NFL forecast: Giants need Manning to star in Dallas

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

September 16, 2018 03:34 AM
The new-look Giants are vastly improved on offense. It’s too soon to give up on Eli Manning in an attack with playmakers Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr.
© USA Today Sports Images

Aside from the touchdown pass he tossed to the other team, Eli Manning had a decent first Sunday of the season. But that’s the biggest issue with the New York Giants, who are good enough to win most games on their schedule if Manning avoids huge mistakes.

Manning is not an elite quarterback, and neither is Dak Prescott. It looks more and more like Prescott’s remarkable rookie year was a fluke. He was sensational two years ago, but the Dallas Cowboys’ offense has been mostly stagnant since.

The Cowboys are the NFL’s drama queens — constant chaos surrounds a team with frayed relationships and underachieving stars — and NBC loves to showcase Dallas on prime time early in the season against the rival Giants. Never is there a shortage of soap opera storylines.

This show will go on without Ben McAdoo, and that means the Giants finally will have the coaching edge. A scarecrow would deserve a coaching edge over Jason Garrett, but McAdoo was worse than a scarecrow.

The new-look Giants are vastly improved on offense. It’s too soon to give up on Manning in an attack with so many playmakers. In a 20-15 loss to Jacksonville, rookie running back Saquon Barkley carried the ball 18 times for 106 yards, with a long run of 68 for a touchdown. Odell Beckham Jr. made 11 receptions for 111 yards. Manning completed 23 of 37 passes for 224 yards, but his only scoring throw was a pick-six. He also screwed up an audible on a failed 2-point conversion run by Barkley. So, doing simple math, Manning made two costly mistakes.

Still, against what could prove to be the league’s top defense, the Giants outgained the Jaguars 5.2 yards per play to 4.9. New York’s defense allowed 13 points and none in the second half.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys had trouble crossing midfield in a 16-8 loss at Carolina, and there was no way to blame it on Hurricane Florence. Prescott was sacked six times, and Ezekiel Elliott was limited to 69 yards on 15 carries. Dallas mustered a dismal 4.1 yards per play against an above-average defense.

Two years ago, when Prescott was thriving, he was operating in a system with a dominant offensive line, better receivers and a much more effective Elliott. Problems on the line obviously have something to do with Prescott’s slump.

Dallas has been a weak home favorite for several years under Garrett. I’ll take 3 points with the Giants, who have more offensive potential, and hope Manning avoids the big mistake this week.

Four more plays for Week 2 (home team in CAPS):

* Colts (plus-6) over REDSKINS: Andrew Luck completed 39 of 53 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Cincinnati that was somewhat encouraging for Indianapolis. Primarily, Luck is back and looking good. The Colts are without two starting tackles, which is discouraging, but the possible return of running back Marlon Mack could be a boost. Washington was surprisingly impressive in a 24-6 beatdown of Arizona. Alex Smith, an upgrade from Kirk Cousins, passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Adrian Peterson carried 26 times for 96 yards, and Chris Thompson added 65 yards on five carries. The Colts posted a 10-5 ATS record as ‘dogs before Luck starting dealing with injuries in 2016 and missed all of the 2017 season. Frank Reich is a major coaching upgrade for Indianapolis. The Redskins were too good last week and should regress some in Week 2.

* STEELERS (-5) over Chiefs: The absence of Le’Veon Bell was the least of Pittsburgh’s problems in the season-opening tie at Cleveland. In fact, James Conner, who carried the ball 31 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns, is the league’s leading rusher. Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions and was sacked four times in poor weather conditions. Roethlisberger tends to bounce back in these situations, so expect that against a shaky Kansas City defense that’s still missing safety Eric Berry. Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs’ most lethal weapon, made second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes shine. Mahomes passed for 256 yards and four touchdowns while rarely being pressured. There are no doubts about the Chiefs’ firepower, but the K.C. defense will get stretched by Big Ben and Antonio Brown. The Chiefs will be public underdogs, but playing in Pittsburgh will pose a monster challenge for Mahomes.

* Raiders (plus-6½) over BRONCOS: The once-celebrated return of Jon Gruden to the “Black Hole” was an unmitigated disaster Monday night. After a 20-point loss to the Rams, most bettors want no part of the Raiders. Gruden’s offense put up 13 points and was shut out in the second half. Derek Carr deserves a lot of the blame after tossing three picks. But the Rams are damn good, and there were some things the Raiders did well in the first half that are forgotten. The resiliency of Carr will be tested in Denver, where Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will remind Gruden of the value of Khalil Mack-like pass rushers. Case Keenum’s three-touchdown, three-interception debut with the Broncos drew mixed reviews. I’ve said for months Denver is much improved and will contend for the AFC West title. But the Week 1 results jacked up the line about three points, so I’ll take the ugly underdog as a Week 2 contrarian play.

* BEARS (-3) over Seahawks: It’s typically a good idea to take points with the better quarterback, which is Russell Wilson in this case. That said, the Bears show promise on both sides of the ball and should learn from their second-half meltdown in Green Bay. Mitchell Trubisky catches a break against a Seattle defense missing star linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Wilson is missing wideout Doug Baldwin and must deal with the Mack attack. The injury situation tilts the scales to Chicago. Lay 3 points at -120 instead of 3½.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

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