What is there left to play for when there's nothing left to play for? The Buffalo Bills are about to find out. Eliminated from the AFC playoff chase for the eighth straight year, the Bills face the New York Giants this Sunday in their final home appearance of the 2007 season. While the game has no playoff implications for Buffalo, it is still an important step in this young team's further development - rarely do you get to test your mettle against a team as unique against the Giants.
New York, at 9-5, does have something to play for this week - they're still looking to clinch a playoff spot. This is the week they have to do it, too, as the Giants host New England - as close to a sure loss as you've ever seen in NFL history - in the final week of the season. They need one win and they're in, so this is the week. The Giants play a unique style of football; Buffalo can secure a win for Kevin Everett, however, if they adhere to the following:
Offense: Start Fast, Control the Flow
The best way to beat the Giants is to keep their offense off the field. Luckily, when Buffalo's offense is clicking, that's what they do best - control the clock. So, as usual, the running game will be of the utmost importance behind rookies Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. What makes that job difficult, however, is the fact that the Giants have the best defensive line in the league, and enter this contest with an NFL high in sacks. If the Bills are able to start fast and build an early lead, however, it will allow them to establish the rushing attack and the play-action pass, putting the D on their heels a bit.
In order to counteract the pass rush, look for offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild to dial up screen passes and plenty of misdirection to keep the Giants' defensive line changing directions. That will keep things easier for Trent Edwards, who easily faces the stiffest challenge of his career this week. Edwards will need to keep the chains moving; if he can do that, the rushing attack could wear down New York's defense.
Players to Watch: RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Fred Jackson, WR Josh Reed
Defense: Put it in Eli's Hands
It's no secret that Giants QB Eli Manning has undergone yet another up-and-down season for the Giants. Pros: 2,974 yards, 19 TD, just 24 sacks, and a 6-1 record on the road. Cons: tied for the league lead with 17 INT, a 55.6% completion rate, and a 72.6 QB rating. The Giants have some weapons offensively and a solid offensive line; they're at their worst, however, when there's (mental) pressure on Manning.
Therefore, the Bills will be at the peak of their defensive success if they can neutralize the rushing threat that Brandon Jacobs poses. Jacobs is a rare breed of NFL backs (read: he's, literally, a giant), and the Bills have struggled with power backs this season. They need to find a way to limit Jacobs' effectiveness - if they neutralize the big guy, it will let them tee off on Manning as he tries to throw to an injured Plaxico Burress, an aging Amani Toomer, the speedy Sinorice Moss and rookie tight end Kevin Boss.
Players to Watch: DT John McCargo, LB John DiGiorgio, CB Terrence McGee
Special Teams: Be the X-Factor
It's been an odd year for Buffalo's special teams. By odd, I mean they're not as dominant as they have been in years past - chalk it up to an incredible amount of roster turnover. The one constant, however, has been the elite punt return skills of Roscoe Parrish (questionable with a shoulder injury). If Parrish plays, look for Giants P Jeff Feagles to give him the "Hester treatment" and punt away from the speedster. This should supply the Bills with solid field position all day.
Meanwhile, the Giants have a sneaky kick returner themselves in rookie running back Ahmad Bradshaw. He's been stellar the past few weeks; the Bills will be under a lot of pressure to keep him under wraps so that all the pressure we can muster remains on Manning's shoulders. If there are any big returns sprung by Bradshaw, it would be nice to see it matched, for once in the second half of this season, by Terrence McGee.
Players to Watch: PR Roscoe Parrish, S John Wendling, WR Justin Jenkins