(Sports Network) – Eli Manning (2127 passing yards, 13 TD, 5 INT) is in the midst of the best season of his eight-year career, with the formerly-erratic quarterback having completed a personal-high 64.7 percent of his throws and ranking second only to Rodgers in yards per attempt (8.8), and he’s also drastically cut down his turnovers one year after leading the league with 25 interceptions. The Giants have needed him to step up and shine as well, since a running game that was once an integral part of the team’s offense has been close to non-existent this season. New York has generated the third-fewest rushing yards (85.6 ypg) in the NFL and was held to just 58 yards on the ground by the Dolphins last week, and top back Ahmad Bradshaw (440 rushing yards, 24 receptions, 6 total TD) is dealing with a cracked bone in his foot that could sideline him on Sunday. The Giants do have a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in reserve in Brandon Jacobs (126 rushing yards, 3 total TD), but the unhappy veteran is averaging a meager 3.0 yards per carry on the year. Manning’s No. 1 target, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (38 receptions, 575 yards, 3 TD), has also been bothered by a hamstring injury, though he’s tentatively believed to play this week. If he’s unable to go, New York does have some outside depth in the young combo of Victor Cruz (28 receptions, 497 yards, 4 TD) and Mario Manningham (24 receptions, 1 TD), who combined for 13 catches, 162 yards and two touchdowns against Miami, and oversized tight end Jake Ballard (19 receptions, 2 TD) has also made contributions to the club’s fourth-ranked aerial attack (287.6 ypg).
The Giants figure to take to the air early and often come Sunday, considering the game has the makings of being high-scoring and the Patriots have been dreadful in preventing enemy passers from piling up yards at will. A secondary littered with marginal talents other than cornerback Devin McCourty (49 tackles) and safety Patrick Chung (50 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) has permitted a league-worst 323.1 passing yards per game, and all but one quarterback the team has faced this year has eclipsed the 300-yard mark. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger torched the group for 365 yards and two scores a week ago. New England did register a season-high five sacks in the loss, including two by veteran end Andre Carter (28 tackles, 4.5 sacks), and both he and situational rusher Mark Anderson (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks) will be counted on to bring the heat upon Manning. The Patriots are in the top 10 in run defense (101.0 ypg), though that’s partly because they’ve been thrown on so much, but do possess three proven stoppers up front in three-time Pro Bowl tackle Vince Wilfork (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT) and linebackers Brandon Spikes (39 tackles) and Jerod Mayo (27 tackles), who returned last week from a two-game absence caused by a knee sprain.