Patriots look to keep rolling at home against the Giants
On paper, the New York Giants seem completely outclassed by the New England Patriots. The 5-0 Patriots are the lone undefeated team left in the AFC, outscoring opponents by a whopping 121 points (155-34). It's the second-best scoring margin since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, trailing only the "Greatest Show on Turf" 1999 Rams.
The Pats' last regular-season home loss came back in the 2017 season, making Gillette Stadium their personal playground to bully opponents into submission. The Giants come in with a rookie quarterback in Daniel Jones starting just the fourth game of his career. Their best player, Saquon Barkley, appears unlikely to return from a high ankle sprain that's sidelined him.
But if there's one team that has the Pats' number, it's the Giants. They're the only team to own two Super Bowl victories over this 21st century NFL dynasty, including an upset that ruined a 2007-08 bid for a perfect season. Eli Manning (now the Giants backup) may base his NFL Hall of Fame candidacy on the way he outgunned Tom Brady in those signature moments.
Can Jones follow in his footsteps and pull off one of the biggest upsets in NFL regular-season history? The Giants are currently 16.5-point underdogs and that number is expected to climb if Barkley remains sidelined entering Thursday's contest.
New York at New England
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 10 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: FOX/NFL Network
Spread: Patriots -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Paying homage to the Patriots' defense
For years, the Patriots rode to Super Bowl victories behind the arm of Tom Brady. Brady's doing just fine this season (10 TDs, 2 INTs, 99.4 passer rating), defying Father Time at 42 years old. But it's the defense that has turned heads, easily the best of head coach Bill Belichick's tenure in New England.
Through five games, this unit leads the league with just 6.8 points allowed. Only 10 of those points have come in the first half; the Redskins last week are the only team to score on the Patriots in the first quarter. It's allowed the team to take a halftime lead into every contest and never pivot from their offensive game plan.
This unit leads the league in yards per game allowed (238.4), passing yards allowed (160.4) and sacks per pass attempt (13.41 percent). Perhaps most importantly, they're only allowing opponents to convert 12.7 percent of their third-down opportunities! That averages out to only one of every eight attempts. So if you don't move the ball quickly on the Patriots… you're punting.
The defense leads the league in interceptions (11), helping create a turnover margin of plus-seven that's tied for the league lead. Devin McCourty and Jamie Collins are 1-2 in the league with seven picks between them; that's more than any other NFL team has snagged all season.
2. Can Sony Michel continue to re-emerge?
In a game likely to become a blowout early, much of the focus could shift not to the Giants' running game but the Patriots'. Saquon Barkley, despite chirping on NFL Network earlier this week that he could play, appears unlikely to be a part of this game. It's just too soon to even be cleared for game action from a high ankle sprain that typically takes a minimum of four weeks to heal.
The Giants' defense is abysmal overall (30th in the NFL) and ranks 23rd against the run, allowing 130.0 yards per game. It's the perfect training ground for Michel to get going after a sluggish start raised questions as to whether he could carry the Patriots' running game in his second season. Last year's Super Bowl LIII star had a season-high 91 yards on the ground last week against the Redskins, averaging 5.7 yards a carry while scoring his third rushing touchdown. He also caught his first passes of the year as Brady looks to diversify his options post-Antonio Brown.
With top receivers Josh Gordon (knee) and Julian Edelman (chest) nursing injuries, the Patriots would love to trust the ground game to power through. Michel is looking to re-establish himself and Thursday night is the perfect opportunity to quiet early season critics who worry he's on pace for just 838 yards as the lead back.
3. How will Daniel Jones fare against the Patriots' defense?
Jones had a spectacular debut as the starting quarterback three weeks ago against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, benefitting from a missed field goal late to seal the win. It was clear the Giants were hungry for a change of leadership, energy, and enthusiasm Jones provided the offense.
But his 336-yard, two-TD performance without a pick seems more like a one-week wonder in Barkley's absence. Jones has understandably struggled since, posting a 1-1 record the last two weeks while turning the ball over three times. Against a stronger defense (the Vikings last week) Jones struggled to move the ball, posting just 4.79 yards per attempt and 182 passing yards.
The Patriots, of course, are a much more formidable defense. And Jones is without wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who suffered a concussion against the Vikings and didn't practice Monday. Tight end Evan Engram (knee) also stands a chance of sitting out.
Who will Jones even throw to? Rookie Darius Slayton? Himself? It could get ugly.
Believe it or not, the Giants are the second-best team the Patriots have faced this season. Besides the 4-1 Bills, the Steelers (1-4) are the only other 2019 opponent with a win.
Just don't expect the Giants to improve their record. The question is not if they'll drop to 2-4 but if they'll lose by double digits. Despite the history that haunts the Patriots in the postseason, I think this regular-season contest will be over by the second quarter.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Giants 10
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.