Now would be the ideal time for the New York Giants to start putting together a little bit of a run.
In a perfect world, they would be in the midst of that run right now. They would have beaten the Eagles in Philadelphia last Sunday night instead of dropping a tough 19-17 contest. They would be heading into Sunday's matchup against the Browns riding a three-game win streak.
Instead, they find themselves at 2-2 and in dire need of a home victory over the AFC North's punching bag.
This season has not been kind to Cleveland. The Browns are winless, though it's not as if they haven't been close a time or two: In all four of their losses, they have fallen by an average of about six points. Quarterback Brandon Weeden has been improving little by little, but he still hasn't been explosive enough to lead this offense to a win.
Maybe that changes against the deflating Giants in Week 5.
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Sunday, October 7 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: Cleveland stations, WFAN 660 AM in New York
Live Stream: NFL GamePass
Betting Line (via OddsShark): Giants -13
What's At Stake?
We're not quite at the point where the Giants' season is at stake yet, and we may not be for a while. This, after all, is a team that has won the Super Bowl twice since 2007, and each of those years it started off the season either 2-2 (2007) or 3-2 (2011).
But the offensive inconsistencies are starting to be a bit of a problem. This is a team that boasts the league's second-best passing offense, and although it got 309 yards in the air on Sunday, it only got into the end zone twice.
Plus, the fact that both of New York's losses have come against division opponents is tough.
The Browns, meanwhile, are having an even worse time—on both sides of the ball. Their offense ranks 23rd in the league, and their defense ranks 25th. You're not going to win many games when you're not at least decent on one end of the spectrum.
It's not that we're at the point where this season is a wash—but we're certainly approaching that point. A win on Sunday would help to offset that.
Key Injuries: Browns (via CBSSports.com)
- DB T.J. Ward (thumb) is questionable for Week 5
- WR Josh Cribbs (head) left last week's game at Baltimore
- DB Tashaun Gipson (knee) left last week's game at Baltimore
- LB James-Michael Johnson (ribs, oblique) missed last week's game
- WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) missed last week's game
- TE Alex Smith (head) missed last week's game
- DB Joe Haden is in the midst of a four-game suspension and cannot return until Week 6
Key Injuries: Giants (via CBSSports.com)
- DB Kenny Phillips (knee) left last week's game at Philadelphia
- DB Jayron Hosley (hamstring) missed last week's game
- WR Hakeem Nicks (foot, knee) missed last week's game
- DL Adewale Ojomo (hamstring) missed last week's game
- LB Keith Rivers (hamstring) missed last week's game
- DB Tyler Sash is eligible to return from a suspension this week
Fantasy Prospect to Watch: RB Andre Brown, Giants
Up until last week, Andre Brown was a fantasy dream. He was a former third-stringer who got his shot in Week 2 when Ahmad Bradshaw went down with an injury, and he answered the call with gusto, rushing for the game-tying two-point conversion and the game-winning touchdown.
Fantasy owners were still hesitant to trust him after such a small sample size, but they weren't anymore after Week 3, when he rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns in a slaughter of Carolina.
But last week, when Bradshaw was finally eligible to return, it hurt Brown—not only because he got just five carries rather than 20, but also because he couldn't seem to produce. He finished with just 14 carries and an average of 2.8 yards per carry, and meanwhile, Bradshaw got the bulk of the work (13 carries) but couldn't do much better (39 yards, zero touchdowns).
It's unclear how Tom Coughlin plans to use this backfield tandem going forward, but it seemed evident from Sunday's game that he's certainly not making Brown the No. 1 guy. Sunday should give us a better—or, at least, another—gauge of Brown's effectiveness with Bradshaw back in the mix.
What They're Saying
Brandon Weeden hasn't been able to get the job done for four weeks now, but it's not all his fault. He doesn't exactly have a ton of options when it comes to throwing the ball.
According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot, the Browns are really struggling now that Mohamed Massaquoi has a pulled hamstring, Joshua Cribbs is dealing with a concussion and Travis Benjamin had his knee wrapped last week.
That leaves Cleveland with Greg Little, Josh Gordon and Jordan Norwood to get the job done this Sunday against New York. And as Browns head coach Pat Shurmur told Kay, they're just going to have to make do:
We're going to put the guys on the field that can play and will give us the best opportunity to win. If we have to use three tight ends, all right. If we have to use two receivers, whatever the combination is, we've got plenty of plays and a lot of ideas.
The fact that the Browns' pass offense is so banged up should at least take some of the pressure off the Giants, who have had their own offensive struggles in 2012. In their two losses, they've put 17 points on the board; in their wins, they've averaged 38.5 points.
But according to the New York Daily News' Ralph Vacchiano, Tom Coughlin doesn't plan on changing his offensive approach any time soon—even after that approach destroyed the Giants' chances of a comeback last week against the Eagles.
Coughlin called for a pass play with time trickling off the clock at the very end of a 19-17 game, even though the Giants were within field goal range. After a pass interference call on that fateful play pushed the Giants back even further, New York was forced to try for three—and Lawrence Tynes' attempt was short.
Vacchiano reports that you still shouldn't expect to see a more conservative approach this week. Eli Manning told him:
We always say, "Try to get as close as possible." If you can score a touchdown, you try to score a touchdown. That’s the mentality that we have. You see a lot of teams get to the 30-yard line, then all of a sudden get conservative and then you’ve got to kick a 48-yarder. Those aren’t guaranteed. So you want to get as close as possible to try to ensure the win.
Browns Key Player: RB Trent Richardson
He hasn't been all that consistent, but Trent Richardson has shown some flashes of brilliance in 2012 to suggest that he was worth that No. 3 overall draft pick.
And given the state of this Browns receiving corps at the moment, his impact on Sunday is going to be all the more significant. Cleveland may not have all of its receiving weapons in Week 5, but it still has its No. 1 backfield weapon, and it needs to use that weapon accordingly.
In Richardson's best performance of the season, he got 19 carries against Cincinnati, and he finished with 145 total yards and two touchdowns. In two of four games, he's totaled 100 yards or more, and he's gotten in the end zone for three straight weeks.
If this team is going to have a chance against New York, Richardson is going to need to continue riding that recent momentum.
Giants Key Player: RB David Wilson
He certainly isn't going to see his workload in the backfield increase any time soon—not only due to the fact that Brown and Bradshaw are both in action, but also because he can't seem to hold onto the ball.
But where he can make an impact is on special teams, according to the New York Daily News' Ralph Vacchiano.
When it comes to returning the ball, the rookie, Coughlin told Vacchiano, is "a weapon [that] is quite obvious now that people are really going to have to contend with."
Who's your pick to win?
And given the way this offense has struggled to get into the end zone in its losses, Manning needs help from anywhere he can find to get into prime field position as he leads this charge. Wilson may not be the key to this rushing attack, but if he can help doing the little things—and getting the rest of this offense into position—that could be the key to getting off on the right foot once again.
Prediction: Giants Win
They may be inconsistent and they may have struggled the last time out against Philly, but there's nothing that can incite a resurgence like a date with the Browns.
The Browns have struggled offensively and defensively, and given the way the Giants' offense has performed against the league's weaker teams, a win on Sunday is certainly not too much to expect.