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Fact or Fiction: Who will be the X-Factor Sunday?


The staff debates Big Blue topics heading into Sunday's game:

Stopping Marshawn Lynch is the Giants' top priority on Sunday.

John Schmeelk - Fact:With the Raiders missing their two top wide receivers, they will likely rely heavily on Marshawn Lynch to take on a bigger part of the offensive load. Derek Carr will still have tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver Seth Roberts, but the Raiders will try to take advantage of a Giants' rush defense that struggled to stop Samaje Perine in the second half on Thanksgiving night. The wild card of the game will be how a shorthanded Giants secondary will deal with a similarly shorthanded Raiders WR corps.

Dan Salomone - Fact:It's not coach-speak when you hear about the need to stop the run when Marshawn Lynch comes up on the schedule. That's a grown man, as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said in the locker room this week. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo even used the S-word in his press conference after he found himself watching Lynch highlights on YouTube. "He scares me, you know, but I got a lot of respect for him as a football player," Spags said. "Loves playing ball. The way he runs. We've been talking about it all week -- that's going to be target No. 1."

Lance Medow - Fact: Marshawn Lynch hasn't put up monster numbers this season, but he's a tone setter for the Raiders' offense given his physicality and toughness. Last Sunday, Lynch received a season-high 26 carries. While he only ran for 67 yards and averaged 2.6 yards per carry, he scored a touchdown and hauled in three catches for 43 yards, and was an effective weapon in short yardage situations. With Oakland's top two receivers, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, likely sidelined due to injury and suspension, respectively, I think the Raiders will lean on the run game. Stopping the run to force Derek Carr to rely on his young receiver corps should be priority number one.

Khalil Mack is the best defensive player the Giants face this year.

A look at the key playmakers on the Raiders' roster

John Schmeelk - Fiction:Believe it or not, Khalil Mack has only 6.5 sacks this year, so it is hard for me to call him the best defensive player the Giants will face this year. DeMarcus Lawrence, Von Miller, Brandon Graham, Joey Bosa and Ryan Kerrigan all have more sacks. Then you have to account for guys like Sean Lee, Fletcher Cox and Aaron Donald. Sack totals aren't everything and extra attention on Mack plays a role, but for at least this season, he is not on top of that list.

Dan Salomone - Fact:Only a select number of players have ever been named first-team All-Pro. Even fewer have done so twice. Only one has done it twice in the same season. Yes, you read that correctly. In 2015, Mack became the first player in NFL history to be named to the Associated Press All-Pro First Team at two positions (defensive end and linebacker). That remains one of my favorite stats to use, and he only followed it up by earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season.

Lance Medow - Fiction: Khalil Mack is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and leads Oakland with 6.5 sacks. While Mack is one of the most disruptive players in the league, I think Chargers' pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are slightly higher on the list, especially based on their play this season. Those two have combined for 19 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. They posted four sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery against Eli Manning and the Giants in Week 5. You also can't overlook Denver's Von Miller, the Rams' Aaron Donald and Kansas City's Justin Houston, who the Giants also already played against this season.

3. Roger Lewis is the Giants' X-factor on offense vs. Oakland.

John Schmeelk - Fiction:It has to be Sterling Shepard. He is the most accomplished and most talented wide receiver that will be on the field for either team on Sunday. He needs to win his one-on-one matchups and make a couple big plays to help the Giants score some points. Geno Smith will need a go-to receiver and it has to be Sterling Shepard.

Dan Salomone - Fact. Shepard had a career game in his last time out, but the Giants still lost by 10 points to the 49ers. When Lewis got involved against Kansas City, he made the key catch to help win the game. Shepard and rookie tight end Evan Engram can't to do it all by themselves. The Giants need another factor in the passing game.

Lance Medow - Fiction: Prior to the Thanksgiving game against the Redskins, the Giants ran for over 100 yards in five of their previous six contests. While a strong running game hasn't always led to victories, when Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman have been effective on the ground, New York has been able to move the ball more consistently and sustain lengthy drives. I think either of those two players can be considered the x-factor on offense against Oakland as opposed to Roger Lewis, who hasn't had many reps with Geno Smith as his starting quarterback.

4. Devon Kennard is the Giants' X-factor on defense vs. Oakland.

John Schmeelk - Fiction:I'm going to with Landon Collins for a couple of reasons. First, with the Raiders starting wide receivers (Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree) out, Derek Carr will be looking towards his most experienced pass catcher: tight end Jared Cook. Collins will have to contain him. Second, the Giants could drop Collins into the box more to stop the run against Marshawn Lynch. Being that extra, often unblocked, man, Collins will have to make some plays to slow down the Raiders bulldog running back. He is usually a good fundamental tackler that wraps up, something you have to do against Marshawn Lynch.

Dan Salomone - Fact.At a position that has now lost six players to season-ending injuries, the Giants will need Kennard, another grown man, to go up against Lynch in the running game. The more physical team will win on Sunday, and that is Kennard's strength. He's also coming off back-to-back games with a sack.

Lance Medow - Fiction:Devon Kennard quietly has emerged as a consistent playmaker for the Giants defense the last two weeks as he has recorded a sack in each of the last two contests. Getting to the quarterback is always key, regardless of which quarterback you're playing, and I would say Kennard's help in stopping the run is even more crucial. With all that being said, I think Eli Apple is the Giants' X-factor on defense. With Janoris Jenkins on injured reserve, Apple and DRC are now the team's top two corners, and the last thing the Giants can afford to do is allow a limited, young Oakland receiving corps to get going for Derek Carr. Apple's match-ups throughout Sunday's game will likely play a significant role in the outcome of the contest.

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