The Giants and Jets both suffered hurtful losses against losing teams prior to their Christmas Eve battle this week. Although each team lost playoff footing, the Giants' loss was more damaging. The Jets were focused in on a wild-card berth with the Patriots in the driver's seat for the AFC East, but the Giants still were in prime position to lock up the NFC East and, hence, earn a home playoff game. That's why their loss to the last-place Redskins was the more damaging.
Still, the Giants are in a better position to win this game against the Jets and the Week 17 contest against the Cowboys, which would get them into the postseason dance. Why? Eli Manning.
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It's perhaps a bit odd that we are trumpeting Manning coming off his worst game of the season, but his poor game against the Redskins fits his profile to a tee. Once or twice a season, Manning just seems to have one of those games where nothing works. He clearly was trying to bail out his ineffective defense, which was on the field all game, and made critical throws that cost his team possessions and points.
But the good news is that Manning tends to follow his clunkers with his best performances, especially late in the season. In 2007, Manning followed up a four-turnover game at Buffalo with a four-TD game against the 15-0 Patriots and followed it up with the team's magical playoff run and a Super Bowl MVP award. Witness 2008 when he came back from a two-pick, two-fumble loss at Dallas to engineer a solid, mistake-free win over the Panthers in a battle for the NFC's No. 1 seed that season. In '09, Manning bounced back from a bad performance at Denver to go on a three-game tear. And last season, he put aside the memory of a four-turnover game against the Eagles to put up his best passer rating of the season vs. the Jaguars, who came in dangerous at 6-4.
Manning has the memory of a Hall of Fame relief pitcher or a great cornerback. He seldom allows one bad game to affect the next contest. That's why bottom-line Tom Coughlin loves Manning so much. And the coach's theme this week will be to put the memory of Sunday's loss in the history books. In a short week, it will be on Manning and Coughlin to put aside the distractions and remember that the Giants control their own fate for a playoff bid. Losses, whether by one point or 32 points, still count the same.
The good news is that Jets head coach Rex Ryan already has started with the pregame hype, which only can take the pressure off the Giants. Ryan said Monday of the Giants, "I realize they are an excellent football team, but I think we are better." Coughlin secretly loves that. He can sit back, praise the Jets and let them talk up the game while the Giants come in as the so-called underdog. Manning will love it, too. He will praise the Jets' defense up and down all week, but on Sunday he has the cold nerves to tear them up.
The Jets' defense is a shell of its once-great self. The pass rush is spotty at best, the secondary has one great player, the linebackers don't have great edge speed. Really, it's a well-coached unit, but one that is lacking in superior talent. The Giants certainly have the weapons to do some damage. Jets OLB Calvin Pace admitted after the game that had the Eagles not called off the dogs, they could have scored more. That's really bad to admit, and the 45 points Philly laid down were bad enough.
But the biggest advantage is at quarterback. Manning simply is far better and more reliable than Mark Sanchez. Manning might not be perfect, but he's far less flawed than his crosstown counterpart and is in the midst of his finest season to date. Victor Cruz is a stalwart, and Hakeem Nicks might not have as bad a game as he did Sunday for another three years, maybe not ever.
Manning and the Giants will go on the road in their home stadium and earn a win. He will outduel Sanchez and the Giants will be a game away from winning the NFC East.