As New York heads to the frozen city of Buffalo this Sunday, the football gods have set up a harsh game away from home that could end up costing New York more than just one loss in the standings.
Although the Giants have a 6-1 record on the road, they’re going have to deal this time with the elements at Ralph Wilson Stadium: sloppy with expected rain showers and plagued by swirling 20 MPH winds that will give kickers (and passers) fits. What all of that translates into is a game that will be won on the ground with gritty, physical play.
While some might remember the rain-soaked game the Giants won earlier this season in London, this isn’t the same situation. The Bills are far better than the dismal 1-13 Dolphins and have their own set of training wheels—they were 10 yards away from a possible game-tying touchdown last week in the middle of a snowstorm, losing just 8-0 to the Browns.
The Giants, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily built to win physical games. When they’ve had to lean solely on their running game, such as last week against the Redskins, they become one-dimensional. Like any team with a talented running back, the ground game is effective to set up whatever semblance the Giants have of an air attack. Because the Bills are close to the bottom of the league in both facets of defense (22nd against the rush, 28th against the pass), the Giants may be able to grind out a victory against a team that’s missing a true playmaker on defense. But without the physical Jeremy Shockey, who will miss the rest of the season, they lack a receiver who can gain yards after catches playing in the kind of weather that makes defenders want to tackle less.
With the Bills at 7-7 and out of the playoffs, they’ve got nothing to lose. They have a talented young quarterback under center in rookie Trent Edwards, who has led them to five of their seven wins, despite completing only 59.2 percent of his passes. What’s more worrisome is who he’ll connect with. Wideout Lee Evans is a speedy deep threat who excels on mismatches and single coverage. That can be problematic for a secondary that may end up with two rookie safeties: depending on injuries, Craig Dahl and the effective Michael Johnson could start.
And then there’s past-his-prime Sam Madison at cornerback. Working against Santana Moss last week, Madison was constantly beaten on deep throws, including two for 36 and 34 yards respectively. Though there may not be too many attempts thrown into the predicted wind and rain, Edwards will likely look Evans’ way quite a few times during the game. If Madison continues to slow down against Evans, the Giants may have to send Aaron Ross in his place to match Evans downfield.
And finally, there’s one x-factor that can’t be quantified: emotion. There are reports that tight end Kevin Everett, who suffered a spinal cord injury in the Bills’ season opener and has miraculously recovered, may attend the game.
The Giants have got to consider this game a must-win if they don’t want to be forced into a situation where they have to beat the Patriots to get into the playoffs.
Time to worry.