly resembled the formidable defense they were supposed to be at the start of the season. Those 51 points allowed against the Rams in Week 9 proved to be a distant memory.
But now they get another quality quarterback in Cousins coming off his best performance of the season. It’s been the Redskins' defense, not the offense costing them as of late; they’ve allowed 30-plus points in four of their last five contests.
But with how depleted the Giants are, scoring 30 points would be a Thanksgiving miracle. They have to force Cousins into the late-game turnovers that typically keep him from being one of the top five QBs in this league.
The Giants’ defense may have woken up on Sunday but the offense? That leaves much to be desired. That’ll be a problem against a Redskins team that’s still very good at putting points on the board.
While Eli Manning’s not the problem, it’s hard to see him putting the offense on his back when 24-31 points are needed to win the game. That’s what we’ll see here, leading to a Thanksgiving night celebration for the ‘Skins to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
Prediction: Redskins 28, Giants 10
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.