EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 29: Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants greets Plaxico Burress #17 of the New York Jets after their pre season game on August 29, 2011 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
In a twist of fate worthy of the Big Apple stage, the Week 16 match up between the (8-6) New York Jets and the (7-7) New York Giants will likely decide the playoff fate of each team. Both teams still control their own destinies, but a loss this weekend would cripple either team's postseason aspirations. The implications of this game are undeniable, and they are further highlighted by the all-important New York bragging rights that are at stake. For the key matchups and players, you're going to have to jump!
- Wayne Hunter vs. Justin Tuck: On the surface, this is a nightmare match-up for Hunter. Justin Tuck had 11.5 sacks last season and has long been one of the best pass rushers in the league, but he has been dealing with injuries all year long (missing 4 games) and has struggled in the games that he has participated in. Tuck's 3 sacks would be his lowest total since 2006, but going up against Wayne Hunter is a sure fire way to pad that statistic. Hunter has given up 8.5 sacks this season (according to Stats.com), and has generally found ways of endangering Mark Sanchez' life at least once during almost every game. If Tuck overpowers Hunter early on, it will be crucial for the Jets' coaching staff to react quickly and implement the jumbo package, with Vladimir Ducasse as the extra tight end. This match up has the potential to turn the tide of the game, so it will be critical for the Jets to keep Justin Tuck in check for the entire sixty minutes.
- Mark Sanchez vs. Corey Webster: Despite featuring various playmakers, the Giants' defense is among the worst in the league. Specifically, their secondary has allowed 25 passing touchdowns (4th most in the NFL), 3605 passing yards (4th most in the NFL), and a passer rating of 88.4 (7th highest in the NFL). The Giants' pass rush is above average (their 37 sacks are 10th in the league), but it is mostly generated by Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora, who account for 55% of that. With Umenyiora sidelined for the fourth straight game this weekend, the Jets can focus their attention on stopping Jason Pierre-Paul. If Sanchez has time to throw, he will be able to pick apart the Giants' secondary. One statistic to note: although their secondary has played terribly, the Giants have intercepted 17 passes (6th most in the league). Corey Webster leads the team with 5 picks, so this will be a match up worth monitoring.
- Shonn Greene: Big Blue's pass defense has been notoriously poor, but their run defense has been below average as well. The Giants give up 4.5 yards per carry (10th worst in the NFL), and Shonn Greene has been running well in recent games. In the Jets' last 4 games, Greene has averaged 92 yards per game with an average of 4.8 yards per carry. If Sanchez cannot get going early, it will once again be up to Shonn Greene to carry the Jets on offense.
- Eli Manning: Much has been said about Eli Manning's improvement this season, as he is on pace to throw for 4985 yards, just 99 yards shy of Dan Marino's single season record. It is impossible to deny Eli's success, but his improvement has been slightly overstated. He had a very similar year two seasons ago (he even had a higher passer rating then, albeit with less yards), so I believe that any recognition that Eli is now receiving is a few years late. With that being said, he has not yet matched up with a cornerback duo on the level of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The Giants' running game is horrific (32nd in the NFL, with 3.4 YPC), so the Jets will be free to dedicate their attention to Eli. Manning is the Giants' best player, so stifling him will be key for the Jets if they hope to emerge victorious.
- Aaron Maybin vs. Kareem McKenzie: The Giants do a great job of protecting Manning (he's only been sacked 24 times, 6th least in the league), but the Jets can throw him off his rhythm if they manage to generate a pass rush. Kareem McKenzie has been very inconsistent this season, and has given up 5.5 sacks. Aaron Maybin has been fantastic in rushing the passer this season, so I expect him to wreak havoc off the edge against McKenzie. Giving Eli time to make his reads is dangerous, so this matchup will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
When asked about Darrelle Revis:
Mario Manningham: "I'm not about to give all their corners credit because I feel like their defensive scheme is what makes them good in man coverage because they have to play it because of how their scheme is. Have to play a lot of man because of how they run their defense...It's just quarterbacks get too scared to throw it his way, I feel like."
Victor Cruz: "Yeah, teams aren't really scared anymore. He's had to earn his money this year and teams aren't really backing down. I feel like we're going to do the same thing. We're going to go out until he physically stops us and we're going to spread the ball around."
"I definitely want to get in the end zone once, twice, maybe three or four times. I'm going to go out and try to play lights-out football...Somebody's going to wake up with a bittersweet Christmas, and it's not going to be me.''-Plaxico Burress