WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Buffalo comes into the Meadowlands as the NFL’s third-highest scoring team (32.8 ppg), in part due to the scoring chances the defense has generated, but also because it’s displayed very good balance and gotten savvy play-calling from the creative and experienced Gailey. The well-traveled head coach has made excellent use of Jackson (480 rushing yards, 5 TD, 19 receptions), as the versatile back is averaging a healthy 5.3 yards per carry and is also an integral part of an efficient passing game directed by underrated quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (1233 passing yards, 10 TD, 4 INT). The journeyman and Harvard graduate has completed nearly 66 percent of his throws on the season and been sensational in crunch time, having recorded a 119.0 passer rating and no turnovers in the second half while orchestrating a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks. Stevie Johnson (28 receptions, 343 yards, 3 TD) is the headliner of a rather unknown cast of pass-catchers that have aided Fitzpatrick’s cause, though the Bills will be without No. 2 receiver Donald Jones (16 receptions, 1 TD) for a while after he sprained his ankle in last week’s win. Slot specialist David Nelson (23 receptions, 2 TD) will shift outside in Jones’ absence, with practice-squad promotee Naaman Roosevelt (6 receptions) now asked to play a more prominent role. Buffalo has been outstanding within the red zone as well, scoring touchdowns on 15-of-20 possessions inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and all of onetime Giants tight end Scott Chandler’s (12 receptions) team-best four scoring grabs have come in that area.
Fewell’s main priority will be trying to repair a suddenly-leaky run defense that was gashed for 98 yards on only 12 attempts by Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch last Sunday, one week after Arizona’s Beanie Wells powered his way to 138 yards and three touchdowns against the group. The Giants haven’t had much trouble pressuring the passer, however, even with their stellar duo of ends Justin Tuck (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (6 tackles) each having been limited to just two games each due to injuries. Umenyiora has been a terror since returning from preseason knee surgery, with the two-time All-Pro amassing four sacks and two forced fumbles in his brief stint, while 2010 first-round draft choice Jason Pierre-Paul (27 tackles) stands third in the league with 6 1/2 quarterback takedowns over the first five weeks. Tuck, still hampered by a sore groin and a neck stinger, seems likely to sit out a third straight contest. New York registered six sacks against the Seahawks, pushing its NFL-best total to 18, but allowed a season-high 424 total yards in defeat.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Though Manning (1486 passing yards, 11 TD, 5 INT) had a rough day last week, he’s been good more often than not over the course of this season. The highly- scrutinized quarterback enters Sunday’s tilt third among signal-callers in yards per attempt (9.1) and fifth in passer rating (102.3), and did put up 420 yards and three touchdowns in spite of his four-turnover game against Seattle. He’ll once again be working with a talented group of receivers led by the physical Hakeem Nicks (28 receptions, 412 yards, 3 TD), who showcased his skills with a 10-catch, 162-yard output against Arizona two weeks back, while counterpart Victor Cruz (19 receptions, 386 yards, 3 TD) has also emerged as a dangerous weapon as of late. The undrafted second-year pro has notched at least 98 receiving yards in three straight games, highlighted by a career-best eight- catch, 161-yard breakthrough in the Seattle loss, and is averaging a splendid 20.3 yards per grab on the year. Tight end Jake Ballard (10 receptions, 2 TD) has made a recent contribution as well, with the massive 275-pounder hauling in a touchdown reception in two straight weeks and providing an unforeseen downfield threat. The Giants’ greatest problems on offense have been in running the football, as the team ranks just 28th in rushing yards (83.8 ypg) and is averaging a subpar 3.2 yards per carry, the second-lowest mark in the league. With noted bruiser Brandon Jacobs (116 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 3 total TD) possibly out a second consecutive game with a swollen knee, lead back Ahmad Bradshaw (286 rushing yards, 17 receptions, 3 total TD) will be called upon to handle the majority of the work on Sunday.
The Bills have given up yards in bunches this season, with the team’s last four foes all surpassing over 450 total yards, but their 30th-rated defense (421.8 ypg) has compensated by being incredibly opportunistic. Buffalo has garnered a league-best 12 interceptions, with standout strong safety George Wilson (47 tackles, 5 PD) leading the way with three picks in addition to being the club’s top tackler, and has scored a defensive touchdown in three straight tests. The secondary, which gets back veteran corner Terrence McGee from a four-game absence caused by a hamstring injury this week, has still permitted over 280 passing yards (26th overall) and 10 touchdowns via the air so far, and the Bills have managed an NFL-low four sacks on the year as well. Containing the run has been another issue, with Buffalo allowing 138.4 rushing yards (29th overall) per game and a porous 5.5 yards per carry, and Wilson and Barnett (42 tackles, 2 INT, 3 PD) have had to make too many stops well beyond the line of scrimmage.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Buffalo’s 4-1 start has been fueled by the defense’s ability to create turnovers, having recorded an astounding eight interceptions of the top two finishers (Brady, Vick) in last season’s league MVP voting. In order to offset the crew’s glaring deficiencies in other aspects, it’ll need to remain proficient in that area during this weekend’s clash with…
Manning. The Giants’ chances for success are usually based on how their sometimes-erratic quarterback handles his chores under center, as this season has illustrated. He posted an excellent 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in New York’s three 2011 victories, but has turned it over five times in the team’s previous setbacks to Washington and Seattle.
Buffalo’s offensive line vs. New York’s defensive line. The Bills have been tremendous in protecting Fitzpatrick this year, as he’s been sacked only three times in five games, but the Giants’ formidable pass rush will be the group’s toughest challenge to date. Rookie left tackle Chris Hairston did fine last week in his first career start subbing for injured regular Demetrius Bell, but draws a difficult assignment in Umenyiora this time around.
Prediction – The Giants laid a huge egg last week losing to the Seahawks at home, and I think they get on track and rebound here. Buffalo has been very good all season, losing one game, but on the road against a team that was letdown a week ago, the Giants defense will step up and harass Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills are making it a special season, but I like the Giants in a minor upset. New York Giants 20 Buffalo 17