Three teams from the NFC East have made the divisional round of the playoffs and two of them play on Saturday Night. The Giants, fresh off their win over the Vikings, head into Philadelphia to take on the top-seeded Eagles.
The Eagles were able to win their prior two matchups this season against the Giants. In the first contest in early December, the Giants were dismantled by 3 touchdowns at home, allowing 48 points along with 250 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground. The second matchup was the last week of the regular season and the Giants had little to play for, starting backup QB Davis Webb, as the Eagles held on for a 22-16 win.
Philadelphia is just over a full touchdown favorite at home in the divisional round, and Vegas has this game pegged with a spread of 7.5 points and a point total of 48. I'm going to ask the most pertinent questions to see if we can find an edge on these lines for Saturday night.
The Eagles Defense, How Good Are They?
While the Eagles are 14-3, they did come into the playoffs losing 2 of their final 3 regular season games, but both of those contests had backup Gardner Minshew under center. The more troubling trend for the Eagles is on defense.
While the Eagles are ranked 8th in the league in opponents points per game, allowing barely more than 20, the defense might be weaker than that statistic leads us to believe. In reality, Philadelphia's defense has struggled against some of the better offenses and feasted upon backup quarterbacks and poor competition. Here is a list of all the quarterbacks and teams the Eagles held to fewer than 20 points this year:
- Davis Webb/Giants
- Ryan Tannehill/Titans
- Matt Ryan/Colts
- Davis Mills/Texans
- Kenny Pickett/Steelers
- Kyler Murray/Cardinals
- Carson Wentz/Commanders
- Kirk Cousins/Vikings
That is essentially a list of the league's worst offenses and consists of mostly backups and under-performing quarterbacks, including one rookie. Another thing to consider is that nearly all of these strong defensive performances came on or before Thanksgiving week. The most impressive name on this list is Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, but that was way back in Week 2 when the Eagles were able to beat Cousins on a Thursday night in prime time, something Cousins has notoriously struggled with in his career.
What I am saying is, I'm not overwhelmingly impressed with the resume the Philadelphia defense has put together. Whether the Giants offense, with Daniel Jones under center, can exploit the Eagles is maybe the biggest question of the game.
The Eagles defense does lead the league with 70 sacks this year, 15 more than any other team. This pass rush has helped protect the Eagles secondary, and because the Giants have allowed the fifth most sacks in the league, the Eagles should be licking their chops. In fact in the first matchup the Eagles defense sacked Giants quarterbacks 7 times, while only doing so twice in the second game between these two teams.
Ok, How Good are the Giants on Offense?
If you watched the Wild Card game against the Vikings your answer might be skewed because New York put together an incredible game against the Minnesota defense. Daniel Jones was nearly perfect with 301 yards through the air, but was also the game's leading rusher with 17 carries for 78 yards. If there was ever a game where we saw Jones look similar under Brian Daboll to the way Josh Allen did in Buffalo, it was this one.
On paper the Giants might have the least talented wide receiver room in the league. Case in point is last week's leading receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who was a sixth round pick eventually waived by the Bills. Instead of attacking matchups, so much of the New York passing attack is about using motion, play action and other formation designs to create space on defense. This will prove more difficult against the Eagles secondary, but is definitely feasible if the Giants can make the Eagles focus on the run.
The Giants have the fourth-ranked rushing offense (narrowly ahead of the fifth ranked Eagles) behind a rejuvenated Saquon Barkley, who rushed for more than 1300 yards and 10 TDs this year. When you add in Daniel Jones' ability to use his legs effectively on RPOs or to scramble when a defense is in man coverage, then you can understand why the Giants are able to rush for more than 140 yards per game.
While the Giants offense might lack the explosive play ability that other teams still remaining in the NFL Playoffs have, they have improved over the season in Daboll's first year running the staff, and they certainly have found a way to exploit defensive weaknesses.
Conventional wisdom says the Eagles should play close to the line of scrimmage and challenge the Giants receiving core and Daniel Jones to beat them deep in one-on-one matchups. Look for the Giants to use bunch and stacked formations as well as several screen passes to counter this strategy.
I'd also look for some late shifts from the Philadelphia defense, trying to use the home crowd to their advantage to make blocking audibles at the line of scrimmage difficult for New York. While the Giants offense will struggle if they fall far behind in this game, they do have the ability to sustain long drives and keep a talented Philly offense off the field.
Can Jalen Hurts Be Special in the Playoffs?
The Eagles offense has been great with Hurts under center, scoring 28 points per game, behind only the Bills and Chiefs. Prior to this season several analysts questioned Hurts' viability as a passer, but with the help of the addition of A.J. Brown to Eagles, Hurts has shown he can hurt defenses down the field with 3700 yards and 22 touchdowns through the air. He was squarely in the front of the MVP conversation prior to his injury.
The Eagles receiving core couldn't be more opposite when compared to the Giants, with Brown and DeVonta Smith each tallying more than 1000 yards this year. Thrown in Dallas Goedert at tight end and the Eagles have a deep core of pass catchers that can challenge teams at all levels of the field. With star right tackle Lane Johnson expected to play, Hurts should have a better chance at having a clean pocket to attack the Giants through the air.
There is nothing about Jalen Hurts' game that makes me think he will suddenly begin to struggle in the playoffs. When you throw in his ability as a short yardage running threat, with his 13 touchdowns and over 4.5 yards per carry this year, Hurts has the ability to impact the football game in a ton of different ways for Philadelphia.
Will We Get the Giants Defense that Gave Up 48 in Week 14, or the One that Held the Birds to 22 in Week 18?
48 points was far and away the most the Giants defense gave up all season, so it is hard to see that happening again.
The entire strength of the Giants defense rests in its wildly talented defensive line, complete with three former first round picks, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux. If that group can contain the Eagles top-end rushing attack and pressure Hurts, then the secondary has a chance to hold up against the Eagles receiving threats.
Are There Any Betting Trends to Consider Before Placing a Wager?
Right now it looks to be a pretty even split, with 55 percent of the bets and 56 percent of the money on the Giants to cover. The total has a bit more disparity, as the public is firmly on the over, with 74 percent of the wagers rooting for more than 48 points, but just 65 percent of the money on that same side. That tells us the sharps are leaning toward the under.
So Where Should We Place our Bets?
It's been a slow start to the NFL playoffs for me from a gambling perspective, and I think this spread is pretty hard to exploit. Sometimes when games seem hard and gambling times are rough, it's best to go back to some of the cardinal rules of NFL gambling.It is simply really hard for teams to win by more than a touchdown, especially against a divisional opponent that knows them so well.
I think the pace of this game will be slow enough that the Giants keep it within a score at worst, so I will be placing a medium sized bet that New York covers +7.5 points. I won't be placing any money on the total, but if I had a lean, I'd go with the sharp money and the under. It's just easier to me to see one offense falter outside in Philadelphia than it is for me to see the defenses fall apart.
This one should be a great game, but I think what likely happens is Philly scrapes by and wins 26-20, maybe even on the strength of a critical fourth quarter stop. I can't wait to watch it.
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