After a very strong start to the season, the New York Giants find themselves facing the potential loss of their NFC East lead. After a miserable start to 2012, the New Orleans Saints found their feet and still have a path to the playoffs. New York has lost three of their last four while the Saints have dropped two straight. Both teams enter the closing stretch of the season with a deep need for a win, and the similarities don't end there.
The Saints ordinarily look to Drew Brees to carry the team, and have especially done so this season. He has seven interceptions in the last two games combined, and with that kind of performance even a resurgent running game hasn't made a difference. The Giants are also finding a traditional strength to be a source of disappointment: the defense failed to record a single sack in two of their previous three games.
Meet the Giants
Over the last three games, New York's defense has looked like two completely different teams. A 31-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals saw the team give up four Andy Dalton touchdowns, a career high for the quarterback. The defense failed to record a sack and gave up several huge plays to the Bengals. The following week, Green Bay faced a very different Giants team. They sacked Aaron Rodgers five times and picked up a pair of turnovers. Most recently, against the Redskins, it was back to miscommuncations and a failure to contain the opposing offense.
Eli Manning and the offense posted similar swings. His passer rating over that same three game stretch was 56, 114.4 and 98. Victor Cruz had a goal-line drop against the Bengals, not the first time crucial passes have slipped through his hands this season. Ahmad Bradshaw hasn't been able to pick up the slack when Manning struggles, putting up less than 60 yards against the Bengals and the Packers, but a 103-yard performance against Washington may signal increased production from New York's run game.
Meet the Saints
Drew Brees has seven interceptions in the last two games and his pace is close to setting him up to finish with career-highs in interceptions and fumbles. With 31 touchdowns so far this season he's far from terrible, but he hasn't displayed the consistency the Saints have come to expect and depend on. The New Orleans offense is hardly dependent on the run, but if the ground game is going to start carrying more of the load now would be a good time to start. Things haven't looked good for much of the season, but recent signs are encouraging: Pierre Thomas has averaged less than 24 yards per game in Weeks 3 through 13. His showing against the Falcons was a huge improvement, with 84 yards on 14 carries.
Local Takes: Giants
The Saints offense might not be in perfect form, but historically they've had the Giants' number. Ed Valentine at Big Blue View lays it out:
The last two times the teams played, New Orleans zipped through the Giants' defense like it wasn't even there. Last season the Saints laid a 49-24 beating on the Giants. In 2009, New Orleans dropped a similar 48-17 whooping on the Giants, who entered that game 5-0. That began a tailspin that saw the Giants end up 8-8 and missing the playoffs. That, in case you don't want to do the math, is 97 points in two games.
Local Takes: Saints
Jason Calbos at Canal Street Chronicles sees the Saints as cornered, and thinks that's when they're at their best:
You better believe that Drew Brees is playing for personal pride and a +1 in the win column. He's worked too hard and put too much into playing every game just to let this season go without a fight. The math involved for the Saints to make the playoffs is mind blowing and the only people who give the Saints a chance have a Fleur-de-lis tattooed on their heart. New York, New Orleans or wherever the Saints play they now know more than ever that when Brees straps up his helmet and makes his way to the field for the first time, he will know that no one is expecting them to make it to the playoffs, let alone win the game.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline: @BigBlueView and @CSCTweet for SB Nation coverage. More Giants Twitter action can be found with Ralph Vacchiano and Ohm Youngmisuk For the Saints, check out Jeff Duncan and Jonathan Peralta.
Example: Andrew Sharp takes the Saints +4.5, and has some good questions:
"The Saints visit the Giants this weekend, so it's a good time to ask: Does anybody really believe that Sean Payton hasn't talked to the Saints this season?"
The Saints are the underdogs here, and OddsShark has most bookmakers giving them between 4.5 and 5 points.
The Giants will face the NFC's best as they head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. New Orleans will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home, in a contest certain to feature two hungry teams.