Saquon Barkley will have more rushing yards than Odell Beckham Jr. has receiving on Sunday.
John Schmeelk - Fact: This is all about matchups, and the numbers favor Saquon Barkley on Sunday afternoon. Last season, the Jaguars allowed 170 yards per game last year, the best in the league and 20 yards fewer than the next best pass defense. Their combination of elite cornerbacks with AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey and a ferocious pass rush makes moving the ball through the air very difficult. The Jaguars intercepted 21 passes and gave up only 17 touchdown passes. Their rushing defense, on the other hand, was worse than league average, giving up 116 yards per game on the ground. Over the course of the entire season, the Giants pass game should be far more consistent than their rushing attack, but this week the Jaguars are a very specific case. Go with Barkley.
Dan Salomone - Fiction. Give me the proven star over the rookie, especially in the first game of the season. Both have their work cut out for themselves going against a defense returning six Pro Bowler, but I think Beckham’s veteran experience and utter excitement of playing in his first game in 11 months will push him over the top. On the flipside, even if Barkley weren’t going against the No. 1 rush defense from a year ago, I’d still put up a caution flag. Ezekiel Elliott only ran for only 51 yards in his debut against the Giants in 2016 and still went on to lead the NFL in rushing as a rookie. Then again, Kareem Hunt, who accomplished the same feat last year, ran for 148 yards against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in his first game. So go wild if you want. I won’t stop you.
Lance Medow - Fact: If there was one weakness to the Jaguars defense last season, it was stopping the run. Jacksonville finished the regular season ranked 21st in the NFL after allowing 116 rushing yards per game. In 2017, defending the pass certainly wasn’t an issue. The Jaguars boasted the number one passing defense in the league and surrendered just 170 yards per contest. With Pro Bowlers Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye as their two starting corners, Jacksonville is extremely stingy on the back of its defense so even if Beckham isn’t shadowed by Ramsey, he’ll still see tough competition on the other side. While Odell is more than capable of beating any corner in the league, this secondary doesn’t have too many holes. That’s why I’d say it’s a safer bet that Barkley picks up more yards on the ground than Beckham through the air.
*Stopping Leonard Fournette is the Giants’ top priority in Week 1. *
John Schmeelk - Fiction: Stopping Fournette is certainly the number one priority for the Giants defense, but I think slowing down the Jaguars defensive line takes priority. If you can’t win up front offensively, whether in the run or pass game, it is very difficult to move the ball. The Jaguars defensive front features four disruptive players in Yannick Ngakoue, Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson, and Calais Campbell that all know how to get to the quarterback. Their first-round pick, Taven Bryan, will be a rotational defender as well. If those players are living in the backfield all game, the Giants are not going to beat the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.
Dan Salomone - Fact. Doug Marrone keeps it simple. Pat Shurmur keeps it simple. So I’m going to keep this answer simple. Everyone knows the Jaguars want to run the football, and they were 5-1 last season when Fournette hit 100 yards rushing, including their divisional round playoff win over the Steelers. Stop. The. Run.
Lance Medow - Fact*: *It’s the first priority, second priority and third priority. The key to slowing down the Jaguars’ offense is to take away their strongest asset and that’s the run game. Last season, Jacksonville ranked number one in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 142. Thanks to that impressive stat, the Jaguars were effective in milking the clock as they finished third in the league in time of possession. Fournette is a big back who can wear down a defense over the course of the game. If the Giants don’t contain him, Jacksonville will face manageable third downs which will take pressure off quarterback Blake Bortles.
*Jacksonville is the toughest defense the Giants will face all year. *
John Schmeelk - Fact: This answer is going to be short, since I already lauded how great the Jaguars defense is in my last couple of answers. There are two other possible choices: The Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have a pass rush on par with Jacksonville but their secondary doesn’t match up. The Texans have some great pass rushers, but health always seems to be a problem for them. The Saints are a sleeper here too, but the Jaguars are at the top.
Dan Salomone - Fiction. You have to give credit to where credit is due, and the – close your eyes, Giants fans – defending Super Bowl champion Eagles deserve this distinction until proven otherwise. They don’t appear to have any immediate Super Bowl hangover, either, after watching them kick off the NFL season on Thursday night. The Falcons gashed them for some yards, but Philadelphia held Atlanta to one of five in the red zone and four of 15 on third down in an 18-12 victory.
Lance Medow - Fact: The Giants have a number of stingy defenses on their schedule this season including the Texans and Panthers but it’s more than fair to say the Jaguars are the toughest. Last season, Jacksonville finished second in the NFL in scoring defense and total defense, second in sacks, second in interceptions and sent six players to the Pro Bowl. You’d be hard pressed to find a more balanced unit in the league. Jacksonville has plenty of depth on the defensive line with numerous disruptive players highlighted by the one of the league’s best pass rushing duos in Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, who combined for 26 and a half sacks and nine forced fumbles in 2017. The Jaguars also have two athletic linebackers in Myles Jack and Telvin Smith plus what may be the best cornerback duo in the NFL in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, who combined for ten interceptions and 35 passes defensed in 2017.
*Outside of the quarterback, left tackle Nate Solder is the most important Giants player in this week’s matchup. *
John Schmeelk - Fiction: Nate Solder might very well be the most important, but I’ve already spoken so much about the Jaguars defensive line and Solder’s likely matchup, Calais Campbell, that I’ll take a look at someone else instead. I’ll give you two players, one on offense and one on defense. Offensively, I’m going to go with Evan Engram. With All-Pro level cornerbacks outside, Engram needs to be able to win his matchups inside for the Giants to move the ball. On defense, I’m going to go with Damon Snacks Harrison. The Giants need to stop the run, and Harrison will be dealing with an All-Pro of his own in new acquisition Andrew Norwell. Sleeper here: Kareem Martin. Leonard Fournette likes to bounce plays outside, and setting the edge will be very important in the game.
Dan Salomone - Fact. The Giants go as their offensive line goes. General manager Dave Gettleman set out to rebuild the offensive line this season, signing two-time Super Bowl champion (and four-time participant) Nate Solder as the cornerstone. He joined safety and special teamer Michael Thomas as newcomers named team captains (the Giants have six total this season). Solder’s presence will steady the entire group going against a ferocious Jaguars defense.
Lance Medow - Fact: I would argue the entire offensive line is next on the list of importance after Eli Manning so given Nate Solder is part of that group it’s a fact. He’ll see plenty of Calais Campbell Sunday but, keep in mind, in 2017, the Jaguars had four players with at least eight sacks so Campbell is just of many pass rushers the Giants offensive line has to keep close tabs on throughout the game. Jacksonville has a disruptive and opportunistic defensive front. The last thing you want to do is allow that group to set the tone.