By Paul Dottino
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No more wiggle room — not one inch. OK, maybe a millimeter, but only enough to squeeze a thread through.
The Giants (8-6) finally have put their own backs against the wall, needing victories over Baltimore and Philadelphia to make the playoffs. Getting in with a split would require too many dominoes to fall in the right direction to even consider.
But maybe this is what coach Tom Coughlin’s team needs. They usually perform well in these situations and the truth is the Giants’ 6-2 start built them a cushion that’s allowed them to remain alive going in Week 16.
The Ravens (9-5) are on a three-game losing streak, but they already have earned a postseason bid and need a win to clinch the AFC North. Their injury list is long and — much like the Giants — they are coming off a lackluster loss (to Denver).
Let’s get to this week’s three key matchups:
1. Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Giants MLB Chase Blackburn. There is no doubt that stopping Rice is the top priority to beating the Ravens. QB Joe Flacco hasn’t consistently proven that he can knock off quality teams without Rice having a big game.
The four-time 1,000-yard rusher reminds me a lot of Giants great Joe Morris in that he’s low to the ground, bounces off tacklers with ease and has deceptive strength and speed.
The Giants had 18 missed tackles against the Falcons – they have to at least cut that number in half this week. Blackburn is responsible for lining up the defense, so we’re going to point to him to make sure he’s alerting his teammates to the proper keys so they can fill Rice’s rushing lanes. The Ravens are 3-2 when Rice is held under 50 yards this season.
2. Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Ravens S Ed Reed. Manning admits that he’s got to know where Reed is every time he approaches the line, as well as how Reed reacts the moment after the snap.
Despite dealing with a shoulder injury, Reed remains one of the biggest turnover threats in NFL history. He got 61 career interceptions and seven TDs in 11 seasons, including four picks and a score this year. Reed, 34, may not be the hitter he once was, but he hasn’t slowed down in terms of his ability to cover the deep part of the field.
Manning is tied for sixth in the NFL with 15 INTs this season, having thrown two in each of the past two games. Manning must be very careful in the red zone (where the Giants have been sporadic), considering the Ravens have the league’s second-stingiest red zone defense (40 pct.).
3. Giants DEs Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora vs. Ravens LT Michael Oher and RT Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens’ two tackles unofficially have been beaten for 17 of the team’s 34 sacks. The Giants say their Big Three (15.5 combined sacks) have gotten adequate pressure but too often have been a fraction short of getting a sack – that should change this week.
Umenyiora says the pass rush will pick up if they can limit early-down runs (see Key No. 1) and force teams into more third-and-long situations. Flacco has been pressured into three interceptions and three fumbles over the past four games.
Prediction: Giants 27, Ravens 17
Prediction record vs. spread: 5-8-1
What’s your prediction for Giants-Ravens? Let Dottino know in the comments!