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Around NY Sports with Mike Lalor: Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

Around NY Sports with Mike Lalor: Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

Around NY Sports:  A Thanksgiving Smorgasbord of NY Football

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers and listeners out there.  I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday weekend.  The New York-area football teams are all back in action for Week 12, and all have interesting storylines.  Let’s get after it.

Last Sunday, with a 22-16 win over the Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium last in Week 11, the New York Giants extended their winning streak to five games.  For the Giants, it is their longest winning streak since another five-game run back in 2010, and it raises Big Blue’s 2016 season record to 7-3, 2nd in the NFC East.  This Sunday, in Week 12, the Giants head to FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland to take on the winless Browns (0-11, 5th AFC North) at 1 pm Eastern.  This game can be viewed locally on FOX and on DirecTV CH 710.  Veteran play-by-play man Dick Stockton will have the call with his analyst partner, former NFL Linebacker and General Manager, Matt Millen; Peter Schrager will support from the sidelines.  Cleveland leads the all-time series, 27-21-2; the Giants have won four of the last five between these old NFL rivals, who now only meet every four years with Cleveland in the AFC.

The Giants are right in the middle of the NFC playoff picture, and still alive in the NFC East pennant race, trailing the Dallas Cowboys (10-1) by two-and a-half games.  In a complete turn-around from a year ago, the Giants continue to win close games.  Their seven wins in ’16 are by a combined 27 points; a margin of victory of less than four points per game.  With that growing confidence in close games, the Giants enter this inter-conference matchup with momentum, but they cannot afford a letdown against Cleveland.  New York’s schedule is a tough one down the stretch.  Here’s a look (all times Eastern):

  • Sun, Dec 4th at Pittsburgh, 4:25 pm
  • Sun, Dec 11th vs. Dallas, 8:30 pm (Sunday Night Football)
  • Sun, Dec 18th vs. Detroit, 1 pm
  • Thu, Dec 22nd at Philadelphia, 8:25 pm (Thursday Night Football)
  • Sun, Jan 1st at Washington, 1 pm

As the weather starts to turn, the Giants are displaying some positive signs in areas where they have struggled most of the season.  First, the Giants’ poor rushing attack (77 yds/game, 31st in the NFL) has picked up.  RB Rashad Jennings (100 carries, 340 yds, 3.4 yds/carry, 2 TDs) has rushed for more than 80 yards in each of the last two games, including some big yards late in each contest.  The Browns have given up big rushing games (143 yds/game, 31st in the NFL) to every team they have played.  Second, the Giants – led by DEs Olivier Vernon (4.0 sacks) and Jason-Pierre Paul (4.0 sacks) – are starting to get to the opposing QB, and are now up to 18 sacks as a team, with half of those (9) coming over the last three weeks.

Warning signs.  The Giants are still a bit of a statistical conundrum as they are a -7 in turnover differential (T-30th in the NFL).  They are actually tied with the Browns, also a -7.  The weather in Cleveland may be poor on Sunday, and if the Giants are not careful with the football, it will be the easiest way for Cleveland to seize the initiative, as they search for their elusive first win of the ’16 campaign.  The Giants may see QB Josh McCown at the helm for the Browns, as rookie QB Cody Kessler (65.6% comp. pct., 1369 yds, 6 TDs, 2 INTs) sustained his second concussion of the season in Week 11’s 24-9 loss at home to the Steelers.  Whoever leads Cleveland will continue to be under siege, behind a Browns’ offensive line that has consistently been overwhelmed, including last week when they permitted eight sacks to Pittsburgh’s pedestrian front seven.  The other side of the ball has been no better for Cleveland.  Last week, in allowing 24 points vs. Pittsburgh, marked the first time all year that the Cleveland defense allowed less than 25 points.

How this game plays out.  I have said this repeatedly – the Giants are not as good as their 7-3 record indicates.  New York cannot afford to have a letdown here and assume any kind of supremacy over the winless Browns; if they do, they’ll be Cleveland’s first victim of the season.  After this week, the Giants last five opponents are all .500 or better teams, all competing for the playoffs, with three games within the NFC East.  New York needs this game, and although it will be tight one, the Giants will pull through late, 20-17.
Elsewhere in NY football:

New York Jets (3-7, 4th AFC East).  On Sunday, the Jets return from their bye and will take on their I-95 rival and nemesis, the first-place New England Patriots (8-2, 1st AFC East) in a late afternoon, 4:25 pm Eastern start at MetLife Stadium.  This game can be viewed regionally on CBS and across the country on DirecTV CH 714.  Versatile play-by-play man Greg Gumbel will be on the call with his partner, long-time NFL QB Trent Green, while Jamie Erdahl will provide support from the sidelines.  New England leads the all-time series, 59-54-1, and has won three of their last five against the Jets.

Much of the story around the Jets has centered on Head Coach Todd Bowles’ decision to go back to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as his starter, even though New York has all been eliminated from playoff contention.  Fitzpatrick missed Week 10’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, a 9-6 Jets loss, with a knee injury.  Fitzpatrick has struggled all year after his well-publicized, but uneventful, foray into free agency, following his career season in 2015.  In ’16, Fitzpatrick (56.4% comp. pct., 1983 yds, 8 TDs, 13 INTs), has turned the ball over 20 times, including seven fumbles, and leading to a league-worst 67.6 passer rating.  Second-year QB Bryce Petty threw a touchdown and interception vs. Los Angeles, and it will be interesting to watch if Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan think they can build around the young QB from Baylor, or if, in the long run, they elect to play rookie QB Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) – or go the free agent route heading into ’17.

Meanwhile, the Patriots roll on behind QB Tom Brady.  Even without TE Rob Gronkowski (punctured lung) against San Francisco in Week 11, Brady threw 4 TDs in leading New England to a 30-17 win.  The win against the 49ers was Brady’s 199th as a starting QB, tying Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre for second on the all-time NFL list for quarterback victories (regular season and playoff wins combined).  Future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning is Brady’s next target, with 201.  Brady (70.4 comp. pct., 1915 yards, 16 TDs, 1 INT, league-best 123.3 passer rating) has been brilliant in his first six games back after a four-game suspension to start the season, and he’ll very likely eclipse another milestone this Sunday against the Jets with just 57 passing yards.  With those 57 yards, the Canton-bound Brady will become the 5th QB in league history to throw for 60,000 yards; at his current pace, Brady will pass another Hall of Famer, Miami QB Dan Marino (61,361 yards) for fourth place by the end of the season.

The Patriots can also run it, as RB LeGarrette Blount registered his fourth 100-yard game of the season last week against San Francisco, gaining 124 yards on 19 carriers.  RB James White tied a career-high with his fourth receiving TD of the season, and RB Dion Lewis (ACL) returned from injured reserve with 23 yards on 5 carries, and another 3 reception for 26 yards.  This will be a matchup to watch though, as the beleaguered Jets are still stingy against the run, allowing only 85 yards/game on the ground, 4th in the NFL.

Against the pass, the Jets have had more problems though, allowing 260 yards/game, 19th in the NFL.  Their biggest problem has been a surprising lack of pass rush.  After registering seven sacks in the season opener vs. Cincinnati, New York has only 12 sacks in their last nine games.  DL Leonard Williams has been the best Jet in ’16 along the front seven, as the second-year man from USC has a team-leading six sacks, with two forced fumbles.  He’ll be a challenge for the Patriots’ offensive line, with his ability lineup at both nose tackle and at defensive end.

On paper, this looks like a mismatch, with New England headed toward their perennial AFC East title, another 12-4 or 13-3 season, and a possible top seed in the playoffs.  But, this is a late Sunday start and a division game coming off a bye for the Jets.  New York has had time to prepare and would like nothing more than to beat their long-time adversary.  Look for the Jets to play well here and give the Patriots a battle, but for New England to prevail 31-23.

  • Buffalo Bills (5-5, 3rd AFC East).  After Buffalo’s defense held strong down to the last Bengal possession, swatting away QB Andy Dalton’s final desperation heave, the Bills defeated Cincinnati 16-12 on the road in Week 11 to snap a three-game losing streak.  The Bills were sparked by CB Stephon Gilmore’s 2 INTs, and were also buoyed by the strong play of DT Marcell Dareus (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and second game of ’16) and DT Kyle Williams.  The win came at a cost though, as Buffalo lost WR Robert Woods (knee) and RB LeSean McCoy (dislocated thumb) to game-ending injuries in the first half.  Woods, the Bills’ leading receiver with 42 receptions for 493 yards and a TD, sustained a knee sprain and will likely miss the next two or three games.  McCoy, who had surgery to repair his thumb, is more likely to go on Sunday.

Buffalo can certainly use him, as the Bills take on the disappointing Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8, 4th AFC South) in a 1 pm Eastern start at New Era Field, looking to keep their playoff hopes alive.  The all-time series between these two teams is tied 7-7.  This game can be viewed regionally on CBS and DirecTV CH 706.  Andrew Catalon will have the call with his partner, former Bill Steve Tasker, with support from former NFL QB Steve Beurlein along the sidelines.  The mistake-prone Jaguars have been a disappointment all season.  Jacksonville’s 26-19 loss last week at Detroit clinched the franchise’s ninth consecutive non-winning season, and it would take quite a run to finish the ’16 season to help embattled coach Gus Bradley (14-44, in his fourth season) retain his job.

Turnovers will likely tell the tale.  Jacksonville has the worst turnover differential, -15, in the NFL.  The Bills are +8, 4th in the NFL.  Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles (60.2% comp. pct., 2623 yards, 18 TDs) has not met the high expectations that surrounded him and the Jaguars coming into the season, and he has been the team’s prime turnover culprit, with 16; 13 INTs and three fumbles.

The Bills will work the ground and pound.  Buffalo leads the NFL, rushing for 157 yards/game.  The Jaguars permit 113 yds/game, 23rd in the NFL.  Even if McCoy (138 carries, 716 yards, 5.2 yds/carry, 7 TDs) does play, RB Mike Gillislee will see his fair share of work.  Gillislee (56 carries, 326 yards, 5.8 yds/carry, 4 TDs) had 72 yards on 14 carries against the Bengals, and touchdowns in his two previous games prior to the team’s Week 10 bye.

The road ahead.  The Bills still have a shot at their first playoff berth since 1999.  Buffalo’s remaining schedule is relatively fair, with four home games and only one trip (at Oakland) outside of the Eastern Time zone.  Although they do not currently control their destiny, the Bills could conceivably win five of six and go 10-6, which is probably what it will take to get in the AFC tournament.

Here’s the Bills’ remaining schedule (all times Eastern):

    • Sun, Nov 27th vs. Jacksonville (2-8), 1 pm
    • Sun, Dec 4th at Oakland (8-2), 4:05 pm
    • Sun, Dec 11th vs. Pittsburgh (6-5), 1 pm
    • Sun, Dec 18th vs. Cleveland (0-11), 1 pm
    • Sat, Dec 24th vs. Miami (6-4), 1 pm
    • Sun, Jan 1st at New York Jets (3-7), 1 pm

Buffalo is a difficult place to play in November.  The Bills must win to keep their hopes alive of ending the franchise’s 16-year playoff drought.  The Jaguars are 2-20 in their last 22 road games.  All the numbers and signs point to Buffalo, and that’s what it will be, Bills going away, 34-20.

Baseball:  Reminder!  The Hot Stove is still on, and we have not forgotten about it.  Along with football, next week, we’ll provide a preview for the Mets and Yankees as they head to the upcoming MLB Winter Meetings, 4-8 December at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.  We’ll keep the stove stoked for you all winter long, talking some baseball.  Have a great week out there and once again, Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers and listeners!

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