*Nate Solder vs. Jason Pierre-Paul is the most important matchup on Sunday. *
John Schmeelk - Fiction: The Giants guards against Gerald McCoy is a more important matchup. Eli Manning can step up in the pocket to avoid the rush if he has good blocking in front of him, but if McCoy dominates the middle, it could take away any chance the Giants’ passing attack has of taking advantage of a porous Bucs secondary. Defensively, the Giants cornerbacks against an array of talented Buccaneers receivers is probably more important, too. DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans are big plays waiting to happen. How the Giants linebackers and safeties deal with O.J. Howard will also be a deciding factor. It will also be important to see how the Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith blocks Oliver Vernon. If the Giants can pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick, that can turn into a lot of turnovers.
Dan Salomone - Fact. These guys last played against each other in Super Bowl XLVI, and Pierre-Paul is on pace for his highest sack total since that 2011 season. Of course, they will both be wearing different uniforms since their last meeting, but each is critical to his team’s success on Sunday. Schmeelk is right for worrying about McCoy because the interior is just as – if not more – important than the edge. But it’s no coincidence that Solder’s best performance as a Giant led to the unit’s best outing of the year. The Giants go as far as their offensive line goes, and the offensive line goes as far as Solder goes.
Lance Medow - Fiction: Jason Pierre-Paul has had a solid first half of the season, collecting a team-high eight sacks, but he isn’t the only weapon Tampa Bay showcases on the defensive line. You also need to account for Gerald McCoy, Carl Nassib and Vinny Curry, to name a few. Like most strong defensive lines, Tampa Bay loves to rotate personnel, and it certainly has the depth to accomplish that feat. Given the Bucs’ volume of pass rushers, I think the most important matchup is on the other side of the ball where someone on the Giants’ defense has to contain Bucs tight end O.J. Howard, who has a team-high five receiving touchdowns. Howard is much more involved in the offense this season, and his versatility makes him extremely dangerous. Whether it’s a safety, corner or linebacker who gets that assignment, or some combination of those positions, regardless of who is defending Howard, that’s the matchup to watch.
*The Giants will have more takeaways than sacks against the Buccaneers. *
John Schmeelk - Fiction: If they do, the Giants win the game easily. The Bucs have allowed about three sacks per game this year, thanks in part to their volume of passes and their desire to get the ball down the field. Long developing routes mean deeper drop backs and the quarterback holding the ball longer in the pocket. The Giants should be able to generate some pressure and get at least a couple of sacks. It means the Giants would have to get at least three takeaways for this to be fact. The Giants should be able to grab some takeaways with the Bucs leading the league with 25 giveaways, but expecting three or more is asking too much.
*Dan Salomone - * Fact. For whatever reasons, the football gods like to see both come in bunches. The Giants broke through in the takeaway department last week with two interceptions from B.J. Goodson – one off a deflected pass by Janoris Jenkins and the other off the wide receiver’s hands – but they are still struggling to generate pressure. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher circled that and getting off the field on third down as points of emphasis this week, but Tampa Bay has turned the ball over a league-high 25 times. I think the Giants add to that total, perhaps more than once, on Sunday in front of the home crowd.
Lance Medow - Fact: The Bucs have the worst turnover differential in the NFL. They’re at minus-19 with 25 turnovers compared to just six takeaways. Tampa Bay has turned the ball over at least two times in eight of its nine games and exactly four times in three of its last four contests. Based on that trend, you figure the Giants will be in an extremely favorable position to make opportunistic plays Sunday. Plus, they just faced a Niners team Monday night that had the second-worst turnover differential in the league and collected two takeaways. Considering the Giants have just 10 sacks in nine games, it’s hard to give the edge to the pass rush.
5 players to look to make an impact on Sunday
The quarterback with the most passing yards will be on the losing team.
John Schmeelk - Fiction: This is going to be a passing game. The Bucs don’t give a hoot about run-pass balance, one reason Dirk Koetter said he decided to call plays last week. The Bucs will likely need to throw for more yards than the Giants if they want to win this game. If Eli Manning throws for more yards than Ryan Fitzpatrick, I would be very surprised if the Giants didn’t win the game.
*Dan Salomone - * Fact. This was the case in both of the Giants’ wins this season. They also happened to be the games in which 1) Eli Manning threw his fewest passes of the year (31 vs. San Francisco and 29 vs. Houston), and 2) the Giants ran the ball the ball the most times (23 and 27 rushing attempts, respectively). Back in the offseason, Pat Shurmur said he wanted the offense to be unpredictable, which is another word for “balanced.”
Lance Medow - Fiction: Both the Giants and Bucs have had a hard time running the ball consistently this season, so it’s not a stretch to think both teams will be relying on their respective passing games. Tampa Bay is number one in the NFL with 361 passing yards per game. Ryan Fitzpatrick and company don’t hesitate to toss the pigskin around. Same thing can be said for Eli Manning and his crew; the Giants are averaging just 80 rushing yards per game.Red Zone efficiency and explosive plays are going to be the two big difference makers in this game, but whichever team moves the ball most effectively will do so through the air.
Saquon Barkley will have more than 20 carries.
John Schmeelk - FICTION SLAM: Like I said in my response to the previous statement, I think this is going to be a passing game. Barkley should get a ton of catches in the passing game, but I don’t think this will be a ground-and-pound situation for the Giants. The Bucs are going to score points, and the Giants offense is going to have to keep pace. Unlike the Bucs’ pass defense, their run defense is actually respectable, ranking 18th in the league in rushing yards allowed per play. The Giants should attack them through the air early and often on first down.
*Dan Salomone - * Fact. These last two statements go together. Tampa Bay has given up a league-high 193 points in the first half for a minus-74 differential. If the Giants can get the early lead, Barkley can take them home in the second half. But that’s not to say they don’t need to feed him the ball to get the offense going in the first place, which they did successfully on Monday night. He had as many carries in the first half (15 for 53 yards) as he did in six of his first eight games.
Lance Medow - Fiction: Saquon Barkley’s season high is 20 carries and that happened just once, coincidentally on Monday night in San Francisco. Given my last response where I mentioned how I think this game will be dictated through the air, I believe Barkley will do much more damage as a receiver than as a rusher. Plus, the Bucs rank 15th in the NFL against the run. Barkley should get about 15 carries on Sunday, but I’d be surprised if that number goes over 20.