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NFL Preview - Oakland (1-3) at N.Y. Giants (4-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - What's that you hear in and around North Jersey this week?
It's the sound of fantasy geeks, season ticket-holders and otherwise interested parties scurrying to their medical dictionaries in search of the most updated information on a two-word podiatric malady.
The troublesome foot problem because a particular concern for the Jersey-based New York Giants last Sunday afternoon, when franchise quarterback Eli Manning left a game with the Kansas City Chiefs after intense pain in his heel made him unable to function on the field.
Manning said the condition has occasionally impacted him in the past, but never to that extent.
"It never bothered me at practice," he said. "It never kept me from doing anything."
The pain in the heel could quickly become a pain in the, errr, neck... for a team that's won its first four games by a combined 43 points and seems poised for a run at a return trip to the Super Bowl after its most recent title following the 2007 season.
The last time the Giants started 5-0, they won Super Bowl XXV.
Manning didn't practice either Wednesday or Thursday, opening the door to a substitute assignment for backup QB David Carr, the former No. 1 overall draft pick who has made 79 career starts - going 23-56 with Houston and Carolina - but has thrown just 17 passes since joining the Giants in 2008.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin has allowed for the possibility of Manning's absence.
"The game plan is not going to be adjusted," coach Tom Coughlin said. "(Carr) has been a starter in this league. He has been very much into what we have done from the standpoint of a plan each week. We wouldn't taper a whole lot."
As for the Raiders, they've got signal-calling issues of their own.
Ex-LSU standout JaMarcus Russell, who left school early to become the league's top draft pick in 2007, continued his early-season doldrums last week at Houston, completing just 12-of-33 passes for 128 yards in an ugly 29-6 loss.
The once high-octane Oakland offense has managed just 42 points in four games - the worst output in the AFC - and the Raiders are last in the NFL in passing yards (130.8) and total yards (208.5) per game.
Russell has an NFL-worst passer rating among starting quarterbacks (42.4) and has thrown for just 506 yards and one touchdown against four interceptions. By contrast, in the same four-week sample period, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has thrown for 1,031 yards and nine touchdowns.
Additionally, matters won't be helped this week by the absence of running back Darren McFadden, who'll miss two-to-four weeks with a torn meniscus in his right knee that requires surgery.
McFadden has 145 yards on 47 carries and a touchdown this season.
He's also caught seven passes for 53 yards.
"I haven't thought about (a quarterback change) yet," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "I know it's on everyone's mind. Right now, the big picture is for this team to clean up a lot of areas. If (quarterback) was the only area that I thought really needed to be changed, then it's easy, but it's not."
The Raiders have a 7-3 edge in their all-time series against the Giants, but were 30-21 home losers when the clubs last met, during the 2005 campaign. That result snapped a four-game winning streak in the series for Oakland covering the years 1992 through 2001, including wins at Giants Stadium in 1995 (17-13) and 2001 (28-10). The Giants' last home win over the Raiders took place in 1989.
Coughlin is 2-1 in his career against the Raiders, including 1-1 during his tenure with Jacksonville (1995-2002). The Raiders' Cable will be meeting both Coughlin and the Giants for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
As illustrated previously, not much has been happening. Russell has struggled mightily, though he did break out with a 14-of-21 effort for 148 yards and two touchdowns in his last matchup with an NFC team - against Tampa Bay last December. His chief backup is ex-Buccaneer Bruce Gradkowski, who's 3-9 in 12 NFL starts with Tampa Bay and Cleveland. On the ground, expected starter Michael Bush averages 5.2 yards per carry against NFC foes, totaling 214 yards in 41 carries with a pair of touchdowns. He has 120 yards on 30 carries so far in 2009. In the air, ex-Florida Gator Louis Murphy has averaged 15.6 yards per catch on a team-best 11 receptions, posting 172 yards and scoring once. Also, since 2007, tight end Zach Miller leads the team with 111 catches and 1,368 yards.
Ominously for the struggling Raiders, the Giants have been up to their usual tricks on the defensive side of the ball. New York leads the league through four weeks with a stingy 232.2 yards-allowed average, which has helped yield a plus-4 turnover ratio compared to Oakland's minus-2. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who is back after missing 2008 with a knee injury, had two sacks and a forced fumble in his last meeting the Raiders. On the other side, end Justin Tuck leads the team with 2� sacks and has 16� in his last 22 games. When he records at least one in a game, New York is 15-3. Rounding out the rotation, end Mathias Kiwanuka has 4� sacks in his last three games against AFC foes. In the backfield, safety Michael Johnson and cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster share the team lead with an interception apiece. Linebacker Antonio Pierce leads the unit tackles with 22 - 16 solo and six assists.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
As Coughlin intimated, the process doesn't figure to change a lot whether Manning plays or not. On the ground, burly runner Brandon Jacobs has battered his way to 288 yards (third in the conference) on 79 carries, while complement Ahmad Bradshaw is averaging 5.6 yards per attempt. When Jacobs runs the ball 10 or more times in a game, the Giants are 29-6. And when he reaches 100 yards, they are 8-1. In the air, a trio of receivers has emerged in the absence of Plaxico Burress, including USC alumnus Steve Smith, who has 34 receptions through four games - the most in franchise history. He caught a career-best 11 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs. For big plays, Mario Manningham has averaged 17 yards per catch and rookie Hakeem Nicks scored his first touchdown last week on a 54-yard play. As a whole, the Giants' average of 401 total yards per game is second in the NFC.
For the Raiders, the defense hasn't been great - surrendering 86 points in four games - but it's played well enough to survive if the offense picks things up. Oakland posted a season-best four sacks last week against the Texans, and, up front, veterans Richard Seymour (41) and Greg Ellis (8-1) have posted 122 career sacks. In fact, the last time he faced the Giants, Ellis, then with Dallas, had 2� sacks. He leads Oakland with four through four games. Since 2006, Thomas Howard is tied for second in the league with seven interceptions by a linebacker. In the backfield, safety Michael Huff leads the AFC and is tied for second in the NFL this season with three interceptions. Also, cornerback Chris Johnson recorded his first interception of 2009 last week.
The ground attack seems the simple play this week, with Jacobs and/or Bradshaw pretty good bets to rack up yards and scores. Whether Manning plays will determine how many passes are thrown, though Smith doesn't figure to reach double-digit catches again no matter who's calling the signals. Defensively, the Giants are a must play as well. For the Raiders, ummm... not so much. Maybe Bush thrives in a new role, but it's a risky proposition at best.
Manning might be questionable with a foot injury. Bradshaw might be limited by an ankle injury. And a great plume of noxious smoke might drift from Newark and pollute the East Rutherford countryside. But none of it will matter. The Giants are better - decisively better - in all areas. And they won't lose a home game to a team coming in from the West Coast. Especially a bad team.
Put all your eggs in one basket. This is a lock.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 27, Raiders 6
10/08 14:39:13 ET