Monday Night Football Preview: Can the New York Giants Contain Andrew Luck?
Three weeks ago, the New York Giants were the bee's knees. They had just defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 30-20, bringing their record to 3-2 on the season. Everything was Gucci for Eli Manning and company.
Then the Eagles dumped on them to the tune of a 27-0 final. They were able to hang with Dallas the following week but ultimately fell, 31-21. Now, after a bye week, they get Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Sub-Gucci.
The positive thing for the Giants is that, with a victory, they could be two games out in the division, trailing teams quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez and Brandon Weeden. It's the "with a victory" part that's difficult. Can the Giants squeak one out against the Colts?
To answer this question, we'll turn to numberFire's Game Projection, which is available to all premium subscribers. It has projections, similar historical games, and pictures of puppies that pop up when you're asking about projections for Jets quarterbacks. You need them. Now let's break it all down.
Will Andrew Luck Continue His Pace?
Prior to the season, I wanted to delve into whether or not Luck would take the step into "elite" status this season. I said no on the basis that his becoming elite would require one of the largest leaps in Total Net Expected Points (NEP) since 2000. Great call, Jim!
The criteria I set for elite was a Total NEP (a numberFire-specific efficiency stat which takes both passing and rushing into account that you can read more about in our glossary) of 150. Entering Week 9, Luck is already at 107.84, exceeding his previous season-long high of 77.81. In fact, he passed that total in just six weeks this season. Luck has been unconscionably good.
That success is projected to continue against the Giants. Luck is slated for 320.07 passing yards on 40.90 attempts (7.83 yards per attempt) to go with 2.21 touchdowns and 0.76 interceptions. The strange part is this would actually be a mediocre game for Luck.
Over his last ten games (including playoffs), Luck is averaging 350.5 yards, 2.80 touchdowns, and 1.60 interceptions. He has had multiple touchdowns in all but one of those games, though he has had multiple interceptions in half, as well.
With great volume comes great responsibility, and the volume is there; he has attempted at least 30 passes in every game since Week 5 of last year. He has attempted at least 40 passes in all but 2 games this year with a minimum of 34 in Week 2. That helps give him a floor of 15.27 fantasy points for this week. That's pretty nuts. I was wrong about Luck, and it looks as though that will be even further cemented tonight.
Can the Giants' Offense Get Back on Track?
At the start of the season, Rashad Jennings was keeping this offense bumping. Despite beginning the year with tough matchups against Detroit and Arizona, the Giants averaged 26.6 points per game. In the two games after his injury, the Giants have averaged 10.5 points per game. With Rashad still out for tonight, things would appear bleak.
Indianapolis's defense entered Week 9 ranked 10th in the league in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play (which is adjusted for strength of schedule) and 22nd in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. They're not a shut-down defense, but they're also not a sieve. Where does that leave the Giants' offense?
Starting with Eli, he's no Luck. Eli's projected at 247.63 passing yards with 1.40 touchdowns and 0.94 interceptions.
Even with that mediocre projection, Manning has been much improved this year. He ranks 16th in Passing NEP among quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs. He also hasn't thrown an interception over the team's last three games compared to five touchdowns. Eli only had three games the entirety of last season in which he didn't throw a pick. Things are better for the Giants' passing game even if they're still not great.
One of the more interesting cogs in this offense is Rueben Randle. The encouraging thing for fantasy owners is that Roob is getting the targets: he has been targeted nine or more times in each of the past five games. The problem is what he has been doing with those targets.
Entering Week 9, there were 74 players that had received 40 or more targets. Of those 74, Randle ranked 65th in Target NEP, which tracks the expected points added each time a player is targeted. His Reception NEP per target (his Reception NEP - which only includes the expected points added on receptions - divided by the number of targets) ranks only 64th of those 74. So, even though Eli's looking his way, the results of these targets leave something to be desired.
For tonight, Randle is projected at 5.85 receptions for 64.21 yards and 0.41 touchdowns. Again, for a fantasy owner, that's more than respectable. Randle will just need to start converting on those opportunities in order to continue receiving the volume.
The analytics gods haven't been any kinder to Andre Williams. Of the 24 players who had recorded at least 80 carries prior to Week 9, Williams ranked 23rd in Rushing NEP per play at -0.12. This means that he has been about 0.12 points per rush below average (the median of those 24 was 0.00) in his 88 carries. Jennings' job should be secure once he returns.
For this evening, Williams is projected at 66.09 rushing yards to go with 13.21 receiving yards with 0.21 total touchdowns. His confidence interval for fantasy points ranges from 0-18.34 with the median at 9.12. That's a whole lot of variance. With Jennings scheduled to come back next week, Williams' fantasy relevancy may disappear completely barring another injury.
Can the Giants Pull off the Upset?
With the Colts favored by three points, this would still appear to be a close game despite the Colts ranking 3rd in numberFire's Power Rankings with the Giants in 17th. They'll just need a lot of things to go their way.
One of the similar games on the Game Projection was between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints in October of 2008. The Panthers (our proxy for the Giants) throttled the Saints, 30-7. The game was close at the half (13-7), but then the Panthers outscored the Saints, 17-0, in the final two quarters. Uh, how?
Although the efficiency wasn't great, the Panthers ran the ball like crazy. They finished with 37 rushes for 143 yards. This allowed Jake Delhomme to have the most Jake Delhomme line in a win ever of 14-22 for 195 yards. The key for Delhomme was that he didn't throw any interceptions, while Drew Brees threw one. The Saints also lost a fumble, giving the Panthers the edge in the turnover battle, 2-0.
For the Giants, this should make the mission fairly clear: get Andrew Luck to make mistakes. The Giants have forced 13 turnovers in the past 5 weeks, although 9 of them came against teams quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kirk Cousins. Luck is far better than those two, but he's also no stranger to a good ol' interception. The Giants enter this game having allowed 10 passing touchdowns to 11 interceptions. The Colts have turned the ball over multiple times in each of the last four games. Interesting.
All of this isn't to indicate the Giants should be favored. It's more to show that turnovers could easily swing this game, and the Colts have not fared particularly well in that department this year (they are -1 in the take-and-give overall).
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