Giants at Dolphins (8:30pm ET Monday, ESPN)
Even at 5-7 and riding a 3-game losing streak, the New York Football Giants find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt, in a 3-way tie for first place in the NFC East – OK, technically they’re in 3rd place due to their division record, but, still… Five of their losses have come by a total of 11 points, so it’s not so much that they’re simply terrible as they are snakebitten. Not like “Dallas Cowboys” snakebitten; more like “leading pass rusher blows his fingers off with fireworks” snakebitten. Jason Pierre-Paul did make it back for Week 9, but hasn’t been his old self, and without the services of Victor Cruz this year, Eli Manning has been left with Odell Beckham and a bag of spare parts with which to work.
It’s been a maddening season for Giants fans, as Big Blue has lost five games in which they allowed their opponents to tie or take the lead in the final 80 seconds of regulation, and in three of those games, it was in the final 6 seconds. The great irony is that Eli has been at his best in the 4th quarter, but has only one game-winning drive to show for it. The real issue has been the Giants’ D, which has given up only about 2 points a game more than average, but they’ve given up so much ground and time of possession that they’ve probably done more to prevent their own team from scoring than their opponents. The Giants’ defense is either worst or second-worst in plays per drive, yards per drive, 1st downs, completions, total yards and time of possession per drive. They’ve only been on the field for 138 drives – 20th in the league – but have been on the field for 858 plays, second-most in the league. Were it not for the Giants’ turnover differential of +10, things would be a lot uglier. But as long as Beckham is suiting up, the Giants are worth watching, cuz there’s always a real good chance he’ll do something amazing.
It’s a very different story for the Miami Dolphins, who play in the AFC East, where 5-7 simply doesn’t cut it. Instead of being part of a 4-way tie for first in the NFC East, the Fish find themselves at the bottom of their own division, and while the Giants are probably better than their record, the Dolphins are probably worse, as they’ve been outscored by 60 points this season. Then again, the Dolphins are 4-4 since Dan Campbell took over as head coach following a Week 4 loss to the Jets, so maybe they’re headed in the right direction.
Or maybe not: The Dolphins’ offense is in the bottom four in the league in plays, yards, and first downs, so they clearly have trouble moving the ball downfield – but they’re just above league average in terms of TDs with 21. QB Ryan Tannehill has been adequate at best, in the lower middle class of most stat categories, which taken as a whole result in a passer rating of 88.3, good for 21st in the league, and a QBR of 33.98, second-to-last among qualifiers.
Here’s where it gets weirder still: they are dead last in field goals made, with just 8. That’s 12 FGs – or 36 points – below the league average. How can you score that many TDs and yet score that few FGs? On average, teams have scored 1.4 offensive TDs for each field goal made, while the Dolphins have scored 3.4 TD/FG. Rookie kicker Andrew Franks is in no danger of getting drafted to the Pro Bowl, but he’s no stiff, having missed just 2 field goals, both of more than 40 yards.
Like sex and jazz, the Dolphin D can be very good, but when it’s bad, it’s wretched, the difference lying almost entirely in their ability to stop the run. In wins, the Dolphins give up 16 points on 262 passing yards and 94 rushing yards; in losses those numbers are 32, 251 and 164 – that’s twice as many points and an extra 72 ground yards. Six running backs have gained 100 yards in a game against Miami, an NFL high, including two dudes on the Bills, LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams, who did it on the same day.
Two iffy defenses, a couple of up-and-down QBs – things could get weird in South Florida tonight.