COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Despite losing their first five games and starting 3-7, the New York Giants find themselves in a surprising playoff derby in the NFC East.
The Giants are in the thick of it and have already beaten divisional rivals Washington (4-7) twice, and split games with Philadelphia (3-6-1).
Now they go on the road to face Cincinnati (2-7-1) on Sunday and are in position to take advantage of the Bengals’ recent misfortune. Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s loss to Washington, and the Bengals are expected to start either practice-squad QB Brandon Allen or Ryan Finley, who seemed overwhelmed when he had to enter the game suddenly after the team’s franchise QB was carted off.
Before a bye week, the Giants beat the Eagles 27-7 after they squeaked by Washington 23-20. With six games to play, they’re trying not to think about the possibility of the playoffs — yet.
“It’s kind of hard for us to look that far ahead,” defensive end Leonard Williams acknowledged “If we do something like that, we might mess around and overlook a team.”
The Giants realize it’s unusual for a team to start the way they did and not be dwelling in the divisional basement, playing out the games with eye on next season — like the Bengals.
“It’s a unique opportunity for us,” New York tight end Evan Engram said. “Yeah, it’s a lot of meaningful football for us. We’re heading into it with the right mindset, getting ready for it.”
The renewed energy and hope generated by Burrow’s exciting play in Cincinnati was extinguished when he was sandwiched between two Washington defenders after throwing a pass Sunday. His left knee was bent in an unnatural direction. It’s not an overstatement to say the team was in shock.
“We don’t have any time to hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves,” Bengals second-year coach Zac Taylor said.
CHANGING IT UP
This will be the Giants’ first game with Dave DeGuglielmo in charge of the offensive line. Before the bye week, coach Joe Judge fired O-line assistant Marc Colombo. Judge wanted to hire DeGuglielmo as a consultant, and Colombo objected a little too much.
After a slow start, the young line has been performing well, particularly in establishing the running game. New York has gained at least 100 yards rushing in six of the last seven games.
Cincinnati’s offense was forced to become even more one-dimensional after featured back Joe Mixon went out with a foot injury suffered in Week 6 against the Colts. His backup was the sturdy Giovani Bernard, known more for his reliable blocking and pass catching, but Bernard was questionable this week with a concussion.
Between Bernard and Samaje Perine, the Bengals managed just 37 yards on 14 carries last week. If Bernard is unable to go, Perine likely would move up to No. 1.
Giants kicker Graham Gano tested positive for COVID-19 after the Philadelphia game on Nov. 15. There is a chance he will be back Sunday. Gano, who has made 20 straight field goal attempts, has been isolating in a hotel room. He recently released a video showing him kicking into a net in his room.
If Gano cannot play, the Giants probably will use Ryan Santoso. He was added to roster recently from the practice squad.
Neither Finley nor Allen has distinguished himself thus far in the NFL. Allen started three games for Denver last year and has been the Bengals’ practice squad quarterback this season. Finley, who has been Burrow’s backup, was unremarkable in three games last year when Andy Dalton was benched. Coming in after Burrow was injured last week, Finley was 3 for 10 for 30 yards and tossed an interception.