November 11, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Gang Green, Big Blue Face Midterm Exams
The Giants and Jets

BY SEAN LAHMAN
November 11, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/22936

Midway through the season, most teams have a pretty clear idea of where they stand. The Giants are alone atop the NFC East with the league's highest scoring offense and are positioned for a serious postseason run. By contrast, the Jets are in freefall, a stark surprise to legions of fans who thought this was the New York team most likely to reach the Super Bowl. Both teams find themselves in a lopsided contest this weekend. Here's a look at the match-ups they'll face.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (3-5) AT GIANTS (6-2)
(Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL For the high-powered Giants offense, it's pick your pleasure: The Vikings defense ranks 23rd against the pass and 26th against the run. Their pass rush is also weak, particularly since defensive end Kenechi Udeze suffered a season-ending knee injury. The revamped secondary - which was supposed to be the final piece in a championship puzzle - has struggled all year, and will now miss cornerback Fred Smoot, who broke his collarbone last week.

The Vikings have been outscored 133-34 on the road this year, while the Giants are scoring 36.5 points a game at home. The addition of wideout Plaxico Burress has helped open up the middle of the field for tight end Jeremy Shockey, and there's not a team in the league that can cover both of them at the same time. Add to that the re-emergence of Tiki Barber, who ran all over the Redskins last week, and the Vikings are in for a long afternoon.

WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL Daunte Culpepper's season ended two weeks ago, but his ineffectiveness was one of the reasons the Vikings fell out of contention so early. Veteran Brad Johnson took the reigns and led Minnesota to a win against the Lions last week. His strong arm and patience in the pocket can be an asset, especially against the vulnerable Giants secondary. There's no Randy Moss, but young receivers Nate Burleson and Travis Taylor can make plays down the field.

Minnesota's running game has been a bit of a mess. Last week, Michael Bennett logged his first 100-yard game since 2003, and that's likely to mean an increase in playing time. Mewelde Moore has received the bulk of the carries this year, but he has been largely ineffective.

KEYS TO THE GAME The Giants must pressure Johnson and force him to dump the ball off. He can be dangerous if given enough time to get the ball deep to his speedy receivers. The Giants also need to avoid self-destructing against an extremely soft Vikings defense. If they stick to the basics, Eli Manning's crew should have another productive day.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 31-10

JETS (2-6) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-2)
(Sunday, 4:15 p.m., CBS)

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Brooks Bollinger takes over what should be a permament starting role, and he'll need loads of help from his depleted offensive line. Bollinger was able to get the offense moving in the last two games, and he nearly led Gang Green to a comeback win against the Chargers last week.

Carolina has the league's most versatile and talented defensive line. Tackle Brenston Buckner and ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker generate tremendous pressure on quarterbacks without having to blitz. The great play of the defensive line also explains how the Panthers hold opponents to just 74 rushing yards a game.

The pressure rests on the shoulders of the Jets offensive line, which needs to find a way to protect Bollinger from this relentless pass rush and open some holes for Curtis Martin to get the running game going.

WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL Stephen Davis may have scored 11 touchdowns in the first half of the season, but he's averaging an anemic 3.1 yards per carry because of inconsistent run blocking. The passing game has been much better. Jake Delhomme has a 94.5 passer rating and Steve Smith has been the NFL's best receiver this season despite regular double teams. The lack of a dangerous second receiver has allowed opposing defenses to focus their attention on Smith, but so far, nobody has figured out how to slow him down.

KEY TO THE GAME The Panthers simply have more talent, and that will be tough for Gang Green to overcome. The Jets have been ravaged by injuries at some key positions and poor play at others. Carolina plays well in all three phases of the game, and they'd have to suffer breakdowns in two of them in order for the Jets to win. The Panthers may be the best team in the NFC, and they're not going to lose a game at home to a team like the Jets unless something dramatic happens.

Lahman's Pick: Panthers 24-13

November 11, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version