Monday Night Football: Giants can rise to the occasion and down Falcons
Romilly Evans previews a high-tempo MNF clash, where he expects Eli Manning to best Matt Ryan in a battle of two surprisingly disappointing outfits...
"Having performed at 9-for-9 on field goals this term, and 16-from-17 on extra points, Bryant is one of the most reliable in the league, and Matty "Ice" Ryan will have to step up at quarterback to take full advantage with his red-zone receivers."
New York Giants @ Atlanta Falcons
Start-time: Tuesday, 01:15
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action
Bryant absence a huge blog for faltering Falcons
Two of the season's surprise packages square up tonight - but in a surprisingly underwhelming kind of way. Many sound judges were backing Atlanta to take advantage of the ultimate homefield advantage by hosting this season's Super Bowl LIII at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
However, as so often in sport, towering hype often has a tottering quality. So, rather than blazing a trail to the number-one seeding in the NFC conference, the Falcons are rock bottom of their own division at 2-4 in the NFC South. We're only six games into the season, so they still have hope and time to turn it around. However, with a rampant New Orleans already at 5-1, those hopes more closely resemble a late-stage Jenga game. Fragile belief remains alive, but it's more likely the whole thing will collapse in frustration.
Well, it's Atlanta's go tonight in Monday Night Football, so they can't afford to continue handling the building blocks of recovery in jittery fashion. Sadly for them, the revered Vegas line is only predicting more jitters at the MBS in the absence through injury of two key perennials in kicker Matt Bryant (a hamstring strain) and running back Devonta Freeman (groin tear).
These notable niggles have seen the handicap line from an initial touchdown (-6.5) to a just a field goal (-3) and there's no doubt that Bryant will be missed the most. Having performed at 9-for-9 on field goals this term, and 16-from-17 on extra points, Bryant is one of the most reliable in the league, and Matty "Ice" Ryan will have to step up at quarterback to take full advantage with his red-zone receivers. Even if kicking inside this dome is pretty straightforward.
A fresh all-or-nothing focus on touchdowns could actually help the Atlanta here. It should definitely pave the way to some end-to-end-zone entertainment, so the points totals look a little shy to my jaundiced eye. After all, it's not as if the New York Giants don't like to shift the ball either, with some deep downfield balls that will test a porous Atlanta secondary. The scoreboard should be kept ticking over well into the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
Eli the man to throw the Giants a lifeline
If the Falcons have been underwhelming, the same can certainly said of Big Blue, with marginally less surprise or judgement. The Book of Eli has long been an erratic read, of course. Albeit a mysterious, racy page-turner in guilty Da Vinci Code fashion. It's easy to forget that Manning Jnr has won two Super Bowl rings in recent memory, and if this is to be his last hurrah in the Big Apple, his superstar status seems assured.
But now isn't quite the time to give up all hope, despite the Giants' lacklustre start at 1-5 in the NFC East. Both the Philly Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys are also struggling in a dodgy division, so a backdoor wildcard entry into the play-offs is likely still open to anyone who can ride a bit of momentum and get to 8-8 by the time the regular season winds down.
Make no mistake, Manning still has the arm and the tools at his disposal to make an impact. And tonight's game in the national spotlight adds the motivational impetus to remind the country what he can do. The same comment applies to the wideout likes of Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Bennie Fowler - three active and healthy wide receivers who have just repledged their allegiance to an embattled No.10. Beckham is clearly the star, and has the most to make up for with Manning, having publicly criticised his QB just a fortnight ago.
Elsewhere, Spencer Pulley looks a better fit, taking over at center. While it's high time rookie gem Saquon Barkley proved his value is far more than that of a diamond in the backfield rough. And a functioning running game would finally bring some balance to free up Eli's misfiring canon.
All things considered, on a wildly fluctuating handicap line, this should be a shootout. And Eli's hot hand can warm up enough to at least keep the Giants within hailing distance. It might even remind the travelling Big Blue faithful of the quarterback he used to be.
Hope dies last, eh?
Back New York Giants (+3.5) to win on the Match Handicap @ Evens
Back Over 52.5 Total Points @ 19/20
Back O. Beckham first TD Scorer @ 15-2, Anytime @ Evens
Back O. Beckham to score 2 +TDs @ 7-1 (price boost)