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Thursday Night Preview: A Battle Between Two Teams Heading in Opposite Directions

The Philadelphia Eagles have lost seven of their last eight games, including five straight, while the New York Giants have won eight of nine. Despite that, our models expect this to be a tight contest.

Our last Thursday night game of the year features an NFC East matchup with two teams heading in opposite directions.

The New York Giants are 10-4 and desperately trying to keep pace with the Dallas Cowboys, who they've now beaten twice on the year. With only two games left, the Giants must win and get a lot of help from the Cowboys if they want to win the division. At worst, the Giants' consolation prize is going to be a playoff spot, which seems pretty likely, per our playoff odds (99.8%).

On the other sideline will be the Philadelphia Eagles, a 5-9 team that is limping to a last-place finish in the division.

Can the Eagles spring the upset at home on Thursday night? Let's break down some of the key matchups and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

Unfortunately, this game will feature two quarterbacks who have struggled so far in 2016. Among the 37 quarterbacks with at least 150 drop backs, Eli Manning checks in 24th in terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.08) while Eagles rookie Carson Wentz hasn't been any better, ranking 26th (0.06).

In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP gain -- the quarterbacks line up in the exact same spots, ranking 24th and 26th, respectively. Manning's drop backs have been successful 45.1% of the time whereas Wentz has been successful only 44.2% of the time.

Despite having a fantastic weapon in Odell Beckham at his disposal, Manning is holding the Giants back from being a true title contender.

Running Back Play

If there's one bright spot for the Eagles, losers of five straight, it's been the excellent work of Ryan Mathews. Mathews has battled injuries in 2016 but is coming off a big Week 15 effort where he carried 20 times for 128 yards and a score against a stout Baltimore Ravens run defense. In terms of Rushing NEP per play, Mathews has been outstanding this season, checking in fifth among backs with at least 100 attempts with a per-carry clip of 0.07.

The Giants backfield, meanwhile, has been a mess. While they did rush for their second-highest team total in Week 15, it was for a mere 114 rushing yards. The Giants rank 30th in the NFL in team rushing yards (1,137), and their rushing attack ranks 27th, per our schedule-adjusted metrics.

Rashad Jennings has seen the lion's share of the work in the backfield, but he has proven to be pretty ineffective so far, ranking 27th in Rushing NEP per play (-0.13) among back with at least 100 attempts. With 154 carries on the year, Jennings' runs, in total, have lost his team about three touchdowns (-20.1 NEP) so far. Shane Vereen was active last week, only to see his season ended by another triceps injury. Given the struggles that Jennings has seen, rookie Paul Perkins may start to take on a larger role in this offense.

Defensive Matchup

Two very strong defensive units are set to take the stage tonight. Per our schedule-adjusted rankings, the Giants' defense sits third overall, and they're great at defending both the pass (fifth) and the run (third).

The Eagles' defense isn't too shabby, either. They rank third against the pass but slide back to 18th against the run.

In terms of Adjusted Sack Rate from Pro Football Outsiders, Philadelphia has been fantastic in pressuring the quarterback on their way to an an adjusted rate of 7.1%, the seventh-best clip in the NFL. The Giants, meanwhile, haven't been good at getting to the quarterback, logging 31 sacks on their way to an adjusted rate of only 5.4% (22nd).

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