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Fact or Fiction: Predictions for Week 16

Fact-or-Fiction-Evan-Engram

Tight end Evan Engram will lead the Giants in receiving yards on Sunday.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - I like the matchup Evan Engram will have against the Colts’ defense on Sunday, but I think this will finally be a breakout game for Sterling Shepard, who has had a slow half-dozen weeks (he hasn’t had more than four catches or 37 receiving yards since Week 7) even with Odell Beckham Jr. not in the lineup. I think that changes against the Colts. The game will be played indoors on a fast turf, and the Colts are far more likely to give up underneath routes than anything over the top. Shepard should be able to excel in those conditions. I think he gets at least six catches and 80 yards receiving on Sunday.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - Sterling Shepard racked up a career-high 167 yards the last time the Giants played indoors (Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 7). He needed just five catches to get there with chunk plays of 58, 53 and 38 yards. Nothing went right for Shepard and the offense last Sunday against a stout Titans defense in cold, wet conditions. The Colts are no slouches, either. They have given up 35 passes of 20 yards or more, tied with the Bears and Cowboys for the fourth-fewest in the NFL (Falcons have allowed 39, the eighth-fewest). But the Giants likely will look to get Shepard involved early. While he might not have another career day, Shepard will have plenty of opportunities with Odell Beckham Jr. and Russell Shepard banged up. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Evan Engram accomplished that feat in each of the Giants last two games against the Redskins and Titans, and the common theme in those two contests was the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. Given they will once again be without Beckham, as well as Russell Shepard, and the fact that Engram seems to be getting his legs back under him after missing several games due to numerous injuries, I think the Giants starting tight end is a good bet to lead the team in receiving yards. The Colts defense is underrated with a number of young players who have flourished and key veterans having breakout campaigns, so this won’t be an easy assignment for Eli Manning and company. If the Giants are successful through the air, they will likely have to lean on Engram, who is playing his best football right now.

The team with more rushing yards will win the game.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - The Giants can out-rush the Colts in this game and still lose. Marlon Mack was a weapon against the Cowboys last week, but the Colts’ offense is all about Andrew Luck. Barkley can go for 100 yards, and Luck can still throw for 300 or more and win the game. T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron are big-time weapons down the field. If the Colts out-rush the Giants, I find it hard to believe the Giants win, but Luck can still be the difference-maker if Barkley has a big game.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - The Giants and Colts are a lot alike. They both struggled out of the gates with new head coaches before finding their strides in the second half. Much of their success is due to their offensive lines, particularly in the run game. In their eight wins, the Colts average 134 rushing yards. In their six losses, they average 73. The disparity is even greater for the Giants, who average 149 yards on the ground in wins to just 76 in losses. Keep in mind, though, this is a chicken-or-the-egg conversation. Everything is connected when you’re talking rushing numbers.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - The team with more rushing yards will likely be in a good position to win the game, but that doesn’t guarantee victory. You can argue yards per carry is a much better indicator of victory than total rushing yards. How effective is the run game? There’s a number of other important factors that play a role in dictating wins and losses than simply which team ends up with the most rushing yards. Case in point, in Week 6, the Giants outrushed the Eagles, 147 to 108, yet lost, 34-13. One 50-yard run by Barkley helped boost those numbers, and Philadelphia had plenty of success through the air as Carson Wentz threw for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns.  In Week 10, the Niners outrushed the Giants, 124-97, yet the Giants were victorious, 27-23, thanks in no small part to two takeaways, one of which shortened the field and led to a touchdown.

Of all the quarterbacks on the Giants’ schedule, Andrew Luck is playing the best right now.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - It is hard to put anyone over Drew Brees given the MVP-caliber season he has had, but I think Luck is playing better right now. Brees hasn’t thrown for more than 203 yards in his last four games, and it seems like opposing teams have figured out the Saints offense a little bit. Luck, on the other hand, threw for 399 yards just a couple of weeks ago against the Texans. Luck is as accurate as any quarterback in the league, has the size and mobility to run and throw on the move, and his shoulder has healed to the point where he has enough velocity to make all the throws. Luck, along with Patrick Mahomes, might be the two best quarterbacks in the league right now.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - I’m a fan of Andrew Luck, but it’s Drew Brees. Finito. He’s having one of those magical seasons with the best passer rating (116.8) and completion percentage (74.9) in the NFL. Brees also has his team one win away from clinching home-field advantage at a stadium where he is 5-0 in the postseason. This is the season of Brees.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Andrew Luck is a very strong candidate for Comeback Player of the Year after missing the entire 2017 season due to a shoulder injury. He’s on pace to set career-highs in completion percentage and passer rating and could very well match his career-high for touchdown passes. In recent contests, his numbers haven’t necessarily jumped off the page as he has just two touchdown passes and two interceptions in the last three contests combined. That’s partially because the Colts have been leaning on their run game and solid defense. 

Drew Brees and the Saints have cooled off, the Panthers’ Cam Newton has been shut down with a shoulder injury, and Carson Wentz of the Eagles has been sidelined with a back injury. A number of the other quarterbacks the Giants faced were either backups or no longer hold the starting job due to performance issues. So who does that leave us with? Well, it may not be the popular choice and will certainly raise a few eyebrows, but if we’re looking at that statement fairly and focus on “playing the best right now”, then the answer is Nick Mullens. The Niners’ starting quarterback has improved on his decision making and completion percentage since taking over the reins and has helped lead San Francisco to back-to-back victories over the Broncos and Seahawks.

Linebacker Darius Leonard is the best player on the Colts not named Andrew Luck.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Darius Leonard is an excellent player and might be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, but I don’t know if he is a better player than Hilton. Hilton still has game-breaking speed and quickness, and he is the one player on the Colts’ offense who Andrew Luck can depend on to consistently beat one-on-one coverage. I also don’t think fans should sleep on free safety Malik Hooker. Finding a good high-end free safety who can truly play sideline-to-sideline is very hard in the NFL, and Hooker is one of the best already in just his second season.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - Because Schmeelk made the point about former Buckeye Malik Hooker, I’m going to go a different direction. We can’t have this conversation without bringing up rookie guard Quenton Nelson, the only lineman on the team to play 100 percent of the offensive snaps this season. Nelson became the first rookie offensive lineman in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl since 1983 and just the third overall. Giants coach Pat Shurmur said the Giants had him rated “very highly” in the 2018 NFL Draft, which saw Nelson go four spots after Saquon Barkley. It’s safe to say both teams are happy with their picks. Shurmur said this week, “They added Nelson, a rookie, and lo and behold they’re blocking better and playing better offense – an interesting concept.”

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Darius Leonard could go down as the steal of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Colts selected him with the 36th overall pick out of South Carolina State and he’s taken the league by storm. Leonard leads the team in tackles, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, but let’s put things in perspective. The rookie linebacker actually leads the NFL in tackles with 146. The next closest player is Packers linebacker Blake Martinez with 125. So Leonard is about two games worth of tackles ahead of Martinez. I rest my case. Leonard is one of the most active and disruptive defensive players you’ll find in the league, and he only has 13 games under his belt.

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