FINAL TUNE-UP BEFORE POSTSEASON
Regardless of the outcome of this weekend's game, the Giants will head into the postseason with the No. 6 seed. As we are all aware of, this presents Brian Daboll and the rest of the coaching staff with an important question – do the starters play in Week 18, or would it be more beneficial to give them the week off to rest before postseason play begins? There are arguments to be made in support of both sides of this debate, one that most playoff teams have dealt with at one time or another. But as Daboll has consistently said throughout the season, they're going to make the decision that is in the best interest of the New York Giants.
"I'd say we'll talk about it and do what's best for the team," Daboll said at the beginning of the week. "So, it's early Monday. We'll go out there and try to have a good week of practice, prepare like we normally do and decide what we want to do relative to who's playing, who's not playing. Whatever we think is best for our team, that's what we'll end up doing."
Sunday's game will be the 182nd all-time meeting between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, with the Eagles holding a slight 91-88-2 lead. Philadelphia has won the last two games in the series dating back to last season, which comes after the Giants' two-game winning streak against their division rival, both of which occurred at MetLife Stadium. While the game may not have much significance for the Giants, the Eagles have a lot on the line in Week 18.
The Eagles entered Week 16 needing just one win in their final three contests to secure the No. 1 seed in the conference (along with the NFC East crown). However, back-to-back losses against the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints has left Philadelphia needing a win in the regular-season finale in order to receive the bye. The Eagles won the first meeting against the Giants in Week 14, 48-22.
Out: OLB Azeez Ojulari (ankle), DL Leonard Williams (neck)
Doubtful: CB Adoree' Jackson (knee)
Questionable: C Jon Feliciano (back)
Out: LB Shaun Bradley (wrist), OT Lane Johnson (groin), CB Avonte Maddox (toe), DE Janarius Robinson (ankle), DE Josh Sweat (neck)
Questionable: QB Jalen Hurts
PLAYOFF PICTURE HEADING INTO FINALE
The Giants are locked into the No. 6 seed, but which team they will play on Wild Card weekend is still up in the air. Depending on the outcomes of several Week 18 games, the Giants will either be traveling to San Francisco to take on the 49ers or to Minnesota for a rematch against the Vikings. The 49ers currently hold the No. 2 seed, meaning the Giants would go up against the Vikings if the standings do not change. If San Francisco defeats the Arizona Cardinals this weekend, the Giants are guaranteed a matchup against the Vikings.
Here is a snapshot at the possible matchups on Wild Card Weekend:
2022 record: 12-4 (8-1 at U.S. Bank Stadium)
Week 18 opponent: at CHI
Series record: 10-17 (2-1 postseason)
Last meeting: Dec. 24, 2022 (Giants lost, 27-24, at U.S. Bank Stadium)
Last postseason meeting: Jan. 14, 2001 (Giants won NFC Championship, 41-0)
San Francisco 49ers
2022 record: 12-4 (7-1 at Levi's Stadium)
Week 18 opponent: vs. ARI
Series record: 17-17 (4-4 postseason)
Last meeting: Sept. 27, 2020 (Giants lost, 36-9, at home)
Last postseason meeting: Jan. 22, 2012 (Giants won NFC Championship, 20-17, in OT at Candlestick Park)
DJ, SAQUON WRAPPING UP CAREER YEARS
A significant reason for the Giants' success this year is due to the strong performances from Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, who have each put up career-highs this season. Jones has set new career-highs with 3,205 passing yards, a 92.5 passer rating and a 67.2 completion percentage. In fact, if he is able to maintain his completion percentage, he will establish a new franchise single-season record, beating out Eli Manning's mark of 66.0 percent set in 2018.
Jones also leads the NFL with a 1.06 interception percentage this season with just five interceptions on 472 pass attempts. No Giants quarterback has ever thrown that many passes with so few interceptions. He has also started all 16 games this season and did not throw an interception in 12 of them, which is the highest number of starts without a pick in the NFL this season (no other QB has more than 10). His 708 rushing yards are a new personal best and franchise record for quarterbacks while setting up Jones to become just the fourth QB in NFL history with 3,200+ passing yards, a 65+ completion percentage and 700+ rushing yards.
Meanwhile, Barkley set a new personal mark after running for 58 yards on 12 carries (4.8 avg.) last week, bringing his season total to 1,312 rushing yards. Barkley has also caught 57 passes for 338 yards, with his 1,650 total yards from scrimmage the most since his breakout rookie campaign. He also earned the second Pro Bowl selection of his career, as he moved ahead of Ahmad Bradshaw (4,232 years) into sixth place on the Giants' all-time rushing list with 4,249.
The two team captains entered the NFL just one year apart and have developed together over the past four seasons. Their individual growth this year in particular has helped complement each other and has led to their respective strong campaigns.
"The first thing, I think, they really appreciate one another – the type of teammate that each person is," Daboll said about Jones and Barkley. "I'd say they both work extremely hard. They've been here for some time. I think they've had probably some ups and downs. And they're pretty close, so I think that helps.
"In the running game, if you are choosing to use a quarterback on runs, that's a pretty important chemistry that you have with one another between the two of them with the ball handling and the decision-making and the reads. And then in the passing game, those guys have worked hard together to make sure they're on the same page. But both of those guys, I think, respect one another's responsibilities. I think they're good captains for us. And I think they work well together."
GIANTS BUILD 'PLAYOFF DEFENSE'
The schedule may say Week 18, but the Giants are about as healthy as they've been since the start of the season, especially on defense. Last week saw the return of Xavier McKinney to the defensive backfield. The third-year safety, who had missed the previous seven contests due to a hand injury suffered during the bye week, recorded seven total tackles in his first game back, the second-most on the team, along with a pass breakup. In addition to McKinney, it appears as if Adoree' Jackson is also nearing a return to action. The veteran cornerback practiced on a limited basis all of last week before being listed as doubtful for Week 16. He was a limited participant this week as well before being listed again as doubtful on the final injury report.
Even without two of their starters in the secondary for most of the second half of the season, the defense was able to step up and help the Giants secure a trip to the postseason. The unit held two of their last three opponents to 12 points or less, which led to two key victories. On the season, Wink Martindale's unit has the fifth-best third down defense (35.1 percent) and the ninth-best red zone defense (51.7 percent). Regardless of the success, Martindale cannot wait to get his starting defense back to full strength, whether it's this week or in the near future.
"Oh yeah, I think it makes us better," the defensive coordinator said about McKinney and Jackson returning to the secondary. "How much better? We'll see. I think that the thing that's exciting to me is that we've come here, and we've built a playoff defense. Nobody can argue that, and I think we're starting to really catch our stride. They understand the value of each snap as it gets closer towards the end of the year. The young ones and the vets."
COLLINS WENT THROUGH 'HUMBLING EXPERIENCE'
Following three seasons with the Washington Commanders, Landon Collins had remained unsigned before he joined the Giants practice squad on October 7. The three-time Pro Bowler was elevated the maximum of three times in Weeks 7, 8 and 15 before he was finally signed to the active roster on December 22. In the two games since, the 28-year-old has played his finest football of the season.
Collins played 46 percent of the team's defensive snaps against the Vikings on Christmas Eve and picked up his first sack and pass breakup of the season, along with four total tackles. Against the Colts this past weekend, he made the play of the game when he jumped in front of a Nick Foles pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown. Collins did this on 55 percent of the defensive snaps and again finished with four total tackles.
Martindale commended the eighth-year veteran for everything that he has been through, and for continuing to put in the hard work all year long no matter the circumstances.
"The pick-6 was great, it was great," the defensive coordinator told the media. "He was in a very humbling position coming back to New York. The thing that I like to see about that is that he kept working, kept working, kept working. Had him for this game, had him up for Jacksonville, then we had one more call-up and selfishly I wanted to get him up for the Washington game and then we were ready to get him on the roster. It just goes to show you that you keep working, you keep battling, you keep trying, eventually you'll break through. I'm really happy for him. He calls himself a hybrid now if you want to know. I told him not one of whatever those little hybrids are, it's got be a sports car hybrid if there's such a thing."
DEX 'A CENTERPIECE' OF DEFENSE
While several players have been enjoying career years, it would be difficult to argue against the team's biggest breakout star this year being Dexter Lawrence. The fourth-year defensive lineman leads the Giants with a career-high 7.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits. No other Giant has more than 13 QB hits (Kayvon Thibodeaux). Lawrence's two forced fumbles, three pass breakups and 68 total tackles are also new personal bests, and helped play a part in the 25-year-old earning his first Pro Bowl selection this season.
Martindale has been a part of many successful defenses throughout his coaching career. The defensive coordinator told the media that every great defense has an elite talent, and for the Giants, Lawrence has become that guy.
"Every great defense has a centerpiece," said Martindale. "You go back and look at the defense that we're building with the great defenses of the past, they always have a great centerpiece. And he has definitely become the centerpiece of our defense and I think it's awesome. I told him yesterday I was so happy for him, proud of him, because he's a good person, he's smart, and he's worked his tail off. I think it's great when you see a player succeed who puts as much work in as he has."
"I think he's definitely put the league on notice (to) the type of player that he is," Leonard Williams added. "If he hasn't shown it years before, he's definitely done it this year. I've always known the type of player he is because I see him in practice every day. To me, I'm just happy and excited to see that now the world is giving him the same recognition that his peers and coaches have been seeing from him. He's definitely put on a show this year. It's been impressive to watch. He's just a freakish athlete for his size. I think that's really hard to match up."
GANO ENJOYING 'ONE OF HIS BETTER YEARS'
An underrated storyline of the Giants' 2022 season has been the standout play of Graham Gano. Now in his 13th NFL season, Gano has connected on 90.3 percent of his field goal attempts, the third-highest mark in his career, while making 31 of 33 extra point attempts. The most impressive part of the veteran's performance has been his ability to make kicks from far out. Gano has made eight of nine attempts from 50+ yards, which set both a new personal and franchise record. The 35-year-old deserves a ton of credit for his success this year, but some of the praise must also fall on punter and holder Jamie Gillan and long snapper Casey Kreiter.
"That's huge for us. He's a weapon," special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said about Gano. "You get a chance to know that at any point in time, once you cross the 50 (yard line) and you get into that area where he feels comfortable, that's huge. It's a comforting feeling to know that you have a guy that can get it done when you need to get it done…
"When you look at his percentage over the years, it's been pretty good. He's continuing to stay in his routine, and just him and Jamie have a really good handle on the battery of the three. Casey, Jamie and Graham have a really good working relationship and really relationship, period. They stay together over at the hotel. So, they're always around each other. I think that synergy of those three is really, really good. Obviously, that helps on gameday."
Speaking of Gillan, the Scottish punter has also enjoyed a solid season, especially in recent weeks. The four-year veteran is averaging a career-high 47.0 yards per punt, with a net of 40.3 yards. He's pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line 26 times, just two shy of his career best of 28 set in his rookie season back in 2019. Gillan punted the ball just one time for 47 yards in last week's win, but prior to the New Year's Day matchup, he had three punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line in each of the last four games.
"He put on a show out here yesterday," the special teams coordinator said about Gillan. "He hit a lot of big punts yesterday. He probably had like seven or eight of them that were five plus (seconds hang time). So, you see the maturation process of it. You see him getting better. He's getting more confident. Obviously, it helped that it was 63 degrees out here yesterday; it wasn't 33 (degrees). He's doing a lot better. He's working hard. That's part of being a young punter in this league, you're just trying to figure it out. And I think he's on his way to figuring it out."
HURTS 'TRENDING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION'
After beginning the season 13-1, the Eagles have lost back-to-back games. The biggest thing in common between the two recent losses is the fact that Jalen Hurts was not under center. The promising third-year quarterback has been sidelined the last two weeks due to a shoulder sprain, but Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni told the media Friday morning that the star quarterback is "trending in the right direction." He has officially been listed as questionable on the final injury report.
Hurts found himself firmly in the MVP discussion prior to injuring his throwing shoulder. In 14 games this season, the 24-year-old completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 3,472 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions for a passer rating of 104.6. Hurts also proved to be a very valuable asset as a runner, adding 747 yards and a whopping 13 touchdowns on the ground.
In Hurts' absence, backup quarterback Gardner Minshew has started the last two games for the Eagles. The fourth-year quarterback was solid in his first start, throwing for 355 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, with an additional score on the ground, on Christmas Eve. But Minshew struggled in his second outing as he completed just 56.3 percent of his passes for 274 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked six times.
View rare photos of the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.