NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (6-4) at Denver (6-4)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A little more than a month ago, the Denver Broncos and New York Giants were both undefeated and beginning to think bigger.
Five weeks later, as they head into their Thanksgiving night battle at Invesco Field at Mile High, the Broncos and Giants find themselves trying to maintain their rapidly deteriorating territory in the playoff race.
Homestanding Denver enters Thursday's contest nursing a four-game losing streak that has robbed Josh McDaniels' squad of its once-firm grasp on the AFC West lead.
The Broncos, who were 6-0 and owned a three-and-half-game lead over the Chargers when the month of November began, are now in second-place after San Diego's 32-3 rout in Denver this past Sunday.
The Broncos committed three turnovers in the loss, including a key second- quarter fumble by running back Knowshon Moreno at the goal line, while a struggling defense surrendered 203 yards on the ground to LaDainian Tomlinson and the San Diego rushing attack.
After allowing just 11 points per game during their 6-0 start, the Broncos have given up more than 29 per outing during their four-game slide.
The Giants come off a happier Week 11 result, though the residue of the club's own four-game losing streak was not completely washed away in a 34-31 overtime victory over Atlanta.
Eli Manning had his strongest day of the year, completing 25-of-39 passes for a season-high 384 yards with three touchdowns and an interception to get Big Blue back into the win column, but an injury-riddled Giants defense continued to have some issues.
The Giants allowed two long Falcons drives in the fourth-quarter that helped Atlanta rally from 31-17 down to force overtime, before Manning bailed out that group by leading an eight-play, 49-yard drive in overtime that ended with Lawrence Tynes' 36-yard game-winning field goal.
Tom Coughlin's squad enters Week 12 one game behind first-place Dallas (7-3) in the NFC East, and is tied with Philadelphia (6-4) within a crowded NFC East.
Both teams have some history on Thanksgiving Day.
The Broncos last played on Thanksgiving in 2006, when they fell to the Chiefs, 19-10, dropping their record on the holiday to 2-8 all-time. Denver last won on Thanksgiving in 2005, when they downed the Cowboys, 24-21 in overtime.
Denver last hosted a Thanksgiving Day game in 1963, when they lost to the Raiders in an AFL matchup.
The Giants last appeared on Thanksgiving in 1992, when they were 30-3 losers to the Cowboys. New York is 7-5 all-time on the holiday, and Big Blue last won on Turkey Day in 1982, when they won at Detroit.
The Giants lead the all-time regular season series with the Broncos, 5-4, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 24-23 home victory during the 2005 season. Denver won the previous meeting, a 31-20 home affair in 2001. The Giants are 0-2 in Denver since last winning there in 1989, and home teams are 7-2 in the regular season series all-time.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams met for Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena following the 1986 season, won by the Giants by a 39-20 count.
Coughlin is 3-3 in his career against the Broncos, including 2-3 during his tenure with Jacksonville (1995-2002). Coughlin's Jags were 30-27 upset winners over Denver in a 1996 AFC Divisional Playoff, and fell by a 42-17 count in a 1997 AFC First-Round Playoff. Denver's McDaniels will be meeting both Coughlin and the G-Men for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
After experiencing some rough seas during the Giants' first three losses of the season, Manning (2454 passing yards, 18 TD, 9 INT) seems to have regained his steady hand against the Chargers and Falcons the past two weeks. In the loss to San Diego and win over Atlanta, Manning was a combined 50-of-72 (69.4 percent) for 599 yards, five touchdown passes and just one interception, while getting all of his many targets involved. The Giants' main receiving triumvirate - Steve Smith (65 receptions, 5 TD), Mario Manningham (40 receptions, 4 TD), and rookie Hakeem Nicks (28 receptions, 4 TD) - have all added value, and the trio along with tight end Kevin Boss (24 receptions, 4 TD) have accounted for 16 of Manning's 18 touchdown passes on the year. Manningham was high-man with six catches and 126 yards against Atlanta, while Boss caught a pair of touchdown passes to give him three end-zone appearances in the past two weeks. On Thursday, the Giants will be looking to complement the aerial attack with a renewed effort from the running game. Brandon Jacobs (656 rushing yards, 3 TD) had a disappointing year extended last week, when he rushed for just 39 yards on 12 carries but did score a touchdown. Ahmad Bradshaw (549 rushing yards, 4 TD, 10 receptions) wasn't any better, carrying 12 times for 34 yards, and is questionable for Thursday with ankle and foot problems. New York is seventh in the league in rushing (133.8 yards per game) after leading the NFL in that category a season ago. The Giants line has surrendered a modest 16 sacks on the year.
If the Broncos wish to end their winning streak on Thursday night, the team will have to re-locate a defense that has over the past month looked little like the dominating unit that fueled the team's 6-0 start. A lack of playmaking has been among the club's biggest problems, as Denver has recorded just two takeaways over its past four games after coming up with 12 in its first six. A well-regarded secondary, led by cornerbacks Champ Bailey (55 tackles, 1 INT) and Ty Law (6 tackles) along with safety Brian Dawkins (71 tackles), will look to make life difficult for Manning and the receivers on Thursday. Dawkins exited last week's contest with a neck injury, but is expected to play against the Giants. The run-stopping unit that did not hold up well against Tomlinson and the Chargers last week will have to be more stout, beginning with inside linebackers D.J. Williams (79 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Andra Davis (68 tackles, 3.5 sacks). Up front, ends Vonnie Holliday (18 tackles, 2 sacks) and Ryan McBean (15 tackles) had four tackles each versus the Bolts and will seek to provide a presence at the point of attack. The pass rush continues to be led by Elvis Dumervil (34 tackles, 12 sacks), who leads the NFL in sacks but has notched only two during the club's four-game skid.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Kyle Orton (2202 passing yards, 11 TD, 5 INT) missed his first start of the season last week due to a sprained ankle suffered the week before in Washington, but it wasn't long before Orton showed his face. Relieving the ineffective Chris Simms, Orton couldn't fuel a comeback, completing 15-of-29 passes for 171 yards and an interception. The Purdue product is expected to be back in the starting lineup this week, and will try to get wideouts Brandon Marshall (52 receptions, 6 TD) and Eddie Royal (31 receptions) involved early. The duo combined for just 55 yards on seven combined receptions against the Chargers. Jabar Gaffney (26 receptions) led the Broncos with 55 receiving yards on three grabs in the loss. Tight end Tony Scheffler (23 receptions, 2 TD) managed just one catch on the afternoon. Moreno (600 rushing yards, 14 receptions, 3 TD), meanwhile, will be trying to shake off a rough outing against San Diego that included 80 yards on 10 carries but was defined by his costly turnover, coupled with a widely-aired shoving match with Marshall on the sideline. Fellow rusher Correll Buckhalter (399 rushing yards, 1 TD, 23 receptions) made his 10 touches count for 81 yards last week, and should be heavily involved against a Giants team that he knows well from his days in the NFC East as a member of the Eagles. The Denver o-line has allowed a modest 19 sacks on the year, with three coming last week. The Broncos are 16th in the league in rushing offense (112.4 yards per game), 19th in passing offense (210.6 yards per game).
Incumbent upon the Giants in their quest to extend the win streak to two games is finding some answers on a battered defense that has had trouble against both the pass and rush at alternating times this season. A pass defense that is second in the league in yards allowed (177.4 yards per game), but has been far from perfect in coverage, allowed 268 yards to the Falcons' Matt Ryan last week despite the return of cornerback Aaron Ross to the lineup. Ross, who missed the first nine games with a hamstring problem, had four tackles while opposite corner Corey Webster (35 tackles, 1 INT) had a whopping five pass breakups. A hit-or-miss pass rush led by ends Osi Umenyiora (20 tackles, 5 sacks) and Justin Tuck (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks) will be seeking to mitigate the team's coverage problems with some pressure. Umenyiora has only two sacks in his last six games, and Tuck's sack of Ryan last week broke a string of four consecutive outings without a QB takedown. The indefinite absence of middle linebacker Antonio Pierce due to a neck problem has placed considerable stress on the NFL's 11th-ranked rushing defense (104.8 yards per game), though linebackers Chase Blackburn (42 tackles) and Michael Boley (34 tackles, 1 sack) - who combined for 20 tackles in limiting the Falcons to 90 rushing yards on 30 carries, were able to compensate last week. Fred Robbins (19 tackles, 1 sack) and Barry Cofield (18 tackles) have been the team's most active interior line run-stuffers this season.
The Giants have been a frustrating team from a fantasy perspective this year, as seemingly no one in either the passing or running games has been a consistent producer. Jacobs and Bradshaw (if healthy) are probably still worth having in the lineup due to the number of touches they both receiver, and wideouts Manningham, Nicks, and Smith will likely contribute something, as will Boss. Don't look for another 300-yard day out of Manning, though. The most reliable Giant has probably been kicker Lawrence Tynes, who isn't deadly accurate but gets a lot of opportunities. Steer clear of the Giants defense until further notice.
The Broncos are a hard fantasy team to peg as well. The passing game has taken a major step back the past few weeks, with Orton's injury complicating matters, but you might want to take a flier on either Marshall or Royal against a suspect Giants secondary. Also, Moreno is a decent play against a Big Blue defense missing their top run-stopper Pierce. Denver's Matt Prater is a good fantasy kicker due to his big, albeit erratic, leg. The Broncos defense is no longer a reliable play.
The Broncos have lost their luster in a major way over the past month, and nothing the team did in that blowout loss to the Chargers would suggest they're on the cusp of regaining their past fortunes. Still, apart from a bad loss at Washington which was aided in large part by an unforeseen quarterback switch, there's been no shame in any of the Broncos' defeats, and a matchup against a Giants team that has likewise been confounding, and will be making a long, difficult trip on a short week, is a good one for Denver. Look for the Broncos to establish Moreno and Buckhalter against a New York defense riddled by injuries, for a talented Broncos secondary to cause some problems for Manning and the secondary, and for McDaniels and company to put its slide to rest.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 20, Giants 16
11/24 17:40:00 ET