That the Giants are even in the playoffs is beyond what most expected at the start of this season. But now that they are, and onto the Divisional round after a well-executed 31-24 win over the Vikings in Minnesota, is there any reason to think they can’t keep the good times going?
Well, yes, when awaiting them are the Eagles, the NFC’s No. 1 seed and a longtime NFC East rival. But in the wake of the Giants’ first playoff victory since the 2011 season, let’s consider that there are also a few reasons to believe they can get past Philadelphia next weekend.
Aggressive play-calling: The Giants called 520 pass attempts during the regular season. They also called 520 rushing attempts. Makes sense considering the Giants’ best offensive weapon in a league built on passing is a running back. Against the Vikings, they didn’t exactly flip that script, but leaned ever so slightly toward Daniel Jones, allowing him to attempt 35 passes vs. 30 team rushing attempts. Jones didn’t need to air it out every play, but he kept things moving consistently enough to give Barkley room to roam when he did get the ball. Time after time, Jones found Isaiah Hodgins or Darius Slayton or Richie James for 10, 12, 22 yards before Barkley would put the finishing touch on a drive. And when they couldn’t, Daboll called on Jones to do it himself, which he did with 78 yards rushing and a crucial fourth-down conversion on the Giants’ final offensive drive that vacuumed valuable seconds off the clock.
That Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka have cobbled an efficient passing offense without any obvious playmakers is a testament to their ability to scheme average pass-catchers open and develop those pass-catchers into the kind of players who can make pressure catches. And while the Eagles’ defense is a fair shade tougher than the Vikings’, the fact that the Giants lost by only six running out backups in Week 18 should offer some hope the A-team can overcome that gap.
QB 1: As noted many times this season, Jones has been a work in progress. Sunday showed the fruits of that labor. He was decisive with his throws, and with his decisions to take off when Minnesota’s defense allowed him room to run. Part of what has made Daboll’s efforts with Jones successful is accepting that Jones isn’t a throw-it-all-over-the-yard passer, such as Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow, or as true a dual threat as Jalen Hurts or Josh Allen. He’s neither, but his ability to do both makes him a useful weapon now that his confidence as a passer and conductor of the offense is leveling up to his confidence as a runner. Considering Hurts, coming off a shoulder injury, didn’t look to be his full self in the Eagles’ season-ending win over the Giants, the matchup under center may be a lot more equal next week than the season stats say.
A defense that hasn’t broken…yet: Make no mistake, the Vikings were able to move the ball on Sunday, even if most of it came through the air. But the Giants, as they have done more times than not this season, stopped them when they had to, holding them to a three-and-out after they had taken the lead in the fourth quarter and turning them away on downs on Minnesota’s final drive. The Eagles have different weapons, to be sure, but the likes of Hurts, A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith and Miles Sanders are not light years better than Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook. This Giants defense has shown they can tighten up when they absolutely need to, even if it comes with a few nail-biting moments late.
Sure, the Eagles were the better team across the regular season, and will have the benefit of an extra week of rest. But there should be no surprises for either side in their third matchup of the season, and if the Giants have already gotten this far…
Today’s back page
Back to school
With only seven games left in the NFL season and the NBA just passing the halfway point, the next title up for grabs is in college hoops. To get us caught up on where things stand and where they might be going come March, Sports+ reached out to The Post’s hoops guru, Zach Braziller to get a few answers on three burning questions we have as we turn our attention away from Sunday afternoons.
1️⃣ St. John’s posted a statement win over UConn on Sunday. Do they finally have a chance to make some noise in March?
ZB: If St. John’s can bottle up the last three games, and perform like that from here on out, it has a shot to reach the NCAA Tournament. There is still a ton of work to do after Sunday’s stunning 85-74 win at No. 6 Connecticut, by far the Johnnies’ best win of the season. But after an easy win over Butler and narrow loss at No. 19 Providence, coach Mike Anderson’s team may be turning a corner.
2️⃣ The top four projected seeds for the tournament, according to ESPN, have lost a total of five games. Is there any reason to think the eventual national champion won’t be one of Kansas, Houston, Alabama or Purdue, and among that group, should anyone be considered the favorite?
ZB: Right now, Alabama is the best team in the country. It has, by far, the best freshman in skilled 6-foot-9 Brandon Miller and a strong supporting cast that is coming off a big road win at No. 15 Arkansas and a home blowout of LSU. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide have faced the second-hardest schedule in the country, and still have thrived, although the news that reserve forward Darius Miles was just charged with capital murder adds an unknown emotional complication to how they’ll view the season ahead. On a pure basketball basis, however, no one has emerged as a heavy favorite. Everyone has holes. Kansas nearly lost at home to No. 14 Iowa State on Saturday. Purdue has been shaky on occasion, despite its gaudy 15-1 record. Houston plays in the AAC, and won’t be tested like the others.
3️⃣ The two best prospects in the NBA Draft — Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson — are not playing college ball. Which individuals who are playing in NCAA basketball have the makings of joining the presumed top two as the draft’s most coveted prospects?
ZB: Miller is No. 1, an elite-shooting wing with prototypical size who is hitting 46.3 percent of his 3-point attempts. He is a legitimate National Player of the Year contender. He’s followed by several elite freshmen, such as Arkansas wing Anthony Black, Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr., Houston forward Jarace Walker and Kansas shooter Gradey Dick.
Where will Wemby be?
The Knicks, behind a season-high 42 points from Julius Randle, cruised to a 117-104 win in the Motor City on Sunday — Kevin Knox Revenge Game? It was not — that dropped the directionless Pistons to 12-35 and sent us to inventory the 2023 draft lottery odds.
Let’s rephrase: What are everyone’s current chances of getting generational big man prospect Victor Wembanyama?
The Pistons are joined in the bottom three of the NBA standings by the Rockets and Hornets — in the recently flattened lottery system, designed to discourage the most egregious tanking, those teams each have a 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick.
Maybe Wembanyama is truly can’t-miss, but how much confidence do you have in any of those three franchises shepherding the 7-foot-4 French teenager to reach his megastar potential and showcasing his wondrous talents for basketball fans the world over to enjoy for the next decade? Yeah, didn’t think so.
But what about the No. 4 team in the lottery standings? The Spurs (13-31, 12.5 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick) have a Hall of Fame coach, the institutional knowledge of helping turn an earlier generation’s no-doubt No. 1 big man into one of the 10 best players of all time and a French teenager into an indispensable star on four title winners, plus the kind of grassroots embrace that allowed the franchise to set the NBA’s single-game attendance record on Friday night despite fielding the equivalent of a Triple-A team. They’re also putting up the worst defensive rating in history, but nothing a shot-blocking savant couldn’t help make magnifique.
Keep an eye also on the Wizards (9 percent), which would make yesteryear’s rueful ex-Knicks unicorn awfully expendable, the exceedingly well run Raptors (7.5 percent) and the Pelicans (6 percent), courtesy of the Lakers’ pick. Zion and Vic? That’s national TV every other night.
— Jonathan Lehman
Win, loss and Thai
This weekend gave us an all-time entry in the sports lexicon: “one-way ticket to Thailand.”
One-time coaching wonderboy Kliff Kingsbury has left Phoenix for Phuket, indicating he’s not interested in taking a new NFL coaching job a week after he was sacked by the Cardinals with a 28-37-1 record and many millions remaining on his contract. Meanwhile, the league’s coaching carousel continues to spin:
• Three candidates emerged for the Jets’ offensive coordinator vacancy: Eagles pass game coordinator Kevin Patullo, Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley and former Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, who currently works as a consultant for the Eagles.
• Sean McVay is staying as the Rams head coach, a few days after it appeared he would be retiring. Gotta wonder what changed there and how many zeroes were added. Mike LaFleur is “expected” to join McVay’s Rams staff, in case you were worried about the former Jets offensive coordinator landing on his feet.
• The Panthers joined the Broncos, Cardinals and Texans in lining up to give Sean Payton the bag. But if the Chargers’ unconscionable Wild Card loss to the Jaguars after choking away a 27-point lead is deemed a fireable offense for Brandon Staley, that might be the most appealing destination for Payton of all. Stay tuned.
• If Kingsbury actually disappears, at the age of 43, from the profession that made him rich and famous — as opposed to, say, returning from vacation and becoming the Texans’ offensive coordinator — it would be an all-time win for the “I’d take my millions and go live on the beach” crowd.
— Jonathan Lehman
📺 What to watch on Monday
Raptors at Knicks, 3 p.m., MSG
A Martin Luther King Day matinee from the World’s Most Famous Arena. A rematch of a seven-point Raptors win at the Garden in late December and a four-point Knicks win in Toronto on Jan. 4. The Knicks have won seven of their past eight. Jalen Brunson’s past seven outings since returning from a hip injury: 24-4-6, 38-7-6, 26-5-8, 44-7-4, 34-3-4, 34-8-8, 27-5-4.
Australian Open first round, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2
Reset your body clocks, tennis fans. The Day 2 card of the season’s first major features a pair of dynamite men’s first-round matchups: Sir Andy Murray vs. No. 13 seed Matteo Berrettini and injury-plagued former US Open champion Dominic Thiem vs. No. 5 Andrey Rublev. Also keep an eye on American upstarts Ben Shelton and Brandon Holt. No. 26 seed Elise Mertens vs. Garbiñe Muguruza is a match to bookmark on the women’s side.
Cowboys at Bucs, 8:15 p.m., ABC/ESPN
The NFL sells itself, and that goes double for the NFL playoffs. Tom Brady versus America’s Team, in the NFL playoffs? It needs practically no introduction. Will this be remembered as Brady’s last game in pirate’s-gold-and-red before he resurfaces with Josh McDaniels’ Raiders, or the first step of an improbable run to an eighth ring? Can Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy begin to shed his reputation as an active hindrance to teams with title aspirations?
— Jonathan Lehman
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