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Preview, prediction, what to watch for

An inside look at Sunday’s Giants-Vikings NFC wild-card matchup in Minneapolis.

Marquee matchup

Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson vs. Giants S Xavier McKinney

The Giants can live with what stud receiver Justin Jefferson did to them (12-133, one TD) in Week 16, They can not live with what Hockenson did to them (12-109, two TDs), which is why head coach Brian Daboll said Hockenson “killed us.’’

McKinney has the best chance of any Giants defensive back or hybrid linebacker to stay with Hockenson. Landon Collins could also play a role.

“One of the best tight ends in the league, and it showed last time we played him,’’ McKinney said. “He’s really good. We’ve just got to be prepared. I’ve got to be prepared to be able to have that matchup against him. I’m excited for it, it’s going to be fun. I’ll be ready.’’

T.J. Hockenson
T.J. Hockenson
Getty Images
Xavier McKinney
Xavier McKinney

Paul’s pick

Just because the Giants are familiar with the Vikings and battled them to the wire three weeks ago does not mean the rematch will follow the same pattern. The Giants seem to be ascending. The Vikes are an incredible 11-0 in one-score games despite a suspect defense. Can Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley take full advantage? Here we go.

Giants 24, Vikings 20

Four downs

Security alert: Remember when Daniel Jones was a turnover machine? He’s now a ball-security king. He attempted 472 passes this season and threw just five interceptions. That calculates out to an interception frequency of 1.1 percent, the lowest among all qualifying NFL quarterbacks. Jones was even more judicious with the ball than Tom Brady (1.2 percent), which is quite a rare feat.

Jones lost three fumbles this season, a perfectly acceptable total — considering he was sacked 44 times and that he is one of the top running threats in the league, with 120 rushing attempts. The last time Jones was intercepted? In the fourth quarter in Week 16 versus the Vikings when Jones went once too often to Isaiah Hodgins and cornerback Patrick Peterson jumped the route.

True to thyself: No defensive coordinator sends blitzes more frequently (42 percent) than Wink Martindale, so it was no surprise when he put the heat on Kirk Cousins on a key third-and-11 that the Vikings converted when Cousins beat the blitz and hit Jefferson for 17 yards to set up the game-winning 61-yard field goal.

Cousins, in that game, went 13-for-20 for 152 yards, picking up nine first downs when the Giants sent an extra defender, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Will Martindale make adjustments based on that? Surely. Will he be a bit more conservative in the rematch? Doubtful. It is not his way.

Next level: The riff-raff are gone. Only the strong remain. Can the Giants hang in? They were 0-6 in the regular season against teams in the NFC playoff field — two losses apiece to the Eagles and Cowboys, one each to the Seahawks and Vikings. (They were 2-0 vs. the teams in the AFC field, beating the Ravens and Jaguars). If you are into signs or coincidences, try this one on for size: The 2022 Giants scored 365 points and allowed 371 for a point-differential of minus-6. The 2011 championship team ended the regular season with a point-differential of … minus-6 (394-400).

Second time around: If you believe in the theory that the team with the best coaching staff has an advantage in a rematch game, and if you believe Brian Daboll and his coordinators are the real deal, you have to feel good about what is about to go down this weekend. The Giants tied the Commanders in early December and two weeks later beat them by eight points. The coaching edge that day definitely went to the Giants. Now comes game No. 2 with the Vikings and first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell, a protégé of Sean McVay.

“You can tell he just wasn’t sitting there doing nothing,’’ Martindale said. “He was working at that system and it’s cool to watch because everybody studies Sean’s offense. It’s cool to watch his little areas that he’s branched off in that offense, but it’s still in that same family.’’

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