By Paul Dottino
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The time is now.
The Giants (3-4) can’t wait any longer to make a move to get back into the NFC playoff picture. A win tonight over the Indianapolis Colts would bring them to .500 and leave them one game out of a wild-card spot. It also would leave them staring at a three-game run against Seattle (5-3), San Francisco (4-4) and Dallas (6-3), which likely will determine their destiny.
But first, they have to deal with the Colts (5-3), who entered the weekend leading the NFL in total offense (452.3 yards per game), passing (336.5 yards) and ball control (34:51), and second in scoring (31 points per game). The Colts are happy with that offensive pace, understanding that they have a 5-0 mark when their opponents have posted less than 30 points this season.
Obviously, the Giants could use Michael Strahan to help “Stomp them out!” — but Strahan will be busy receiving his Hall of Fame ring at halftime.
Here are three key matchups to watch:
1. Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Giants RB Andre Williams. I know they don’t play opposite each other, but Bradshaw and his successor actually are in direct competition tonight. Each of them are critical to their respective offenses, who desperately need to win the time of possession in this game. Williams is even more a focal point for the Giants because the Colts’ offense is so much more diverse than the Giants, giving QB Andrew Luck many more options and places to put the ball to keep drives alive. Bradshaw holds an obvious edge in this battle because he’s a very big part of the Colts’ passing game, having caught 31 passes and six TD strikes. The former Giant appears to be playing with the same vigor, spunk and toughness he displayed for six seasons (and two 1,000-yard seasons) under coach Tom Coughlin and made him a popular teammate. Williams has shown his inexperience in misreading some of the blocks and holes that the Giants’ inconsistent offensive line have tried to provide for him, but he also has indicated he’s aware of the problem and is eager to get on the right page.
2. Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Giants cornerbacks. Hilton only has scored two touchdowns this season, but he’s a deep threat (16.3 avg.) who can change field position – and that is the second-most important category to the Giants in this game. The Giants’ wins and losses have directly corresponded to how the field was tilted. Remember how Cowboys WR Dez Bryant’s 44-yard third-down conversion changed the game in Dallas? Enough said. Indianapolis will line up up in a variety of spots, so CBs Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and slot CB Jayron Hosley will get their chances to cover him. Hilton entered the weekend as the NFL leader in first-down conversions with 42 among his 52 catches.
3. Colts TEs Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener vs. Giants LBs and safeties. Allen (six TDs on 22 catches) and Fleener (three on 18) have become valuable targets for Luck, who has connected at least 15 times with eight different players this season – and each has caught at least one TD pass. But let’s focus on the tight ends, since – other than Antrel Rolle – the Giants do not have an experienced safety with strong coverage skills. Safeties Quintin Demps and Stevie Brown are better in zone and linebacker Jacquian Williams easily is the defense’s best coverage linebacker, but he cannot cover both when the Colts go do a two-tight end formation. Allen and Fleener aren’t just dangerous red zone threats, they also can keep the chains moving and extend the Colts’ time of possession.
PREDICTION: Colts 31, Giants 23
PREDICTION RECORD vs. the spread: 5-2
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