New York Giants (6-4) at New Orleans Saints (7-3)
1. Are they Giants or Lilliputians? It was difficult to tell a week ago Sunday by the way the Eagles manhandled a team noted for toughness, resilience and fortitude.
The Giants displayed none of that in a humiliating home loss to the Eagles, their second loss in a row and a game in which New York uncharacteristically seemed entitled and subservient.
If ever there has been a moment when the Giants needed to stand up and defend their manhood, that was it.
The pass rush was non-existent. The offensive line was horrid and tossed around. The run game was ineffective. But worse than all of that, the Giants seemed to have no pride in being the New York Giants.
When Trevor Laws hit quarterback Eli Manning late after an early interception, none of the men in blue reacted or sent a retaliatory message, subtle or not, at Eagles QB Vince Young. When DeSean Jackson flipped the ball at Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell after a play, the Giants just took it. When Jackson taunted the Giants' bench, there was nothing. When Cullen Jenkins blind-sided D.J. Ware, leaving Ware sprawled on the MetLife turf at teammate Victor Cruz' feet, Cruz simply turned and walked back to the Giants huddle.
"We got punched in the mouth," Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty said, "and didn't do anything about it."
And now the Giants are bleeding, courtesy of an inexcusable 80-yard, 18-play drive down their collective throats that left the playoffs as anything but a foregone conclusion. The Giants must respond with physicality and attitude, or risk falling to 6-5 with the rival Cowboys surging and tough games remaining against Green Bay, the Jets and two against Dallas.
2. The NFL's single-season passing record could well be a Brees, finally.
It's been 27 years since Dan Marino slung the ball around to the tune of 5,084 yards. Many quarterbacks have come close to breaking the record -- including Brees falling just 15 yards short three years ago. But with three quarterbacks on pace to throw for at least 5,000 yards in 2011 -- Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees -- it appears the mark finally will fall.
No one seems to have a better shot at it than Brees, who will benefit from better game environments, playing in a domed stadium in five of the Saints' remaining six games. The Packers have three games remaining at Lambeau and trips to New York and Kansas City on the schedule. The Pats still must travel to Washington and Denver, with three games left in New England.
Brees also figures to be in a closer division race than Rodgers or Brady in the final weeks of the season and faces much softer defenses against the pass, with the Giants ranking 17th and games also against the lowly Titans, Vikings and Falcons secondaries.
Brees currently is on pace to break Marino's record by nearly 250 yards. The resistance this week will be a Giants secondary that has played sub-par football, with four cornerbacks already lost for the year, Michael Coe going down with a season-ending shoulder injury Sunday and Aaron Ross nursing a hamstring injury.
3. The Giants could use some of the Saints' depth in the ground game.
With Ahmad Bradshaw unable to return tonight from a foot injury and D.J. Ware coming off a concussion, Tom Coughlin will look to Brandon Jacobs to carry a heavy workload.
Things haven't worked out nearly as well rushing the football as the Giants had hoped, with the team on pace for a meager 1,331 yards. A year ago, Bradshaw nearly had more than that by himself (1,235).
The saving grace for the Giants has been Eli Manning's strong season, but against the high-powered Saints, Coughlin will want to shorten the game with power football. Thus far, Jacobs and Ware have averaged just three yards per carry and Da'Rel Scott has only three carries.
The Saints, on the other hand, return a full arsenal in the backfield, with Darren Sproles blossoming into an explosive run-or-pass threat on top of his return game impact. Three Saints tailbacks have rushed for at least 340 yards. The three tailbacks the Giants will have available have rushed for 389 combined.
Drew Brees (3,326 yards), Tom Brady (3,627) and Aaron Rodgers (3,475) all are on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing record.
Brees may well have the inside track to break the 27-year-old mark, having gone on the record with his desire to top it. Brees, who must average 293 yards passing per game the rest of the way, also will face softer secondaries and play in better weather.
Coming off back-to-back division wins and a bye week, the Saints appear recharged, healthy and ready for the stretch run. The next two weeks should go a long way toward revealing just how equipped the Saints are to make another run, facing the desperate Giants and talented defense of Detroit.
The Giants, on the other hand, are reeling, which always seems to bring the best out in Coughlin's teams. The difference this year is they're just not talented or deep enough to get it done against the high-powered Saints.
The Giants offensive line has played atrocious football -- none worse than in last week's loss to the Eagles. The running game is depleted and ineffective. The defensive secondary is all but held together with Scotch tape. And while Manning has played good football, even his game began to crack under constant pressure.
The Packers clearly are the class of the NFC and the 49ers the surprise of the league. But if Brees gets rolling, and it looks as if he is, no one would want to face the Saints in a must-win game. The Giants must win this one. They won't.
Pick: Saints 34, Giants 20
Last week's pick: Bengals 23, Ravens 17Last week's result: Ravens 31, Bengals 24SI.com season record: 8-3