By Paul Dottino
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Enough already about the rivalry. The Giants and Jets have much bigger fish to fry.
If you need a Big Apple twist to get you excited about this game, go right ahead and enjoy that by yourself, because these teams have potential playoff positioning to worry about. Neither one owns a playoff spot, yet both could regain control of their own postseason destiny in their respective conferences after this week of NFL action.
As bad as the Giants (5-6) hurt themselves after losing in Washington, they also know that a win in combination with the Dallas Cowboys stealing a game from the archrival Redskins (5-6) would return the G-Men to sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
However, the Giants also must realize that they are going to have an uphill battle in trying to win in the trenches against the Jets, whose defense ranks second in the NFL with 87 quarterbacks hits and whose offensive line is tied for the league lead by allowing only 14 sacks.
There likely won’t be any changes along the Giants’ defensive line, so they’ve got their work cut out for them. The offensive line is healing and will be re-shuffled, so we’ll isolate the most important battle there as part of this week’s three keys to watch:
1. Giants RT Marshall Newhouse or rookie Bobby Hart vs Jets LDE Muhammad Wilkerson. The Jets own the NFL’s top-rated rushing defense (84.4 avg), forcing the run-starved Giants (89 avg.) to throw — perhaps more than 50 times for the second straight week. And that means protecticing Eli Manning, especially off the edges. Newhouse (back) says he plans to play, but he’s listed as questionable. So Hart, a seventh-round rookie, could be making his first pro start and might draw a Pro Bowl veteran in Wilkerson (8 sacks, 19 QB hits). Hart, a tackle by trade, got his first extensive action of the season when he replaced injured LG Geoff Schwartz (leg) in the first quarter last week. He held up well, although this is a monumental assignment. As for the rest of the Giants’ offensive line, it would appear LG Justin Pugh (concussion) and CTR Weston Richburg (ankle) will return and John Jerry will settle in at right guard.
2. Giants WRs Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle vs. Jets’ cornerbacks. This is where the Jets ought to be most concerned, should they not be able to get to Manning. Beckham is on a roll again, coming off his fourth consecutive 100-yard game. He was targeted a season-high 18 times against the Redskins and you can expect a similiar game plan this week. How will Gang Green approach him? Jets starting LCB Darrelle Revis (concussion) is out and backup Marcus Williams (knee) is a game-time decision, which leaves disappointing veteran Buster Skrine (67 percent completion percentage against) as a potential starter on Beckham’s side. Struggling RCB Antonio Cromartie is tied atop the NFL with 7 TD passes allowed. No matter who the Jets trot out there, the Giants ought to believe they have a favorable matchup.
3. Giants’ linebackers vs. Jets RB Chris Ivory. Ivory ranks among the NFL’s top six with 185 rushes for 766 yards and 7 TDs. He’s a bowling ball-type of runner who has two 100-yard games this season, yet also has been inconsistent. It will be imperative for the Giants to prevent him from finding a rhythm while also making sure the Jets are not in front late, when they can rely on him to grind down the clock. Jasper Brinkley has solidified the Giants’ rushing defense over the past three weeks (26 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles) but likely won’t have the forceful Devon Kennard (hamstring, foot) alongside him, so fellow starter J.T. Thomas will be joined by nickel LB Jonathan Casillas in trying to fortify the front seven.
PREDICTION: Jets 27, Giants 20.
Follow Paul on Twitter at @GiantsWFAN