Both the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles own a two-game advantage over Big Blue, and the former already has the tiebreaker over the Giants based on their head-to-head record. The latter likely will best New York by virtue of a better division record.
While the Giants almost certainly won’t be in the playoffs come January, their disappointing performance this season actually opens up an interesting opportunity—a chance to give rookie quarterback Ryan Nassib significant playing time before the 2013 campaign comes to a close.
The reality is that it is in their best interests to give him that chance, but they have to determine the proper timing of inserting him into the lineup. But even before evaluating what needs to happen before the rookie QB makes an appearance in the season's final five games, the Giants need to establish one very important point: that any playing time Nassib gets is not seen as an audition to replace Eli Manning.
Big Blue’s leader and signal-caller for nearly a decade has had a rough season, with a 72.5 quarterback rating and more interceptions thrown than touchdowns. Much of Manning's struggles, however, can be attributed to poor pass protection, the lack of a running game early in the season and miscommunication with his receivers. Also, he will be only 33 years old at the start of 2014, and he shows no signs of slowing down from a physical standpoint.
Manning is under contract with the Giants, at big money, through the 2015 season. Barring an unexpected regression in skills or a sudden change in offensive philosophy, he will likely be re-signed for several more years after that.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP is so firmly entrenched as the starter that general manager Jerry Reese said the following when explaining the selection of Nassib in the fourth round of this past April’s draft, courtesy of Jim Corbett of USA Today:
If he doesn't ever play, that would be great. That's a good problem to have. If he needs to play, we're hoping that whatever time that is that he'll be up and ready to go. Again, we have Eli in the prime of his career and you actually hope this quarterback never plays. If something happens? We want to have a guy ready to go, and this guy fits the pattern that we need.
Manning has played in 157 straight games (playoffs included), so calling Nassib a good insurance policy in case of an injury to the starter is definitely a stretch. Also, Manning is clearly not losing his job for at least two more full seasons.
So why is Nassib a Giant? A logical theory, which was discussed quite a bit in media circles after he was drafted, is that the Giants will look to develop him in hopes he can be used as future trade bait.
He was considered a late first-round pick less than three weeks before the draft. While he did fall to the fourth round, if Nassib shows ability and potential in preseason and regular-season games with Big Blue he certainly could draw the interest of a quarterback-needy team.
Heck, the Arizona Cardinals gave up Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick for Kevin Kolb prior to the 2011 season, while the Oakland Raiders handed the Cincinnati Bengals a first-round selection and what ended up being a second-round pick for Carson Palmer a few months later.
If Palmer and a fringe starter like Kolb can produce those type of returns in a trade, a young quarterback like Nassib can certainly bring back a useful player, a draft pick in the first three rounds or possibly both if he shows the league an ability to be a capable starter.
Therefore, it stands to reason that the Giants should audition him if and when they are officially eliminated from the playoffs. It may be the only chance to showcase him for a full regular-season game any time in the next few seasons.
There are only two feasible scenarios where this opportunity will come up again—if Manning gets hurt or if the Giants are eliminated from the postseason before the final regular-season game.
We’ll throw out the first scenario for obvious reasons. As for the second scenario, it has only happened once to the Giants since the 2004 season. In 2009, Big Blue was eliminated in Week 16 and faced the Minnesota Vikings to wrap up the season with an early offseason start guaranteed.
So the ability to start Nassib is an opportunity the Giants must pursue, but when? The earliest it can happen is at home against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15, because the Giants can’t get eliminated from the playoffs until Week 14.
If the Seahawks game is an option, it is not a good one considering that they are currently 10-1 and boast the second-best defense in the NFL. Putting a rookie starting his first game up against that team, even at MetLife Stadium, is not ideal.
Neither is their matchup the following week in Detroit against the Lions. The road-game factor is one reason why as is the probability that the Lions will be a hungry team fighting for a division title. They are current tied atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears at 6-5.
That leaves the final game of the season, against the Washington Redskins at home. This is shaping up as a perfect opportunity to give Nassib the reins. The Redskins are closer to playoff elimination than the Giants, given their 3-8 record. They’ll have nothing to play for in Week 17 and will bring an awful pass defense to New York. Washington is in the bottom five in the NFL in passing yards, yards per attempt, opponent completion percentage and touchdowns allowed.
If Nassib is going to make a good first impression to the Giants and, more importantly, the rest of the NFL, it certainly won’t hurt playing the Redskins.
But that brings up the one way the Nassib audition plan can be foiled—if he isn’t ready to face any NFL defense, even one as easy to throw against as Washington’s.
His only NFL experience to date is 53 snaps in three preseason games, and as you can see in the chart below, the results weren’t good.
|Ryan Nassib's 2013 Preseason Statistics|
To be fair, he was playing with third- and fourth-stringers in those games, many of whom aren’t currently on the Giants or any other NFL roster.
Still, whether Nassib is ready to play a full regular-season game is a question mark. A lot of it will be based on what he has shown in practice and during film study over the last three months. This is something that is a mystery to anyone outside of the Giants organization, as no public comments from the team have been made on his progress since the preseason ended.
An unprepared Nassib starting in that game could do a lot to hurt his trade value. If he is unable to move the ball and/or throws three or four interceptions, it would likely confirm to many teams why he fell to the fourth round. He then could become an afterthought until he makes good on another regular-season opportunity—an opportunity we know now may not come anytime soon.
However, if he is ready to at least put up some decent numbers and flash the strong, accurate arm that had him prior to the draft going in the first or second round, then he should absolutely play against the Redskins on Dec. 29.
It could put him on the radar of teams that don’t have a starting-caliber quarterback and help instantly make sense of a questionable Giants draft pick.