By Paul Dottino
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One more game in a season of “What ifs?” for the Giants.
What if … they hadn’t frittered away so many games with turnovers and penalties?
What if … they didn’t have to put 22 players on the injured-reserve list?
What if … they locked down teams in the fourth quarter, as coach Tom Coughlin preached every week?
What if … they had stopped the bleeding at ANY TIME during their midseason seven-game losing streak?
What if … Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t have to miss all of the offseason program, the preseason and the first four games of the regular season because of a cranky hamstring?
Forget it, there are no answers. Rather, only hypothetical theories about what it would have taken for the Giants to avoid their fifth non-playoff season in six years.
There will be enough time during the offseason to examine the things that need to be addressed and how the Giants will attempt to repair them. For now, here are three key matchups for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium, as the Giants seek their fourth straight win:
1) Giants’ front seven vs. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy: McCoy ranks fifth in the NFL rushing race (1,220 yards, 4.1 avg., 5 TDs). He’s collected four 100-yard games, including a 149-yard effort on 22 carries in the 27-0 rout of the Giants in Week 6. However, McCoy also leads the NFL with 40 rushes for negative yardage/no gain. He’s become much more of a hit-or-miss back in the mold of Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
The good news for the Giants is that he can be contained when teams are effective in clogging up his cutback runs. The bad news is that it doesn’t take but one player missing a tackle for him to dart for a big play. Philadelphia prefers to get him out on the edges, where he can either use his speed to turn the corner or juke a defender on a cutback to the inside.
2) Giants WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Reuben Randle vs Eagles CBs Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams: Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he is considering demoting Fletcher — who has allowed an NFL-leading nine TD passes this season — to the sub package. If so, that would leave former Dolphins special teammer Nolan Carroll to battle Beckham. Philadephia’s scheme requires a lot of zone coverage, which means the elusive Beckham (79 catches, 1,120 yards, 11 TDs) ought to be coming off the line with a cushion all day.
Williams has allowed seven TD passes, tying him for third-most in the league. So how have the Eagles won nine games with their 25th-rated defense (366.9 avg. yards) and suspect secondary? They get after the quarterback (second in the NFL with 49 sacks) and take away the ball (league-leading 16 fumble recoveries).
3) Giants’ coverage units vs. Eagles’ kick returners: PR Darren Sproles leads the NFL with a 13.3 average, including TDs on an 82-yard dash against the 49ers and a 65-yard sprint against the Panthers. KOR Josh Huff owns a 29.7 avg., including a 107-yard TD against the Titans, although he’s only been on duty since midseason and doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify among the league leaders.
The Giants rank second in limiting KORs (18.2 avg.), but are 27th against opposing punt returners (10.7 avg. with a TD). As was the case against other clubs that use an explosive offense to limit the vulnerability of a porous defense, the Giants hope they can tilt the field on special teams. That will allow them to exploit Philadelphia’s weakness.
PREDICTION: Giants 27, Eagles 20
PREDICTION vs. the spread: 11-4
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