COVID-19... A new play-caller... Players and coaches squaring off against their former teams... Assistant coach shuffling... No James Bradberry or Daniel Jones...
These are just some of the headlines that have dominated the week leading up to the New York Giants Week 15 game against the Cleveland Browns, with most of these headlines being of the unexpected variety.
Sometimes life throws surprises at you, and, as Giants head coach Joe Judge likes to say, you either adapt or you die.
The Giants, who are coming off an embarrassing and lackluster loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week, are looking to do the former. They need to if they are to keep pace with the Washington Football Team, who last week supplanted the Giants in first place in the division.
Can the Giants, who began the week as a 3.5-point underdog but who, thanks to the turbulent week they had, are now a 6.5-point underdog, pull off an upset against the Cleveland Browns?
The Giants Will Win Because...
-- their run defense, which through Week 14 has allowed 101.5 net rushing yards per game (7th in the league), finds a way to hold Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and the rest of the Browns rushing attack to well under their 156.2 average yards per game.
-- Leonard Williams, tied with Aaron Donald of the Rams for most quarterback hits (24) among defensive linemen, and who is second behind Donald's (12.5) in sacks (8.5), comes up with another huge game against an otherwise stout Browns defensive line.
-- we don't hear the words "Myles Garrett" and "sack" in the same sentence all night. (Since returning to the lineup two weeks ago, Garrett has recorded just one sack and one quarterback hit in two games.)
-- the Giants come out with an uptempo offense that tires out the Browns early.
-- the Browns bring an extra gear into this game after narrowly losing to the Ravens on Monday night.
The Giants Will Lose Because...
-- the events of the past week were just too much of a cumulative distraction for the Giants to overcome.
-- special teams continues to make mistakes that lead to the Giants losing the starting field position battle.
-- defensive coordinator Patrick Graham couldn't come up with a way to replace starting cornerback James Bradberry, who is on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
-- the Giants let the Browns, who have scored a league-best 83 points in their last two games (41.5 average), allows Cleveland to maintain that average.
-- Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has thrown for 935 passing yards, nine touchdowns, and one interception over his last three games, gets into an early groove.
What Will Probably Happen
If the Giants' objective is to show progress every week, they need to prove that last week's loss to what was then a 6-6 Cardinals team was a fluke and that the prior week's win over the Seahawks was not.
But here's the thing. The Giants haven't had a week like the one they just completed. They lost a day of practice, they are 'on track" to have their backup quarterback start while also working with a different play-caller, and they're going to be without Bradberry, their top cornerback.
That's a lot of change packed into a short amount of time. While Judge's mantra is "adapt or die," I've got my doubts as to whether the Giants, who, by the way, face a Browns team that's looking to wrap up a playoff berth and figures to be extra motivated this week after their heartbreaking loss to the Ravens on Monday night, can adapt.
Browns 27, Giants 17