You might not have noticed, but the NFL tweaked the constitution of its injury report. No longer are dinged up players classified as probable, questionable, doubtful or out.
"Probable" has been dropped from the available pull-downs (probably because the league got sick of seeing Bill Belichick screw with people by putting Tom Brady on there for about 752 consecutive weeks), and so less-than-healthy players can now only be listed as questionable, doubtful or out. How will this affect one of my preview staples – probable, questionable, doubtful and out? It won’t. I’m still rolling with it, not least because the NFL injury report is arbitrary and the NFL is run by a confederacy of dunces.
So let’s look at the Giants’ home opener against the Saints and try to predict the effect certain players or coaches will have on the game.
Probable Player of the Game: Olivier Vernon.
Last year the Saints beat the Giants 52-49, with Drew Brees (7) and Eli Manning (6) combining for an NFL record 13 touchdown passes. The Saints’ defensive coordinator at the time (Rob Ryan) is now up in Buffalo, teaching a new class of pupils how to avoid contact. The Giants’ defensive coordinator at the time (Steve Spagnuolo) is still in charge of the team’s defense, but now has several players – including Vernon, Snacks Harrison, Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple – who weren’t lucky enough to participate in last year’s record-setting game in New Orleans.
Vernon, the defensive end who came over as a free agent from Miami, had a commendable first game against Dallas. He didn’t register a sack, but he was consistently pushing the pocket and flushing out rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Brees, for his part, is the oldest starting quarterback in the NFL (37) and won’t be easily flustered. He has one of the quickest releases in the league and throws most of his passes from his tip toes because he’s small, small, sm-all.
New Orleans has one of the best offenses in the NFL and last week posted 34 points against Oakland (and still lost). The Giants obviously have the weapons to compete with the Saints in a track meet, but they’d probably like to avoid over-sweating. Vernon will go a long way toward determining the tenor of the game.
Questionable Player of the Game: Rashad Jennings.
I’m still not sold on Jennings. I understand he’s the NFL’s leading rusher since like Week 14 of last season and he has the most rushes of more than 10 yards during that stretch, but he seems to only rack up yards late in games – whether the team is winning or losing.
This week, many Giants observers have been saying that the key to beating the Saints is keeping the ball out of the hands of Drew Brees. Toward that end, the Giants should presumably feature a whole lot of Jennings, who can run the ball and eat the clock.
With all due respect, get the flock out of here.
Run the ball with Jennings? As opposed to throwing the ball with Manning, Beckham, Shepard and Cruz? Against a Saints secondary that is banged up and featuring several guys who (maybe) watched last week’s Saints game while nursing a hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s?
I’m all for Jennings getting the rock late in the game if the Giants are ahead and the team wants to salt away the clock. That way he can pad his numbers like he always does. But time of possession is the most overrated common measuring stick in the NFL. Throw it early and often.
Doubtful Player of the Game: Josh Brown.
The Giants’ placekicker returns to action after a one-game suspension for a domestic violence incident. Or should I say, pattern of incidents? His ex-wife accused of him of hitting her on numerous occasions. The Giants said they performed due diligence and that Brown, a Pro Bowler last year, is still a good enough egg to kick for them.
This game figures to be a high-scoring affair that will be dependent on touchdowns and not field goals, so it’s unlikely that Brown will feature prominently. Unless, ya know, it comes down to a game-winning field goal try. If Brown kicks the game-winner, seek out a fan wearing his jersey and ask where life went wrong.
Out Player of the Game: Whoever kneels during the national anthem.
This topic has been beaten to death, but has anyone run the numbers on how well players like Colin Kaepernick (backup who hasn’t seen the field) and Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall (fined for nearly decapitating Cam Newton) have performed after refusing to stand for the national anthem? ESPN’s Trent Dilfer has argued that it’s a selfish gesture that can undermine team unity. That’s debatable. We’ve only played one regular season game, so coaches aren’t yet sweating about their jobs (unless their last name is Ryan) and owners and fans aren’t restless about the product on the field.
But the time is going to come when some player on a crappy team doesn’t stand for the anthem and the swell of public sentiment will swing soundly against them. Will one of those players be from the Giants? Not a chance. The team has been steadfast in collectively standing during the anthem. Will it be a player from the Saints? Well, you can bet it won’t be Drew Brees, who ridiculed Kaepernick for his gesture.
Whoever kneels –- if anyone –- will be a man apart. Someone who will be on the outs with a lot of NFL fans. Unless, ya know, he plays well, and then all will be forgiven.