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NFL Preview - Cleveland (0-4) at New York Giants (2-2)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In Week 5, it already seems to matter for the New York Giants.
The defending Super Bowl champions reached the quarter pole of their follow-up season at a respectable 2-2 and just a game behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, but an eye on a daunting horizon does nothing if not create a sense of urgency.
The Giants, who have four more divisional games as well as non-East tests against San Francisco, Green Bay, Atlanta, Baltimore and Pittsburgh still to come, get what's widely perceived as a soft touch when they host the Cleveland Browns at 1 p.m. on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
But don't expect Eli Manning to buy in to the vacation theory.
"We've still got four more divisional games," he said. "It's a lot of football left and we've got to worry about Cleveland and get back to winning and there's no point in getting down now."
New York dropped a 19-17 verdict at Philadelphia in a Week 4 primetime showcase, falling to 0-2 in the East for the first time in 16 years. A late rally fell just short when kicker Lawrence Tynes missed a 54-yard field-goal try with 15 seconds remaining.
The Giants were 7-7 last season before catching fire to win five straight and ultimately taking out the New England Patriots for the league title for the second time in four years. This season, New York opened with a Wednesday night loss to Dallas, then downed Carolina and Tampa Bay before meeting the Eagles.
"We have a great team and we believe in each other," running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "We've been down this road before. There's nothing we can't handle. There's nothing we're not preparing for. We played a great game (against Philadelphia). It's just how it ended, we didn't finish."
At the risk of early fall hyperbole, it's a skill they'll need to have against a plucky Browns team that's been in every game -- losing four times by a combined 25 points.
Cleveland gave host Baltimore all it wanted in Week 4's Thursday game, driving 57 yards in the late going before two would-be scoring passes by quarterback Brandon Weeden fell incomplete in the end zone.
On the injury front, New York wideout Hakeem Nicks may not play with recurring swelling in his knee and foot, while safety Kenny Phillips (knee), receiver Ramses Barden (concussion) and right tackle David Diehl (knee) are also banged up. For Cleveland, receiver Josh Cribbs practiced Wednesday for the first time since a concussion last week.
"We'll put the guys on the field that can play, make the roster as good as we can make it," coach Pat Shurmur said. "If we have to use three tight ends, all right."
The Browns have lost 10 in a row since last November and are 4-16 in 20 games under Shurmur.
And they're up against it statistically facing Manning, who threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns with an interception against Philadelphia. Cleveland is allowing 286 yards weekly through the air -- 28th in the NFL -- and 403.3 yards overall.
Offensively, the Browns have rushed for just 76 combined yards in their last two games and are averaging just 76.3 per game overall. Rookie runner Trent Richardson has been a bright spot, though, gaining 222 yards and scoring three touchdowns, in addition to four catches for 57 yards in Baltimore.
"We've got to find a way to get the ball to No. 33 somehow," Weeden said.
Cleveland leads the all-time series, 26-19-2, but the Giants had taken four straight before the Browns' 35-14 home win in October 2008, when Manning threw three interceptions. Coughlin is 8-3 in his career against Cleveland. Shurmur has never faced New York.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The Giants managed only 57 yards rushing in a two-point Week 4 loss to the Eagles, but the chance to rebound and regain consistency on the ground is particularly evident at home against the Browns. Cleveland has been gashed for 117 ground yards per week through four games against Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Baltimore, and it seems an engraved invitation for New York offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride -- who can lean hard on youngster Andre Brown and veteran Ahmad Bradshaw to take the heat off of Eli Manning. Bradshaw has six rush TDs in his last four games against AFC foes - including the Super Bowl - and in his past 10 games against the other conference, he's run for 722 yards and scored nine times. Brown has carried 38 times for a 5.2-yard average and three TDs in four 2012 games, including 113 yards and two scores against Carolina.
While the experts will use the "trap game" rationale and propose the Browns have a chance to do more than keep things close, it's far more likely the Giants will view this game for what it is -- a chance to gain a little normalcy before venturing back into the meat of the schedule next week at San Francisco. New York hasn't won easy in a while and it may not be pristine from whistle to whistle here, but the hosts are just too good to stumble against a winless foe.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 28, Browns 14
10/04 12:30:44 ET