4:25 PM EST, FOX – Line: Seahawks -3, Over/Under: 45
As the midway point of the regular season approaches, a pair of surprisingly overachieving teams meet today in the Pacific Northwest, as the surging New York Giants battle the Seattle Seahawks from Lumen Field in Seattle, Washington. Arguably the most pleasant surprise in the National Football League thus far, the Giants (6-1, 2nd in NFC East) are off to their best start since 2008, with this new regime led by (Head Coach) Brian Daboll and (General Manager) Joe Schoen proving to be quite the hit in the early stages of their tenure together in the Big Apple. Indeed, it’s been quite a while since there was anything remotely positive to talk about in regard to Big Blue, who over the past decade has frequently drawn the ire of their fan base as published on the back page of the New York Post; the franchise went a nauseating 61-100 (.378) between 2012 (a year after hoisting their last Lombardi trophy) and 2021, offering just two winning seasons and one trip to the playoffs (2016). Last year’s 4-13 finish led the Mara Family to finally hit the reset button, prying away the tandem of Daboll and Schoen from the Bills, after each played sizable roles in that long-floundering franchise’s resurrection; Daboll worked wonders evolving a dreadful Offense into one of the most formidable passing attacks in the NFL, while Schoen provided him with a plethora of young talent as their Assistant GM. Through the first seven games of this campaign, it’s been very much a series of best-case scenarios for the Giants, who look unrecognizable in comparison to the dumpster fire that limped towards last place in the NFC East last Winter. First and foremost, after being hampered by injuries over the last two seasons, 2022 has been nothing short of a revenge tour for (Pro-Bowl Tailback) Saquon Barkley; the 25-year-old has absolutely THRIVED within Daboll’s imaginative scheme, leading the league in total touches (168) and yards from scrimmage (906), drawing comparisons to his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign of 2018 when he led the league in that latter category (2,028). Barkley (pictured below) has been the engine behind the second-most prolific rushing offense in the NFL (173.4), which has allowed the G-Men to dominate time of possession and cover up some of the weaknesses that have plagued them over the past few years. Of course, the Offensive Line, which ranked among the league’s worst under the previous regime, has looked VASTLY improved with this shift towards the run, while also propping up (young Quarterback) Daniel Jones for the first time of his much-maligned tenure in the Meadowlands. This was always going to be the true test of Daboll’s talents, for Jones has been one of the hardest nuts to crack; since he was drafted sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, no Quarterback had committed more turnovers than the 25-year-old with a ridiculous FIFTY-THREE turnovers, including a whopping TWENTY-TWO lost fumbles marring any progress shown on the gridiron. However, Daboll is indeed squeezing every ounce of blood that he can from this proverbial turnip, with Jones authoring career-highs in a slew of categories, including completion percentage (66.7%), passer rating (90.8), and QBR (62.7), while posting a career-low interception percentage of 1.1%. Furthermore, he’s been uncharacteristically cool in the clutch, leading the NFL in both fourth-quarter comebacks (4) and game-winning drives (5). So, what’s been the key to his success, you ask? Well, Daboll has leaned into utilizing his Quarterback’s underrated mobility, with Jones churning out a career-best 49.0 yards and 8.3 carries per game on the ground. Is Daboll doing this out of necessity? Well, given the heavy rotation that he’s used in the Receiving Corps, we’re inclined to say yes. However, the more appropriate question to ask is this: is this style of play sustainable? That remains to be seen….
When we last saw the Giants, they marched onward to their fourth consecutive victory, toppling the Jaguars in a hard-fought 23-17 victory in Northern Florida. Both teams started strong, with the visitors rolling seventy-five yards downfield in nine plays culminating in a 23-yard scoring strike from Jones to (young Receiver) Darius Slayton, though that would be best from Big Blue until later in the affair. After Jacksonville took a 11-7 lead early in the second quarter, New York would lean heavily on their Defense to wrestle momentum from the home side, which they did on back-to-back possessions in the second period. After a Graham Gano Field Goal made it 11-10, (Defensive Coordinator) Wink Martindale’s troops flipped the field with the Jags threatening in the red zone, as (third-year Safety) Xavier McKinney forced a fumble at the 17-yard line, eventually leading to another Gano field goal to retake the lead. The G-Men would then head into intermission with the advantage after (Jaguars Quarterback) Trevor Lawrence’s Hail Mary from midfield would fall short. The second half wasn’t nearly as eventful, particularly after Lawrence regained the lead for the hosts with a goal line stretch into the end zone, as the two sides would punt and turn it over on downs on each of their next two possessions. However, as the contest transitioned into the final stanza, Jones & Barkley would keep the ball in their hands, with sixty-three of sixty-nine yards (another ten were gifted from a pass interference flag) coming from that duo rushing the football, as Jones breached the end zone to retake the lead with 5:31 left to play. Then, after a quick three-and-out, with Barkley accounting for forty-four yards on six carries, teeing up Gano for yet another field goal, stretching the lead to six points. Though Lawrence would pilot his side down to his opponent’s 17-yard line, his final attempt to tie the game was quelled by McKinney, who tackled Christian Kirk a yard in front of the end zone. When it was all said and done, the Giants amassed 436 total yards on twenty-seven first downs, including a staggering 236 via the run on thirty-nine attempts, allowing them to control time of possession for a commanding 34:10. Barkley totaled 110 yards on twenty-four carries, while reeling in another four catches for twenty-five yards, while Jones completed 19-of-30 attempts for 202 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for a career-high 107 yards and another score on eleven carries. Looking towards this afternoon’s meeting in Seattle, this marks their first encounter since 2020, in which New York escaped Lumen Field with a narrow 17-12 victory, marking their first over the birds since 2010. Both Jones and Barkley were inactive for that matchup, with today’s meeting marking their first with the Seahawks. Big Blue has relished wearing the brand of underdog of late, covering five straight games when getting points, though that certainly hasn’t been the case when pitted against Seattle whom they are just 1-4 against the spread in their last five meetings as an underdog. On the injury front, Daboll just lost a BIG piece of his Offensive Line, with (Rookie Tackle) suffering a sprained MCL that will see him head towards short-term Injured Reserve, with an opportunity to return after four weeks. Furthermore, the Receiving Corps continues to be banged up with the likes of Kadarious Toney, Kenny Golladay, and Wan’Dale Robinson all questionable with various maladies. With that said, Barkley, McKinney, and (Left Tackle) Andrew Thomas all practiced throughout the week and are cleared of any lingering injury status heading into today’s game.
Meanwhile, though their opponent has been nothing short of a pleasant surprise thus far, who in the hell could have forecasted the Seahawks (4-3, 1st in NFC West) sitting atop the NFC West through seven games? Indeed, after finally parting ways with (longtime Quarterback) Russell Wilson in the offseason, 2022 was expected to be if not a rebuilding campaign for Seattle, then surely a transitional one, particularly in an annually difficult division that saw each its other three residents advance to the playoffs last January. Rather than count the capital that they received from the Wilson trade (first, second and fifths in 2022, and first and seconds in 2023 along with a number of players), these birds have approached this season with nothing to lose, thanks in large part to a slew of rookies that have performed well above their experience in the early goings of the schedule. Indeed, nothing jumpstarts a rebuild faster than hitting on draft picks, and (Head Coach) Pete Carroll and (General Manager) John Schneider have done precisely that; their first SIX draft picks from last Spring’s haul have seen extensive time already, with (Tackles) Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas doing an admirable job in protecting (veteran Quarterback) Geno Smith (more on him shortly), while (Cornerbacks) Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant have made play after play, with the former leading the league with FOUR interceptions. With that said, the most notable rookie has been (Tailback) Kenneth Walker III (pictured below), who has certainly made the most of his opportunity in the wake of (veteran tailback) Rashaad Penny’s season-ending injury, rushing for a whopping 353 yards on a very healthy 6.7 yards per carry and four touchdowns over the last three weeks, highlighted by a career-best 168 yards and two scores in last weekend’s 37-23 drubbing of the Chargers (more on this one in a bit). However, the biggest story of the season thus far, has been the play of Smith, who has for all intents and purposes outperformed the man he had spent the last two seasons backing up. The journeyman is completing an NFL-best 73.5% of his passes for an average of 244.6 yards per game on a personal-best 6.84 net yards per attempt, with ELEVEN touchdowns in comparison to just three interceptions, with a QBR of 66.8 that dwarfs that of Wilson, who has struggled MIGHTILY to say the least in Denver. It’s awfully ironic that after years of the fan base pleading with Carroll to simply let Russ cook, that the venerable skipper has decided to open up the playbook now that the perennial Pro-Bowl has departed for “greener” pastures; (Offensive Coordinator) Shane Waldron (yet another former Sean McVay lieutenant) has presided over a unit that have averaged 26.1 points (5th Overall) on 381.7 total yards (12th Overall), including tenth in rushing at 137.1 yards per game on a league-high 5.5 yards per carry. However, that’s not to say that this group isn’t without their flaws, for they’ve been curiously dreadful in the red zone with a 36.4% touchdown rate (31st Overall), while committing an unhealthy ten turnovers thus far (21st Overall). Oh, and that Defense, which has really gone through some seriously poor stretches over the past two seasons, still suffers from its share of breakdowns, ranking twenty-eighth in points allowed (26.6) and twenty-ninth in total defense (399.1). As good as they’ve been running the football, they’ve been just as susceptible to it, yielding 149.7 yards per game (29th Overall) on 4.9 yards per carry (27th Overall). Seattle has however, made up for it with takeaways, totaling a dozen thus far (5h Overall), including at least two in five consecutive games.
When we last saw the Seahawks, they ascended to first place within the competitive NFC West on the strength of a surprising 37-23 victory on the road against the Chargers, which proved to be a matchup that wasn’t nearly as close as that final score would lead us to believe. After Smith was intercepted on just his second pass of the afternoon, the visitors flipped the field in stopping (Chargers Tailback) Austin Ekeler for no gain on a fourth-and-one from the 32-yard line, prompting Seattle to march sixty-eight yards downfield in eight plays, with Smith putting them on the board with a 20-yard scoring strike to (veteran Wideout) Marquise Goodwin. Four plays later, and (veteran Safety) Ryan Neal intercepted (Chargers Quarterback) Justin Herbert at the host’s 43-yard line, leading to 12-yard touchdown run from Walker five plays later. Capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes would be a theme in this affair, folks, as Carroll’s charges would strip sack Herbert on the next drive, leading to a field goal from Jason Meyers to put them ahead 17-0 at the end of the first quarter. Though Los Angeles would cut the defect to three in the second quarter, the visiting side would have no parts in allowing them to retake the lead, building their lead to 37-16 before relinquishing a garbage time score at the end of the fourth quarter. In the end, the ‘Hawks amassed 404 total yards on twenty-four first downs, rushing for 214 yards on thirty-four carries, converting 5-of-9 third downs and controlling time of possession for a commanding 33:57. Smith was nothing short of efficient with 210 yards a pair of touchdowns and an interception on 20-of-27 passing, while Walker ran wild for that 168 yards and two scores that we referenced earlier. Kudos to the Defense, which rose to the occasion and neutralized one of the more prolific young Quarterbacks in the league, relegating Herbert to 293 yards on 33-of-51 passing for two touchdowns, but sacking him three times, and turning him over on two occasions, while limiting the home side to a scant fifty-three yards on fifteen rushes. Looking to today’s matchup with the Giants, the Seahawks 6-4 both straight-up and against the spread in their last ten meetings, including 4-3 in their last ten against the spread in the Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, they are 5-2 against the spread in their last ten home games versus New York when branded a favorite. This afternoon’s affair will be a reunion between Smith and Big Blue, whom he played for back in 2017, appearing in two games and making one start, though this will mark his first encounter with his former employer. On the injury front, Seattle did not emerge from that trip to the City of Angels unscathed, with (Pro-Bowl Receiver) D.K. Metcalf hurt his patellar tendon, though Carroll has refused to rule out the 24-year-old after x-rays came back negative. Needless to say, this would be a big blow to an Offense that has thrived on big plays this season, with the herculean Wideout hauling in thirty-one catches for 418 yards and a pair of touchdowns thus far. (Fellow Receiver) Tyler Lockett, has been limited throughout the week of practice with a tender hamstring, and is listed as questionable for today’s contest.