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Previewing the Vikings - Giants Wildcard Game

Will it be another close game?

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL postseason card has been completed and the wildcard round schedule has been set. The Vikings host the New York Giants on Sunday at 3:40pm at US Bank stadium- as was expected for the last two weeks. This will be a rematch of the week 16 matchup in which the Vikings beat the Giants 27-24 on a walk off 61-yard field goal.

Team Rankings

Overall, the Vikings are a bit better in basic offensive metrics and the Giants better in basic defensive ones along with most of the efficiency metrics including DVOA. The Vikings have been historically bad in DVOA this season, despite their 13-4 record and 4th best PFF team grade. In fact, this is the lowest total DVOA the Vikings have had since 2011. The Vikings are better than the Giants in every PFF grading category but run grade, and are 24 points higher than the Giants in overall PFF team grade. No home team has lost in the playoffs to a team with a 2-point or lower regular season PFF team grade in the last five postseasons (11-0). The Giants have the worst overall team PFF grade for a playoff team in the PFF era, going back to 2008.

The Giants backed into the playoffs after starting the season 7-2. They lost two of their best receivers to injury during the season and have won only two of their last eight games. They haven’t beaten a playoff team since October, having gone 0-4 against them since. The problem for the Giants is that with the loss of their key receiving weapons, they have trouble putting points on the board. Apart from a dominant performance against a Colts team mailing it in two weeks ago, the Giants haven’t scored more than 24 points since early October. In fact, apart from the Colts game, they’ve been remarkably consistent in scoring between 16-24 points a game. Against struggling offenses that can be enough, but against better offenses the losses have piled up.

Defensively the Giants are about average (17th) in points allowed and worse in yards allowed (25th), so they have some difficultly holding off top offenses. They’ve suffered injuries to some defensive backs, but even their original starters are not high-end defenders. Where the Giants look to make a difference defensively is their defensive line anchored by top interior defender Dexter Lawrence, and one of the league’s highest blitz rates at roughly 50% of dropbacks.

The Giants have also helped to keep games close by not having many giveaways with the second fewest during the regular season. Defensively they’re not that adept at forcing turnovers either, ranking 25th in that metric. They’ve been efficient on both sides of the ball in the red zone, and have also been good defensively on third down, ranking top ten in all of those metrics. But while they’ve been mostly efficient, the Giants lack playmakers on both sides of the ball. Saquon Barkeley is certainly a top back, and Dexter Lawrence a top defensive tackle, but beyond those two the Giants don’t have many top playmakers.

The Vikings enter the playoffs with a couple road losses to division teams in recent weeks that, along with losses to the Cowboys and Eagles earlier in the season, temper playoff expectations for them. Going 11-0 in one-score games is great, but historically bad DVOA and point differential for a 13-4 team are seen as limiting factors to the Vikings’ playoff success.

Still, the Vikings are 3-point favorites at home against the Giants, which seems appropriate as that was the differential in their matchup just a few weeks ago at US Bank stadium.

Reviewing the Week 16 Game

The Giants had their best game of the season by PFF grading against the Vikings week 16, which was eclipsed slightly the following week against a Colts team mailing it in. The Vikings also had their second-best game of the season by overall PFF grade week 16, eclipsed only by their week one performance against the Packers.

The Giants are normally a nearly 50-50 run-pass team offensively, leaning on Saquon Barkeley to pound the rock. But against the Vikings week 16, head coach Brian Daboll decided to lean on the passing game against the Vikings’ relatively weak passing defense, passing on 75% of his offensive plays. That strategy was largely successful, leading to QB Daniel Jones’ second-most productive game in passing yards and PFF grade of the season. But it also fell short as with more passing attempts come more turnovers. Indeed, Daniel Jones has thrown at least one interception when he’s had more than 35 passing attempts in a game this season. The Giants haven’t won a game in which they lost the turnover battle since week one against the Titans.

Against the Vikings in week 16, the Giants were able to drive effectively, but two turnovers and a blocked punt proved to be their undoing. The Giants also had a couple key mistakes - a dropped pass on 3rd down and a penalty in the red zone - that also hurt their chances.

Defensively, the Giants blitzed on roughly 50% of Cousins’ dropbacks- which is normal for them- to generate pressure. They doubled Justin Jefferson most of the time, but the Giants didn’t have any top defensive backs to make that effective. JJ still had 12 receptions for 133 yards and a TD. TJ Hockenson also had a big game, with 13 receptions for 109 yards and 2 TDs. The Vikings were able to counter the Giants blitzes at times with effective screen passes and used tempo to keep the Giants in favorable personnel situations for the Vikings.

Overall, the Giants had nearly 100 more yards than the Vikings, but between the turnovers, blocked punt, and going 3-11 on third down, they fell short in the end.

Here is the official week 16 gamebook with all the stats.

Personnel Changes Since Week 16

The Giants are hoping to get S Xavier McKinney back for this game and perhaps cornerback Adoree Jackson as well. Both missed week 16. But Jackson hasn’t played in two months while dealing with a knee injury and McKinney isn’t much of an improvement at safety, if any, over Jason Pinnock. Leonard Williams is still dealing with a neck injury (he was dealing with it week 16 as well) so he’s not 100%. He played 75% of the snaps week 16, but it’s unclear what percentage he’ll be able to play this weekend. The Vikings took advantage when he wasn’t in the game.

For the Vikings, Oli Udoh looks likely to replace Brian O’Neill at right tackle. Udoh has allowed just 2 QB hurries in 77 pass blocking snaps since taking over for O’Neill in the Packers game, so the drop-off may not be that steep. Udoh started at right guard last season, but ultimately felt he was a better tackle than guard and has competed at swing tackle this season. He is the prototypical tackle in every respect- size, length, athleticism- but struggled with consistency and holding penalties. It may be that new offensive line coach Chris Kuper has helped Udoh improve his technique this season and avoid some of the miscues of the past.

The other change for the Vikings will be at center. Austin Schlottmann started week 16 and had far and away his worst game in relief of Garrett Bradbury with a 26.3 overall PFF grade - allowing six pressures. It will either be Garrett Bradbury or Chris Reed this weekend, and either may prove to be more effective than Schlottmann was week 16. Reed has allowed just two pressures on 72 pass blocking snaps since taking over for Schlottmann, although he had some snapping issues that resulted in two penalties against the Packers. Those issues appear to have been corrected with more practice and reps judging from the Bears game.

Game Plan Expectations

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Giants went with the same offensive strategy as week 16, leaning on the passing game more and hoping that with fewer mistakes, it will carry them to victory. Defensively, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants attempted to be more aggressive against Jefferson- as the Packers were week 17- in hope that does more to slow him down.

For the Vikings, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them attempt a more balanced attack offensively to maintain ball control and wear down the Giants defense. The Vikings had the fewest rushing yards (83) of any game against the Giants this season week 16, although they were productive on a yards per carry basis. Being more balanced may help them avoid the blitzing situations and pressure on Cousins, which in turn could help the passing game be more effective. Ultimately that could lead to more scoring drives and put the Giants in unfavorable game situations.

Defensively, although Patrick Peterson had an interception late in the game week 16, he gave up 67 receiving yards in his coverage- his worst performance of the season. The Giants had a lot of short passes on tape and that caused Peterson to bite on some double moves, which led to a couple big gains for the Giants. I don’t expect that to happen again. Additionally, while Duke Shelley had a decent game week 16, he’s more comfortable and confident in the system now and has improved since that first matchup. I expect the Vikings to blitz about the same (25% of dropbacks) against Jones but have more of a plan for his running ability, which enabled the Giants to extend drives week 16. The Vikings gave more snaps to Josh Mettellus and Brian Asamoah defensively in the week 16 matchup and they both performed well- Asamoah with a key forced fumble and recovery. I would not be surprised to see that again this weekend to improve coverage.

Bottom Line

While the week 16 matchup was a close game and argues for another close game this weekend, there is a chance it may not be. Both teams played well overall a few weeks ago, but playoff football is a different animal. The Giants have few starters with playoff experience and playing on the road in a heightened playoff atmosphere could see them buckle under pressure. They’re well coached under Brian Daboll, who’s gone 3-2 in the playoffs as OC for the Bills in recent years, but this may be more of a learning experience than a first step toward a deeper playoff run.

The Vikings have their flaws, but they also have a lot of playoff experience among starters and solid veteran leadership on the field. Head coach Kevin O’Connell has the experience of navigating through a championship run just last season as offensive coordinator for the Rams, so he’s familiar with what it takes to win in the postseason. The Vikings are a more talented team, playing at home, with expectations that go beyond just making the playoffs. They may not get much farther than the divisional round, but I don’t see them faltering in the wild card round either. A more dominating performance on the scoreboard would give them some momentum going into the next round, which I suspect head coach Kevin O’Connell is after.

This Vikings team has lost only once at home this season, to a Cowboys team in a let-down game after winning seven straight culminating in the NFL Game of the Year at Buffalo. Since then, they’ve lost two road games to division opponents with a lot more to play for than the Vikings had. The challenge for O’Connell and the Vikings is to ramp up the energy and playmaking performance now that the postseason is finally here.

Poll

The Vikings are 3-point favorites against the Giants on Sunday. Will they:

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Win and beat the spread
    (597 votes)
  • 11%
    Win but not beat the spread
    (103 votes)
  • 24%
    Lose
    (227 votes)
927 votes total Vote Now