By Paul Dottino
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The dark cloud hanging over the Giants’ season will blow away after this week, regardless of whatever decisions the organization makes about the future.
The Giants (6-9) have more than 30 free agents (unrestricted, restricted and exclusive-rights) this off-season, so there will be significant changes to the team that leaves the field after the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Eagles (6-9) have already axed head coach Chip Kelly and will have offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur running things this week. Nobody is sure how the Giants’ front office will react to the outside heat that’s being put on head coach Tom Coughlin, but it sounds like his players want to close out the season with a victory for him.
One more game to go, a contest that will determine second place in the NFC East. Thanks to the NFL’s slotted schedule rotation, a second-place finish would mean a road trip to Seattle next season. The loser of Sunday’s game finishes third, and draws a road game against St. Louis in London.
Let’s get to this week’s three matchups to watch:
1. Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Eagles secondary. It’s more than likely Beckham will be extra pumped up to have a big game after serving his one-game suspension last weekend for targeting. He’s also staring at a few franchise single-season milestones. His 13 TD catches is tied with Homer Jones (1967); Beckham’s 91 catches leave him nine short of joining Steve Smith (107 in 2009) for the only 100-catch seasons in team history; Beckham’s 1,396 yards leave him 140 shy of the team record held by Victor Cruz (1,536 in 2011). Philadelphia’s starting corners, Byron Maxwell and Eric Rowe, are hurting, which means Beckham can expect to see practice squad alumn Jaylen Watkins or journeyman E.J. Biggers opposite him. Either way, expect safety Walter Thurmond to provide plenty of bracket coverage.
2. Giants rookie tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart vs. Eagles RDE Fletcher Cox and LOLB Connor Barwin. You can expect to see Flowers (two sacks allowed, three holding flags) on the All-NFL Rookie team and Hart (one sack allowed), who probably will start for RT Marshall Newhouse (concussion), has shown well in limited action. They will have the primary responsibility of keeping veteran pass rushers Cox (9 1/2 sacks) and Barwin (6 sacks) away from QB Eli Manning so that he can try to tear apart the NFL’s 26th-ranked passing defense (265 yards per game).
3. Eagles TE Zach Ertz vs. Giants S Landon Collins. The Giants have allowed opposing tight ends to catch 87 passes (third in the NFL) for 1,102 yards (second) and nine touchdowns (tied for fifth). At times, fellow safety Craig Dahl has done well in coverage and appeared more likely to draw this assignment than Collins, who’s fared better in the box as a rookie. But Dahl is out with a concussion. Ertz ranks among the NFC’s top tight ends with 66 catches (fifth) for 701 yards (fourth) and 33 first downs (fourth). Ertz is the guy Philadelphia relies on to keep moving the chains even though the offense owns only a 37 percent third-down conversion mark (20th in NFL). On the flip side, the Giants allow a 45 percent conversion rate (31st).
PREDICTION: Giants 31, Eagles 20
Follow Paul on Twitter at @GiantsWFAN