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Storylines to follow in Week 15 matchup vs. Saints

WEEK-15-STORYLINES

The Giants (5-8) will travel to New Orleans riding a three-game win streak as they face off against the Saints (6-7) on Sunday. 

It's a short week for Brian Daboll's squad, who picked up the victory over the Packers on Monday Night Football. Meanwhile, the Saints are coming off a divisional win over the Panthers, which snapped a three-game losing streak.

The Saints own the same record as the Packers, who currently hold the seventh seed in the NFC playoff picture, while the Giants sit one game behind. The Saints are one of five NFC teams that are 6-7 heading into Week 15.

Here are five storylines to follow in New Orleans.

1. Three-game win streak

After losing to the Cowboys in Week 10, the Giants fell to 2-8 on the season as their top two quarterbacks sat on injured reserve. Despite the outlook on the season, the Giants never gave up. Since then, they have won three consecutive games, which has catapulted the Giants back into the playoff race. 

"One year has nothing to do with the next," coach Brian Daboll told the media Tuesday. "One game has nothing to do with the next. This is a tough league for everybody. You have to be able to handle the ups and you have to be able to handle the downs. You don't accept the downs, I'll tell you that. There's a lot of things that you have to do better to try to get yourself out of a rut. That's everybody, that starts with me. You don't get too high when things are going and you're winning a few games. Because this league is a humbling league. I've said it I don't know how many times, it's a very humbling league.

"But what I do appreciate is the players and the coaches sticking together, working through things, having a strong commitment to improve, being good teammates. Those are all important things for all of us, regardless of what position you're at, to be able to do those things. I've got a lot of appreciation for our team and for our people in our building. It's never going to be easy. As good as it is one week, it could be as bad the next week. So, got to keep the focus where it needs to be. The only thing you could do, which is what we try to do every week, is to improve and play our best game for that following Sunday or Monday or whatever it is. It doesn't always happen, that's for sure, but it doesn't mean you don't try to make sure it does."

The road to the playoffs will not be easy. All four remaining games are against NFC teams fighting for their own playoff hopes. The Saints are contending for both the NFC South title and a Wild Card spot, while the Rams are another one of the five teams currently sitting at 6-7. Then of course, the Eagles are still in contention for both the NFC East crown and the No. 1 seed in the conference. If the Giants want to make a serious playoff push, they will have to play their best football of the season in these final few weeks.

View rare photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints.

2. DeVitomonium

Tommy DeVito has officially taken over the NFL landscape. What started out as sidebars about an NFL quarterback living at home with his parents has turned into a craze sweeping the country. While being thrust into the national spotlight might too much for some rookies to shoulder, it is clear that DeVito can handle the pressure.

Playing in primetime for the first time, DeVito put on a show for the country this past Monday. The rookie completed 81 percent of his passes for 158 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a passer rating of 113.9. He also added 71 yards on 10 carries (7.1 avg.) on the ground as he became the first starter in league history to complete at least 80% of his passes, rush for 70+ yards, commit no turnovers, and take no sacks in a game. DeVito completed 10 of 11 passes (91 percent) in the second half as the led the Giants to a comeback victory.

"He made good decisions, took care of the ball, used him in the run game," Daboll said after the game. "Just keep developing him. He's improving. Still got stuff to work on, but like I said two or three times last week, I think he's a young player that's doing the right things and making the most of his opportunity. He earned the right to play today, and he earned the right to play the next week. The kid's done a good job."

Since DeVito took over as the starting quarterback, the Giants have gone 3-1. The 25-year-old has thrown seven touchdowns to just one interception during that stretch, and has played especially well during the team's win streak. In those three games, DeVito has finished with a 100+ passer rating in every one. He became the first undrafted rookie quarterback since the 1970 merger to win three starts in a season, and the first Giants rookie quarterback to win three consecutive starts since Phil Simms in 1979.

"He's done everything we've asked him to do since he's been here whether it's OTAs, work, leading up to training camp, he knows what he's supposed to do," the head coach said about DeVito. "He knows he's got stuff to work on, but I think he sees the game pretty well, he sees coverages, he's usually one of those guys – not usually, he is one of those guys, for a young player, particularly at that position, which isn't always the case, but when he comes off to the sideline and you are asking him questions about why he did what he did, what he saw, you watch the tape the following day and it's like 'yep, that's exactly what happened.' So, he's continuing to improve and that's what we will try to do this week."

Sunday's matchup will be a tough one for DeVito, as the Saints enter this matchup with the league's seventh-best passing defense. New Orleans' defense has 14 interceptions on the year, the third-most in the NFL. They are averaging just 157.3 passing yards per game over their last three games against the Panthers, Lions and Falcons.

3. Defense forcing takeaways

DeVito has earned a ton of praise for his performance since taking over as the starting quarterback, and rightfully so. But the rookie's rise in popularity has seemingly overshadowed the play of the defense over the last few weeks. Make no mistake, the defense has been nothing short of dominant during the team's three-game win streak.

The defense is averaging 16.0 points and 337.7 yards allowed per game since Week 11. More importantly, the unit has racked up an impressive 12 turnovers during that span. The 12 turnovers over the last four weeks are the most in the NFL, despite the fact that the Giants had a bye in Week 13. Going back one week further, the Giants have totaled 14 turnovers in their last four games. The unit now has 22 takeaways on the season, tied for the fifth-most in the NFL, despite not having a single one in their first four games.

"We are doing a good job of running to the ball, make opportunities when they have opportunities to be made," Daboll said about the defense's recent surge. "It's tied in -- front and coverage -- it's tied in well on the interceptions but rallying to the ball, population, and getting hands on the ball, that's important. So, effort is a lot of it. Again, coverage and front tie together, looks. We need to try to keep doing this."

The Saints' offense has been middle of the pack this year, ranking 15th in points and 13th in yards. New Orleans did not need to do much in last week's win over Carolina, totaling just 207 yards of offense and 21 points in the victory (they also scored a touchdown on a blocked punt). In the two games prior to Week 14, the Saints averaged 21.5 points and 403 yards of offense. Their 17 turnovers are tied for the 17th-most in the league.

4. Playmakers stepping up

The Giants saw several different playmakers step up in Monday's win over the Packers, starting with running back Saquon Barkley. The talented back carried the ball 20 times for 86 yards (4.3 avg.) and two touchdowns, adding three receptions for 15 yards. It was his fifth time reaching 100 yards from scrimmage in his last seven games, while the 23 total touches were his most since Week 8. It wasn't a perfect outing for Barkley, as he did lose a key fumble late in the game which opened the door for the Packers. But the offense got the ball back and stormed down the field to set up Randy Bullock's game-winning field goal as time expired.

"I mean, the emotions were definitely high, and the vibes were great," Barkley said about the feeling on the sideline in the last few minutes of the game. "I wouldn't really say the emotions were low at all after I fumbled. It was more myself, getting in my head, but still at the same time, knowing that an NFL football game and if our defense doesn't get the stop, we've still got to find a way to win the game. So, that happened quick. My teammates came up to me and told me that they've got my back, and we're going to find a way to win this game, and we did that."

Barkley finished second on the team in yards from scrimmage as wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson had his best game of the season. The second-year receiver led the way with 79 yards on six receptions along with 36 yards on two rush attempts, finishing with a career-best 115 total yards of offense. Robinson made numerous key catches, including the big 32-yard catch and run on the final drive to set up the game-winning field goal.

"We talked last week a little bit about Wan'Dale and still coming back from a tougher injury for a perimeter receiver and a player that uses his quickness and speed as his strength," Daboll told reporters Tuesday. "But he's steadily gotten better, I'd say physically, which improves your confidence. In the last few weeks, you can really see explosive quickness, he ran some really good routes again, was open quite a bit. Had the big play in the run, played with toughness, I'd say played competitively. For a smaller guy, too, he was mixing it up pretty good."

Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton, Jalin Hyatt and Daniel Bellinger caught two passes apiece against the Packers, including Hodgins' impressive eight-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Additionally, the Giants finished with a season-high 209 yards on the ground, with Barkley (86), DeVito (71), Robinson (36) and Matt Breida (16) each contributing to the total.

5. Injury updates; Waller 'making progress'

The Giants enter this weekend's matchup relatively healthy, all things considered. One of the biggest names nearing a return to action is tight end Darren Waller, who has been on injured reserve since suffering a hamstring injury against the Jets in Week 8. Waller has yet to be designated to return to practice, but Daboll said the veteran tight end is getting healthier.

"We'll see where we're at here, making progress. Getting closer..." Daboll said about Waller on Wednesday. "We'll see. Go through the week and determine it at the end of the week."

"You don't know when could be your last game, you know what I'm saying?" Waller told reporters about his motivation to return this season. "How many opportunities you're going to get. I've been in a position where I didn't think I was going to get any more opportunities so every game I plan on attacking if I'm available."

With the Giants coming off a game on Monday, Wednesday's practice was more of a walkthrough than a normal Wednesday practice. Nevertheless, the head coach announced that every player on the active roster would participate in the walkthrough, an encouraging sign as the team enters the final stretch of the season.

One player returning to practice for the first time in weeks is right tackle Evan Neal. The second-year tackle has been sidelined since going down with an ankle injury in Week 9, his first game back after missing the previous two contests with another ankle injury. The Giants hope to get the right tackle back on the field in New Orleans, but will have to wait and see how his ankle responds to practicing throughout the week.

Neal was listed as a limited participant in Wednesday's walkthrough practice, as was cornerback Cor'Dale Flott, defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (hamstring), outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari (shoulder), and defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson (hamstring). Wide receiver Parris Campbell (knee) was listed as a full participant.

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