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NFL Preview - Jacksonville (6-4) at N.Y. Giants (6-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - One was expected to be here. The other, not so much.
Yet when the Jacksonville Jaguars take the field at New Meadowlands Stadium to face the New York Giants on Sunday, they'll do so with the equal footing that a matching 6-4 record through 10 games provides. Even if perception doesn't necessarily reflect that reality.
Believe it or not, head coach Jack Del Rio's Jaguars enter the Week 12 slate on a three-game roll that's provided them with a share of first place alongside Indianapolis in the AFC South. The most recent of the victories came last Sunday against Cleveland, when 14 fourth-quarter points erased a seven- point deficit and yielded a dramatic 24-20 win capped by Maurice Jones-Drew�s one-yard dive with 1:16 remaining.
Jacksonville escaped in spite of committing six turnovers.
"You're going to have those moments," said quarterback David Garrard, who threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns to at partially offset his three interceptions and one fumble. "The best thing about it was we kept persevering."
The win came on the heels of another gift a week earlier, when a 31-24 triumph over Houston fell from the sky after a Texans defensive back batted a Garrard Hail Mary pass into the waiting arms of wide receiver Mike Thomas on the game's final play from scrimmage.
One week prior, the Jaguars beat the Tony Romo-less Dallas Cowboys, 35-17.
Still, Jones-Drew proclaims no crimes have been committed in the construction of the streak.
"I don't feel like we stole the [Cleveland] game," he said. "We earned it."
As for the Giants, their 6-4 feels just a little less joyful.
New York fell for the second straight time last Sunday night in Philadelphia, entering the final five minutes with a one-point lead only to watch it devolve into a 27-17 loss to the Eagles. A week before, the Giants dropped a 33-20 decision to the Cowboys in Dallas interim head coach Jason Garrett's first game.
The ill-timed skid leaves head coach Tom Coughlin's team a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East and one off the existing NFC Wild Card playoff pace being jointly set by Green Bay, New Orleans and Tampa Bay -- each of whom are 7-3.
The Giants lost a weapon on Sunday as well, when wide receiver Hakeem Nicks sustained a leg injury that prompted a trip to a New York hospital for an emergency procedure to relieve the pressure on nerves and blood vessels. He's expected to miss at least three weeks.
Also absent for the Jaguars game is fellow wideout Steve Smith, who tore a pectoral muscle on Nov. 11. His backup, Ramses Barden, broke an ankle three days later in the Dallas loss.
"When you got your top two receivers out, that is always a big blow," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "But we learn how to fight through it. Other guys have got to step up, and we've got to run the ball and get guys open. I've got to play great football."
To shore up the ranks, New York signed former Tampa Bay receiver Mark Clayton from Omaha of the United Football League. Clayton was the 15th overall pick of the 2004 draft, but had been released by the Buccaneers in September.
The all-time series between the Jaguars and Giants is knotted, 2-2, with Jacksonville evening the series by virtue of a 26-10 home victory in 2006. The Giants won the previous two meetings, in 2000 and 2002 in East Rutherford against the then Coughlin-coached Jags. Jacksonville last won in North Jersey last season, when they beat the Jets there, 24-22.
Coughlin is 0-1 against the franchise he coached from 1995 through 2002, while his successor Del Rio is 1-0 against both Coughlin and the Giants head-to- head.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Statistically speaking, it could be a rough go. Jacksonville's strength -- running the football to the tune of 135.3 yards per week that's sixth-best in the NFL -- will be matched up with the New York defense's strength of stopping the run, which the Giants have done while allowing just 89.5 yards per week on the ground (4th overall). The Jaguars, meanwhile, average 200.3 yards through the air, 335.6 total yards and 22 points per week -- totals that are 25th, 20th and 18th in the league, respectively.
New York's scoring defense matches the Jags' 22-point average output and is 17th in the league, though its total yardage (282.4 ypg) and passing yardage numbers (192.9 ypg) are second and third among the 32 teams, respectively.
Garrard is four touchdown passes shy of Mark Brunell's single-year franchise record of 20 and has a 111.4 passer rating this season on the road. The East Carolina product has been particularly good in the clutch, as a 129.3 rating in the fourth quarter shows. Jones-Drew aims for game No. 4 in a row with 100 or more scrimmage yards and he's averaged 107.8 rush yards in his last four starts against NFL foes. Among Garrard's targets, wideout Thomas seeks a fourth straight game with a touchdown catch and tight end Marcedes Lewis enters the game second at his position with a franchise-best eight scoring grabs.
For New York, end Justin Tuck tied career highs with three sacks and two forced fumbles last week, while linemate Osi Umenyiora has five sacks in his last three home games and seven sacks and six forced fumbles in his last seven games overall. Safety Deon Grant, a former Jaguar, is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, marking the 10th straight season in which he�s had at least two interceptions. Also, cornerback Terrell Thomas tied a career high with 10 tackles last week in addition to a fumble recovery, two pass deflections and a blocked field goal.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Again, the numbers seem in the Giants' favor. New York averages 25.3 points per game to place it seventh in the league, while its rushing total of 138.3 yards per week is fifth, its passing yardage of 251.3 per game is seventh and its total yardage clip of 389.6 per game is third.
The Jaguars suffer by comparison, placing in the league's bottom tier in points allowed (27.0, 27th), total defense (376.8, 27th) and pass defense (264.6, 28th). Jacksonville has been just slightly more sturdy against the run by the numbers at least, allowing 112.2 yards per week to place 19th of 32 teams.
Giants quarterback Manning became the seventh passer in league history last week to reach 20 or more touchdown passes in a season for six straight years. Sunday will mark his 100th career game. In his backfield, running back Ahmad Bradshaw has averaged 6.2 yards per carry in his career against the AFC and is fourth in the league in scrimmage yards with 1,064. On the outside, wide receiver Mario Manningham goes for a third straight home game with a touchdown and tight end Kevin Boss has scored via a pass reception in two of his last three games. Other targets gaining playing time include Derek Hagan, who caught a touchdown pass last week, as did reserve tight end Travis Beckum.
For the Jaguars, linebacker Daryl Smith leads the team with 56 tackles and end Jeremy Mincey contributed a career-high two sacks last week.
Though his receiver arsenal is become more anonymous by the day, Manning has remained prolific and looks solid enough against a porous Jacksonville pass defense, regardless of where the ball goes. That said, Bradshaw may get increased touches if the Giants choose to take matters out of the receivers' hands. For the Jaguars, Jones-Drew is on a roll but faces a daunting task in maintaining the momentum against the Giants. The New York defense is surely a worthwhile play.
Things didn't go so well in Philadelphia last week, but the Giants still consider themselves along the league elite and figure to defend that status versus an AFC foe that quite simply, matches up badly against them. Manning and his largely unknown band of merry men should make just enough good things happen to leave the rest of the heavy lifting to a defense which will be relieved not to deal with Michael Vick and his colleagues once again.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 20, Jaguars 10
11/24 12:20:58 ET