The Lions are coming off another come-from-behind win, this time against the Cardinals. A week ago, the Lions ripped off 20 points in the fourth quarter, securing a 35-23 season-opening win. Meanwhile, the Giants are coming off a tough offensive outing against the Cowboys, losing 19-3 without Odell Beckham Jr.
So much of this game comes down to Beckham's status. Since I can't predict if he'll play, I'm picking the team with the best defense, which also happens to be playing at home. Expect a low-scoring game due to the state of the Giants' offense (bad) and the state of the Giants' defense (great). Expect the better defense to win out. And if Beckham plays, expect his presence to elevate the state of the Giants' offense.
The prediction: Giants 17, Lions 14.
How to watch, stream
- When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET
- Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
- TV: ESPN
- Streaming: WatchESPN
About Odell Beckham Jr.
The game could be determined by Odell Beckham Jr., who is dealing with an ankle injury that forced him to miss the Giants' Week 1 loss to the Cowboys, and whether or not he plays.
If Beckham is unable to suit up, the Giants will have a tough time winning. If Beckham plays and is relatively close to full strength, the Giants should be able to fend off the pesky Lions at home.
Beckham didn't play last week and, as a result, the Giants couldn't move the ball. Due to the Giants' offensive line issues (we'll get to that later), they need receivers who are either capable of getting open in a hurry or receivers who don't need to gain separation to be considered open.
Beckham is both. Beckham's circus catches draw the most attention, but don't forget about his refined route running. After all, he didn't accidentally stumble into an average of 95.9 receiving yards per game, which ranks third among all receivers since he entered the NFL in 2014. There's a reason he's tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns (35) in that span despite missing six possible games.
Without Beckham last week, against a mediocre-at-best Cowboys secondary, Eli Manning went 29 of 38 for 220 yards (5.8 YPA), no touchdowns, a pick, and a 78.8 passer rating. Manning needs Beckham. If Beckham doesn't play, a Lions defense that held Carson Palmer to 5.6 yards per attempt and came away with three interceptions in Week 1 might feast again.
Beckham is getting healthier. On Thursday, Beckham practiced for the first time in three weeks.
Officially, Beckham is listed as questionable, but there's a reason to be optimistic about his odds of suiting up:
Don't be surprised to see Odell Beckham play Monday night. Everything seems to be trending in that direction barring a setback, per source.— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) September 15, 2017
Forgetting Brandon Marshall
Regardless if the Giants get Beckham back or not, they need their big offseason signing, Brandon Marshall, to find the fountain of youth. Against the Cowboys, Marshall didn't get into the stat sheet until the second-to-last play of the game, when he caught a 10-yard pass in garbage time.
When Marshall struggled a year ago with the Jets, catching 59 passes for 788 yards and three touchdowns, most of us blamed his uncharacteristically bad numbers on Ryan Fitzpatrick, or FitzTragic. Maybe, though, Marshall himself is partially to blame.
Marshall, 33, is no longer at the stage of his career where he can be an offense's focal point. The days of Jay Cutler staring down Marshall, hoisting up jump balls into double coverage, and Marshall somehow coming down with them are probably over. Without Decker on the field last year (he missed 13 games), Marshall couldn't do it himself. He's no longer a WR1.
Again, it's not like the Cowboys' defense features this incredible secondary that seems worthy of shutting down Marshall. A meh secondary took him out of the game. He was targeted just four times.
The Lions' secondary, which is also limited, gave up 74 yards on six catches to Larry Fitzgerald (a receiver who appears to be aging much more gracefully than Marshall). It'll be interesting to watch how Marshall fares against the Lions. If Beckham isn't out there, Marshall could be forced to battle against Lions CB1 Darius Slay, who allowed two receptions and nine yards to the Cardinals, according to Pro Football Focus. I'd expect Slay to win that battle.
This is how Beckham's absence affects others. Marshall can still play a role as a capable compliment to Beckham and Sterling Shepard, but that can only happen if Beckham is on the field.
If Beckham can play, Marshall could draw Nevin Lawson or D.J. Hayden or Quandre Diggs in coverage. Those are matchups Marshall can exploit. Last week, the trio allowed 10 catches for 135 yard, per PFF.
Can the Giants protect Eli?
Besides Beckham's status, this is probably the most important aspect of the game. The Giants couldn't protect Manning in Week 1, giving up three sacks and four hits. Manning had a 54.2 passer rating under pressure, per PFF.
Some bad news for the Giants: The Lions put Carson Palmer under pressure on 44.9 percent of his dropbacks -- the third highest pressure rate in Week 1, according to PFF. They did that mainly through their defensive ends. Ziggy Ansah, one of the most underrated pass rushers in the game, registered four hurries. Fellow defensive end Anthony Zettel led the way with six hurries and a sack. Meanwhile, on the opposite edge, Cornelius Washington racked up two hits.
I know what you're probably thinking: I picked the Giants to win, but these first three sections have been pretty negative toward them. I'm picking them to win because of their defense, which we'll get to below.
Besides, the Lions' defense is not on the same level as the Giants'. Sure, they played well against the Cardinals, but so did the Colts' defense on Sunday. The Lions' defense ranked last in DVOA last year. One good game against a struggling offense doesn't change that.
The Giants can get after Stafford
Let's talk about that Giants' defense, which is the primary reason why I'm taking New York in this game. They're downright nasty. Don't blame them for the Week 1 loss to the Cowboys, as they held Dak Prescott and Co. to 19 points, one touchdown, and 5.5 yards per play. If the Cowboys had averaged 19 points per game over the course of last season, they would've ranked 28th in scoring.
The Giants will make sure Matthew Stafford feels the heat. The Giants' front-seven boasts Jason Pierre-Paul, Damon "Snacks" Harrison, and Olivier Vernon, who combined for 18 sacks last year. Against the Cowboys and their dominant offensive line, Pierre-Paul and Vernon (the ends) were responsible for four of the seven hurries the Giants manufactured.
The Lions' offensive line is not the Cowboys'. Stafford was only sacked once against the Cardinals, but he actually faced pressure on 39.5 percent of his dropbacks, according to PFF. Only four quarterbacks had higher pressure rates last week.
I expect the Lions to deal with this by getting the ball out of Stafford's hand early. This is Jim Bob Cooter's offense, after all -- an offense that gets the most out of Stafford by having him throw the ball quicker than he did in previous years. But Stafford might struggle to find open receivers when he does release the ball.
The Giants' secondary will win
It's not just the Giants' front-seven that is dominant. So is the back end -- led by cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eli Apple, and safety Landon Collins. Last year, the Giants' quartet combined for 15 interceptions, Jenkins allowed the seventh-lowest passer rating in coverage (64.8 per PFF), and Collins was arguably the Giants' best player.
In all, the Giants' defense allowed the second-fewest points and finished second in DVOA.
This will be a tough test for a one-dimensional Lions team that loves throwing it. They averaged 3.0 yards per carry last week, and a year ago they tied for the fewest rushing attempts. If you're asking me who wins between the Giants' secondary and the Lions' receivers, I'm taking the Giants' secondary every time -- no offense to Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, both of whom are quality receivers.
For all of the talk about Stafford's great season under Cooter last year, he still ranked 13th in YPA, 14th in touchdown passes, and 13th in passer rating. I'll take the Giants' secondary over Stafford, too.
The Lions have made their living in the past year with fourth-quarter comebacks. That'll be tough to do against a top-notch Giants defense. If they get behind, they'll be in trouble.