Trying to Stay Ahead

Comfortably ahead in the wild-card race but well behind in the NFC East, the New York Giants are focused simply on winning games.

The Giants (7-3) begin a stretch of five straight contests against teams at or below the .500 mark when the Minnesota Vikings (4-6) bring their top-ranked rushing attack to the Meadowlands on Sunday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made New York -7 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 40.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 81% of bets for this game have been placed on New York -7 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

The game will also be the second of three straight for New York against NFC North opponents. Last week, they rebounded from their second loss of the season to division-leading Dallas with a 16-10 win at Detroit, seizing control of the top wild-card spot. Next week, New York plays at Chicago.

The Giants have won seven of eight since an 0-2 start and have only lost to Green Bay and Dallas, who were a combined 18-2 entering their Thanksgiving Day games. Due to tiebreakers, New York would have to make up three games on Dallas to win the division, but any other NFC opponent would have to make up two games to overtake the Giants for the top wild-card berth.

"We have to play to try to stay there and work our way into the playoffs and get another shot at those upper-tier teams that we have already played," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "We have so much to play for, so much still on our plate, and so much still to be excited about. There is no time to mope."

The Giants have a recent history of second-half swoons, including a 2-6 slide last season that nearly cost them a playoff spot. At 1-1 since the midway point this year, they're already in better shape than they were in 2006, when they lost four straight to begin the second half.

New York will, however, have to contend with some key injuries, the same issue that played a big role in last season's slide. Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka went down for the season with a broken leg last week, while running back Brandon Jacobs suffered a pulled hamstring.

With other prolific pass rushers in Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, the Giants may be able to overcome Kiwanuka's absence, but with running back Derrick Ward missing the last three games with ankle and groin injuries, New York is suddenly thin at that position.

Jacobs and Ward are uncertain for this week, meaning veteran Reuben Droughns could start after rushing for just 13 yards on 11 carries in the second half against the Lions. He'll be backed up by rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, who has never carried the ball on offense. New York signed former New England Patriot Patrick Pass this week to add depth.

Uncertainty at running back is new for the Giants, as now-retired Tiki Barber started 77 of the last 80 games before this year.

"Unfortunately this year we've had a series of things that have occurred and have allowed that guys wouldn't be able to play," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Somebody else has had to step up and play, and they've done a pretty good job with that."

New York may emphasize the passing game this week due to their thin backfield and Minnesota's NFL-best rush defense. The Vikings are allowing just 74.4 yards per game on the ground after leading the league in that category last year (61.6).

Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been plagued by inconsistency this season, and that was the case the last two weeks. He threw two interceptions and was sacked five times in the loss to Dallas, but was 28-of-39 for 283 yards and a touchdown against Detroit.

While the Giants could have a tough time running the ball Sunday, Manning will be facing a Vikings pass defense that at 288.4 yards per game, is the worst in the league by 18.9 yards.

Minnesota, meanwhile, figures to run the ball often rather than consistently subject second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and the NFL's second-worst pass offense to New York's league-best pass rush, which has 34 sacks.

Jackson returned from a concussion to post his best-ever quarterback rating as a starter (79.9) last week, when he went 17-of-22 for 171 yards and an interception. He'll have help from Minnesota's rushing offense, the best in football at 177.9 yards a game - more than 30 better than the next-best running attack.

The last team to lead the league in both rushing and rush defense was the 2001 Pittsburgh Steelers, who finished 13-3.

The Vikings dominated again on the ground last week, even with NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson sidelined with a knee injury. Chester Taylor took over and ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-22 win over Oakland, which improved the Vikings' slim playoff hopes.

Coach Brad Childress called Peterson a "long shot" to play this week, and it would seem unnecessary to rush him back after Taylor's performance. Peterson broke the NFL single-game rushing record with 296 yards against San Diego on Nov. 4.

"I ain't the one to start no controversy," Taylor said. "I knew I could do what I did in the game. I'm going to play hard no matter what, and if I get the opportunity I'm going to take advantage of it."

In the teams' last meeting in 2005, Manning threw four interceptions as Minnesota won 24-21. That was the clubs' first matchup at Giants Stadium since the Vikings lost the NFC championship game 41-0 in 2001. The Giants have won three of the last four meetings overall.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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