New York Giants: 5 Games That Will Define the 2011 Season
The preseason is supposed to be a time where questions are answered, roles are defined down and lower-level players have a chance to prove their worth.
Unfortunately for Big Blue, this has not been the case. With the myriad of injuries already, the preseason has turned into the Big Blues.
Alliteration aside, more questions have come out of the preseason than were answered. With that uncertainty comes necessity, as there are several key games on the Giants schedule this season that will force answers to be given.
What remains to be seen is whether the G-Men have the correct answers, or if they will have to attend a summer school free agency class again.
Here are five key games for Giants success in 2011.
Sept. 25, at Philadelphia Eagles
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Michael Boley trying desperately to contain Michael Vick—this is an image many Giants fans will see in their nightmares over the next few months.
The Giants will likely go into this matchup at 2-0 and Perry Fewell has demonstrated an ability to scheme effectively against the elusive Eagle. Expect to see Antrel Rolle and Aaron Ross blitzing frequently in an attempt to disrupt Vick's timing. They lack the size and brute strength to really hit Vick, but they have the speed to contain and disrupt him long enough for the pass rush to do its job.
The outcome of this game will depend heavily on Osi Umenyiora's health, along with his motivation level. If he is hurt, or phoning it in, this could turn out to be a very long game in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Giants will battle in this game, but there are too many unsettled positions on the roster for them to win the early-season contest.
I expect them to prove they can contain Vick, but with the weakened secondary—especially if Amukamara has not yet returned—DeSean Jackson will hurt them deep. This game will end up being the Giants' defense vs. the Eagles' offense, and the birds will prevail.
Eagles 24—Giants 17
Nov. 6, at New England Patriots
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As you can probably guess by the complete lack of October games in this slideshow, the Giants have a pretty easy early-season schedule. Philadelphia and Seattle are the only two playoff teams from last season in their first seven games.
This is in stark contrast to their final nine games. Five of those nine—starting with the Patriots—are against 2010 playoff teams. Two of those games are also against Dallas, who could've been in the postseason if Michael Boley hadn't shattered Tony Romo's collarbone.
It goes without saying that the Giants need to take care of business and be, at worst, 6-1 going into this game with the Patriots. If they can't do that, they will be hard-pressed to avoid missing the postseason for the third straight year.
While I don't give the Giants much hope for taking this game, it is still one of the most important on the schedule.
Much like it was in their week 17 matchup back in 2007, this will be a measuring-stick game against a team likely to be the class of the AFC. The confidence derived from this game—even in a losing effort—could spur the Giants on to big things and a successful run through their late-season gauntlet.
That is, as long as they don't get steamrolled. If they don't put up a fight this could be a demoralizing and season-deflating loss, much like when they faced the Saints in 2009. They went into the game at 5-0 and were trounced 48-27—the first of four-straight losses. They ended up missing the playoffs, finishing 8-8.
The Giants will keep it close throughout, but the Patriots will pull away in the third quarter.
Ahmad Bradshaw will have an effective game with runs to the outside, but Brandon Jacobs will have trouble finding yards against the man-eating duo of Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth.
Patriots 31—Giants 21
Nov. 20, Philadelphia Eagles
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This is the first "key" home game for the Giants and it is also one they need to perform well in. They will likely have a respectable record at this point, but they will need to prove they can beat a quality opponent.
This game will also likely decide whether the Giants have any shot at taking the division. If they lose the first game to the Eagles, like I expect them to, this result will be potentially worth two games in the standings. An Eagles win would cement the tiebreaker (head-to-head records).
The Giants will either be hitting their stride in this game, or resigning for another early offseason. They should have Prince Amukamara with a few games under his belt—possibly supplanting either Cory Webster or Aaron Ross as a starting corner—and Osi Umenyiora should be past his contract dispute. If Umenyiora is playing to earn a contract, as opposed to like he deserves one, they have a much better chance.
The difference in this game will be Amukamara covering DeSean Jackson. He has the speed, athleticism and cover skills to stay with the speedster as well as any corner in the league. He was a projected top 10 pick for a reason, after all.
If Amukamara can keep Jackson in check with minimal safety help, and Antrel Rolle can be sent at Vick in a variety of ways, the Giants should be able to come away with a victory here.
Another thing to expect is a grinding running game to eat up clock and minimize the Eagles' opportunities for explosive plays.
Giants 21—Eagles 17
Dec. 11 at Dallas Cowboys
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Anytime Dallas and New York meet up it's an important game, if for nothing more than bragging rights. This time, both teams might be in the thick of the Wild Card race, fighting each other for the last spot.
Another thing that will make this game extremely important for the G-Men is that they could very easily be coming off back-to-back losses. Any time you have the past two Super Bowl-winning teams on your schedule in consecutive weeks, your chances are going to be slightly damaged.
The Giants can't afford to let Dallas hand them a third consecutive loss. The issue here: Tony Romo has been licking his chops, waiting to get back at the team that derailed his 2010 season.
Dallas is a team with weapons, but they are not weapons the Giants are incapable of handling. Dez Bryant will likely step up to vacate the hole (although it is not an overly big one) left by Roy Williams.
This will be a high-scoring affair—as most Giants-Cowboys matchups have seemed to be in the recent years. After being lit up by two of the top three QBs in the NFL in back-to-back weeks, Eli Manning is going to show why he has just as many Super Bowl rings as Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
He will—at the same time—prove why Tony Romo has just one career playoff win.
Giants 35—Cowboys 28
Dec. 24 at New York Jets
This is a road game—sort of.
The Giants will venture over to the visitor's locker room and take on the newly minted MetLife Stadium's co-inhabitants.
This game, not unlike the Patriots game earlier in the season, is another measuring-stick game. Eli Manning will have to prove he can score on arguably the toughest defense in the NFL. If the Giants have gotten to this point with losses to just the Eagles, Patriots, Packers and Saints, they will be in prime Wild Card position with their playoff fate in their own hands.
What makes this measuring-stick game different, however, is the fact that the Giants will not be placated with a hard-fought loss. Not only will a loss at the hands of Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Gang Green and every Giants fan's next-door neighbor be demoralizing, it may also knock them out of the playoff race with just one game remaining in the season.
This game will be a slugfest with hard hitting and grinding running games abound. If the preseason contest between the two is any indication, there will not be many points put up.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs will likely outplay Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson, but it might not be enough.
I can't shake the notion that this game will go down to the wire, with Santonio Holmes hauling in a game-deciding touchdown; he's practically made a career out of doing just that. If that is the case, the Giants would likely be out of the playoffs—Tom Coughlin out of a job.
Jets 17—Giants 10