GIANTS (6-4) vs. DENVER BRONCOS (6-4)
THE TEAMS: The Giants come off a 34-31 overtime win against Atlanta that basically hinged on an incorrect coin flip call in overtime by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Had he called heads and been right, a defense that failed to make a stop the entire second half probably would have given up the winning points to extend the Giants' losing streak to five games. Instead, Ryan called tails, and Eli Manning moved the team into field goal position, where Lawrence Tynes won it from 36 yards out. These Giants have never worked as short a week as this, and that could have an effect on how things go. The positive is that if there is a game in this final stretch that is expendable, it is this one because it's a non-conference game. Denver is much like the Giants in that the Broncos won their first six and have lost their last four. The offense under quarterback Kyle Orton is bad, but until last week's 32-3 shellacking by San Diego, the defense hadn't played poorly.
THE HISTORY: The most famous game of this series came in Super Bowl XXI, when Phil Simms led the Giants to a 39-20 win and took the game's MVP award. Other than that, it's been pretty even, the Giants holding a 5-4 advantage in regular season meetings. The last meeting came in 2005, a 24-23 Giants win. The last meeting in Denver, on opening day of the 2001 season, was a 39-20 Broncos victory. The Giants are 7-3-3 lifetime on Thanksgiving, but have played only three times on the holiday since 1938. They last played on Thanksgiving in 1992, when the Cowboys beat them 30-3 in Dallas. They are 12-5-3 in Thursday night games.
THE INJURIES: Giants -- LB Antonio Pierce (neck) is out. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot and both ankles) is doubtful. QB Eli Manning (foot) is probable.
Broncos -- T Ryan Harris (toe) and RB Lamont Jordan (undisclosed) are questionable. S Brian Dawkins (neck) and QB Kyle Orton (ankle) are probable.
WATCH THIS: If the Giants have to work a super-short week, this is the team to do it against right now. The Broncos have imploded after a 6-0 start. They are in disarray, with players arguing among themselves on the sidelines and Josh McDaniels showing his immaturity with a "We own you" warning to the San Diego linebackers before the Chargers blew their doors off Sunday. The Broncos are so eminently beatable at this point that the oddsmakers picking the Giants as six-point favorites is no surprise at all.
That's saying a lot, since the Giants haven't exactly looked like Super Bowl contenders, either. The defense hasn't made a key second-half stop in two weeks. It has become a downright embarrassment in the fourth quarter to see the Chargers and Falcons, consecutively, make up fourth-quarter deficits with late touchdowns to either beat the Giants or send the game into overtime. Receivers have run free through the secondary. The pass rush loses its pop. And opposing quarterbacks are left free to exploit every part of the field. And all Tom Coughlin can do at this point is scratch his head. "People keep asking me for an answer," he said. "I wish I had an answer. If I had an answer, it would be the end of it. We have not been able to stop those consistent pass drives late in the game. Someone asked me about whether there was fatigue involved. I don’t see that at all. You are talking about 50 degrees at this time of year. I just don’t see that. We have given up some pass plays, obviously. We have given up some opportunities. When we could have gotten off the field, we didn’t. We had some third and longs that they converted, too." His remedy? "Keep working," he said.
If there's any bright spot in this, it's that Orton never really inspired confidence when healthy. And now that he's got a gimpy ankle, he would appear ripe for the taking. Orton is hittable, since he is not a truly mobile quarterback. So a pass rush that has recorded eight sacks in five games should be able to pressure him. Orton, with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, tends toward the short passing game. None of his main receivers -- Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, and tight end Tony Scheffler, average more than Gaffney's 13.3 yards per catch. The Broncos have had just 23 passes of 20 yards or more. Only four of those plays have produced touchdowns.
Getting comfortable in that knowlege would be a mistake for the Giants, however. They're stopping the run well enough, but a combination of running back Knowshon Moreno (142 carries for 600 yards and two touchdowns), Correll Buckhalter (73 for 399), and the short passing game could limit the time Eli Manning has to work with. Besides, once the Broncos get inside the 20, anything can happen. They only have four rushing touchdowns, but the Giants have the worst Red Zone defense in the league. And they come off a game where a backup running back in Jason Snelling ran virtually untouched through the middle for a score. "They certainly have had their struggles the last couple of years in the red zone," Orton said. "So we are hoping to get down there quite a few times and give us our best chance. They seem like they have played some great defense in between the 20s and then they kind of get down there and struggle a little bit. We are looking to certainly score some touchdowns when we get down there. "
If anything, the Giants will need Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield to create a presence in the middle the Giants have lacked recently. An effective blitz wouldn't hurt, either. Last week, the blitz got to Ryan a click too late, allowing him to complete key fourth-quarter passes. If Chase Blackburn or Michael Boley don't get to Orton, the quarterback could hurt them with quick throws to Moreno and Scheffler. Justin Tuck continues to play like a Pro Bowl defensive end, and he had a strip-sack against Atlanta. But the defense needs to get more than a couple of plays out of Osi Umenyiora on the other side if they expect to get consistent frontal pressure.
They'll need to turn things around defensively, because the injury bug has hit the offense and left it in questionable shape. Ahmad Bradshaw, now with a sprained left ankle to go with a right ankle sprain and a broken right fifth metatarsal, might not even make the trip, let alone take his 10 carries behind Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs had to come out of Sunday's game in the third quarter after getting hit in the thigh, and he may still be tender. So Danny Ware may have to carry the bulk of the rushing duties, something he's never before done. That alone makes it an iffy proposition. On the other hand, the Broncos' once-fearsome run defense has fallen on hard times, having given up an average of 168 yards on the ground to the last four opponents. San Diego hit them for 203 last week, so trying to establish the run early would be a wise thing for offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
Consider, too, that the Giants are not used to playing in high altitude stadiums. If Manning cranks the tempo, as he did successfully against the Falcons, long-range sprinters like Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham could find themselves huffing and puffing midway through drives. Better that Manning stick with the short passing game again, making generous use of Kevin Boss' sure hands and toughness, and Steve Smith's consistency, to control things against the third-best pass defense in the league. The secondary, with seven interceptions, has experience in Champ Bailey at left cornerback and former Philadelphia hitman Brian Dawkins at safety. Dawkins is hurting, but he's expected to play.
The teams are close in takeaway/giveaway differential, the Giants being plus-2, the Broncos even.
Denver has a clear advantage in special teams. Although Lawrence Tynes continues to lead the league in scoring with 92 points, Denver's Matt Prater has him in the kickoff department. Prater has 11 touchbacks, ninth most in the league, while Tynes has just six among his liners, squibbers, and mortared kicks. Eddie Royal is the league's sixth-best punt returner with an 11.6-yard average, so Feagles will have to figure out again how to keep it away from him and get considerable length on his punts. He hasn't found the answer yet, as his 39.4-yard gross on 39 punts ranks him last in the league. The net, 35.6, is 30th ranked.
PREDICTION: The Giants need to get on a roll, but at this point the Broncos are the more desperate team. That's a dangerous thing, especially after the Giants travel halfway across the country to play in a prime time game in a tough stadium. Still, the Broncos are in such deep trouble that the Giants should win this. It'll be close and fairly low-scoring as field position and the kickers' legs will dictate the outcome. Giants 17-14.