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NFL Preview - Indianapolis at N.Y. Giants
NFL Preview - Indianapolis at N.Y. Giants -> you can bet here now
Two brothers will start against one another at quarterback for the first time in NFL history this Sunday, when Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts visit little brother Eli and the New York Giants in a highly-anticipated Week 1 showdown from Giants Stadium.
The NFL and the networks have been drooling over the thought of this potential matchup ever since the Giants drafted Eli Manning with the No. 1 overall selection of the 2004 draft. Peyton, a former No. 1 overall pick himself, was the reigning co-Most Valuable Player of the league at the time, an award he would win outright with an incredible 2004 campaign in which he threw for 4,557 yards and a record 49 touchdowns. Add in the fact that these are two good teams which reached the playoffs a year ago and enter 2006 with Super Bowl aspirations, and NBC's got a ratings bonanza on its hands.
Of course, many thought the Colts were headed to the Big Game last year, after Indy ran roughshod over its opponents through the first 13 games of the regular season. However, an errant last-second field goal try from Mike Vanderjagt sent the Colts to a shocking 21-18 home loss to eventual world champion Pittsburgh in January's AFC Divisional Playoffs. Vanderjagt's big leg (and mouth) has since departed, as has star running back Edgerrin James (signed with Arizona), but otherwise there's been little turnover for a team which finished 2005 with a league-best 14-2 regular-season mark.
The Giants enjoyed a resurgence in Eli Manning and head coach Tom Coughlin's second seasons, posting an 11-5 record and an NFC East title while ending a two-year absence from the postseason. However, a 23-0 manhandling from the Carolina Panthers in the opening round of the playoffs showed there's still work to do, both for New York and its young signal-caller, before either can be considered one of the game's elites.
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The all-time regular season series between the Colts and Giants is knotted at 6-6, with the G-Men evening the series by virtue of a 44-27 road victory when the teams last met, in 2002. Indy's most recent victory versus New York came in 1999, a 27-19 win at Giants Stadium. The Giants' last home win against Indianapolis was a 20-6 triumph in 1993.
The franchises also have a notable postseason history, meeting for the NFL Championship in both 1958 and 1959. The then-Baltimore Colts won both meetings, including a 23-17 overtime decision in 1958, a contest that many regard as "the greatest game ever played."
Colts head coach Tony Dungy is 2-2 against the Giants in his career, including a 2-1 mark while with Tampa Bay from 1996 through 2001. Dungy is also 2-1 head-to-head against Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, including a home-and-home sweep for Indianapolis against Coughlin's Jaguars in 2002. Coughlin is 0-4 against the Colts all-time.
COLTS OFFENSE VS. GIANTS DEFENSE
Indianapolis' offense was once again one of the NFL's top units in 2006, as the Colts finished the year ranked second in scoring (27.4 ppg) and third in both passing yards (256.0) and total yards (362.4). It's a machine engineered by Peyton Manning (3747 passing yards, 28 TD, 10 TD), whose preparation and ability to read defenses are unmatched. Indy still possesses one of the league's top receiving duos in the brilliant Marvin Harrison (82 receptions, 1146 yards, 12 TD) and Reggie Wayne (83 receptions, 1055 yards, 5 TD) as well. Harrison has racked up at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the last seven seasons and has shown no signs of slowing down at age 34. The organization thought so highly of Wayne that it signed the impending free- agent to a six-year contract in the offseason and let James walk. Slot receiver Brandon Stokley (41 receptions, 1 TD) and tight end Dallas Clark (37 receptions, 4 TD) are two other returning weapons which Manning will surely utilize in '06, though Stokley (ankle) is questionable for Week 1.
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The Giants were just 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed (224.0 ypg) in 2005, and were too often burned by the big play, which is why Coughlin and general manager Ernie Accorsi made re-tooling the secondary a top priority. New York brought in a pair of veteran corners in Sam Madison (55 tackles, 2 INT with Miami) and R.W. McQuarters (60 tackles, 1 INT with Detroit) plus safety Will Demps (52 tackles with Baltimore) as reinforcements. Demps steps right in at free safety and Madison will start opposite Corey Webster (37 tackles), who showed a lot of raw ability as a rookie last season. The group will benefit greatly from arguably the NFL's top pass-rush combo in ends Michael Strahan (81 tackles, 11.5 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (70 tackles, 14.5 sacks). Indianapolis did allow a league-low 20 sacks last season, partly because of Manning's quick release and decision-making, and all five starters are back. Left guard Ryan Lilja may not play Sunday, however, because of an injured knee.
The obvious question regarding the Colts' offense is whether the team can replace the production of James (1506 rushing yards, 44 receptions, 14 TD), who had four 1,500-yard seasons in seven years and is one of the best receiving backs in football. Remember, though, that Dominic Rhodes (118 rushing yards, 4 TD) ran for over 1,100 yards in 2001 when James missed most of that season with a knee injury. Indianapolis also drafted LSU's Joseph Addai, a bigger and faster back than Rhodes, in the first round of April's draft. The rookie will be brought along slowly while he learns the Colts' complex system.
New York was near the middle of the pack in run defense (103.5 ypg) in 2005 but struggled in that area late in the season when sturdy middle linebacker Antonio Pierce (99 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT) was out with an ankle sprain. He anchors a potentially stellar linebacking corps, provided everyone can remain healthy. The Giants signed three-time Pro Bowl selection LaVar Arrington (47 tackles with Washington) to a lucrative offseason deal after he wore out his welcome with the Redskins. Weakside starter Carlos Emmons (48 tackles, 1 INT) played well when able, but he missed seven games last year with various injuries. Strong safety Gibril Wilson (112 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT) was the team's leading tackler in 2005 and has developed into a quality run-stopper. New York does have some uncertainty at defensive tackle, where rookie Barry Cofield is expected to start alongside Fred Robbins (26 tackles, 1.5 sacks).
GIANTS OFFENSE VS. COLTS DEFENSE
Eli Manning (3762 passing yards, 24 TD, 17 INT) actually threw for more yards than big brother Peyton last year, and made a good deal of progress in his first season as a full-time starter. However, he still struggled at times with turnovers and his playoff debut (118 yards, 3 INT) was an utter disaster. Still, the 25-year-old directed an offense that ranked third in the league in scoring (26.4) and fourth in total yards (361.7 ypg) and should have his best season yet in 2006. Eli's got plenty of resources around him in the passing game. Plaxico Burress (76 receptions, 1214 yards, 7 TD) was a dominant playmaker at times, although Coughlin would like to see more consistency out of the ultra-talented wideout, and tight end Jeremy Shockey (65 receptions, 7 TD) can be a nightmare matchup for opposing safeties. Thirty-two-year-old Amani Toomer (60 receptions, 7 TD) is coming off a solid season as the No. 2 wide receiver, but depth is a concern. The Giants drafted speedy Sinorice Moss in the second round back in April, but the Miami product's progress has been slowed by a preseason quadriceps injury.
After surrendering more than 243 yards per game through the air in 2004, Indianapolis made great strides in defending the pass last season. The Colts cut that number down to 196.9 yards per game in 2005, mainly because of the team's ability to pressure the quarterback. Dwight Freeney (34 tackles, 11 sacks) is as good a rush end as there is in the league, as evidenced by his 51 sacks in his first four NFL seasons. Robert Mathis (54 tackles, 11.5 sacks) was also a disruptive force on the other side, leading the league with eight forced fumbles along with his double-digit sack total. The tandem could present major problems for a pedestrian Giants' offensive line which allowed 53 sacks last year, the third-highest number in the league.
While the Manning brothers are receiving all the hype, the key to this game may lie in the ability of Tiki Barber and the Giants to run the ball. New York ranked sixth overall in rushing yards (138.1 ypg) in 2005, thanks to an unbelievable season from Barber, whose career-high 1,860 on the ground trailed only MVP Shaun Alexander for most in the league. He added 530 receiving yards on 54 catches and scored 11 total touchdowns. It's hard to believe Barber can match those lofty numbers at the age of 31, but his durability and marvelous physical condition suggest he'll remain a top-echelon back this year.
Barber will go up against an Indianapolis run defense that was adequate but nothing special last season. The Colts gave up an average of 110.1 yards per game on the ground, 16th-best in the league, but teams often abandoned the run game against them because they were behind on the scoreboard. Tackle Corey Simon (34 tackles) won't likely play while he recovers from a preseason procedure on his knee, so Monte Reagor (36 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and converted end Raheem Brock (44 tackles, 6.5 sacks - both smaller and quicker interior linemen - have to make sure not to be pushed around. Middle linebacker Gary Brackett (127 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack), Indy's leading tackler last year, has also been hampered by an injured knee but is expected to go. He and playmaking weakside man Cato June (102 tackles, 5 INT) are a formidable tandem, while Bob Sanders (91 tackles, 1 INT) may be the league's best run-stopping safety not named Troy Polamalu.
Manning Bowl I could very well live up to its pregame hoopla, as both teams possess high-powered offenses capable of putting up plenty of points. Barber should have another big night, which will keep Peyton and Co. on the sidelines. But the odds are Eli will be more likely to commit a crucial mistake than big brother, especially if the Giants' offensive line can't contain Indy's strong pass rush. New York's secondary is still suspect until proven otherwise and will provide Peyton with enough opportunities to allow the Colts to pull out a hard-fought road win.
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