1. How will the Eagles offense do?
Jeff McLane: The Giants have been stingy on defense since the Eagles last saw them. In their first eight games they allowed 20.5 points and 371.3 yards per game. In their last six they have surrendered only 14.3 points and 315.8 yards a game. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has done a splendid job after a season in which many thought he should have been fired. The strength of the Giants defense is in the secondary. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins has been one of the league's best offseason additions. Rookie corner Eli Apple has flashed consistently. And safety Landon Collins has delivered his first Pro Bowl season.
The Giants lost defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul a few weeks back, but they have still been able to get pressure up front. Defensive end Olivier Vernon has gotten hot in the second half. Pierre-Paul, it should be noted, wrecked the Eagles' zone read plans in the first meeting and was able to contain Carson Wentz.
The Eagles haven't scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game since Week 3. They just haven't gotten the necessary production from their skill position players. There is good news, though. Lane Johnson is back from his 10-game suspension and will start at right tackle. The Eagles will have their starting line intact with left guard Allen Barbre back from a hamstring injury. The Eagles were able to run the ball last week behind a patchwork unit, so there's no reason why they shouldn't feed Ryan Mathews (20 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown vs. the Ravens) the ball again.
Zach Berman: I'm curious to see how Johnson looks, but on the surface, it's a boon for the Eagles to have their original line back in place. I think that will have an effect on the offense, which played well in the first meeting against the Giants. Remember, the Eagles missed 3 of 4 fourth downs in that game. The result is different if they convert those or kick field goals, but they were able to move the ball consistently. Then again, the Giants have allowed 13 combined points in the past two games, so their defense is playing at a different level.
Janoris Jenkins is questionable for the Giants, so his pre-game status will be important to monitor. If he's absent, that's a big loss for the Giants. However, the Eagles don't really change teams on the outside, so outside cornerbacks have not been as stifling for the Eagles. Watch for Zach Ertz tonight – he was the leading receiver when the Eagles last faced the Giants, and he has 25 catches in the past three games. The key on Thursday will be how the Eagles do in the red zone. They can move between the 20s, but their inability to score touchdowns has a been a problem. They haven't scored more than two in a game since Week 3. The Giants are the best in the NFL in red zone defense, and the Eagles are 24th in red zone offense. If the Eagles can get in the end zone, they'll pull off the upset. But if they settle for too many field goals, it'll be another empty game.
2. How will the Eagles defense do?
McLane: The Giants have struggled all season to do much on the ground. They average just 3.4 yards per rush. Eli Manning has had an up and down season. The Giants have had trouble stretching the field even with Odell Beckham Jr. (85 catches for 1,173 yards and ten touchdowns). Rookie Sterling Shepard has developed into a fine No. 2 receiver, and Victor Cruz is still hanging around, but there haven't been many consistent options down the field.
Left tackle Ereck Flowers has allowed all kinds of pressure this season. Defensive ends Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry should have opportunities to get after Manning. The Eagles will also need Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox to get Manning off his spot in the pocket to account for the deficiencies in the secondary. The Eagles didn't allow Beckham to go off in the first meetings, but he still caught two touchdowns.
Berman: Manning's only four-touchdown game of the season came against the Eagles, although he also threw two interceptions that day. The Eagles limited Beckham to four catches, but he scored two touchdowns. The attention will again be on Beckham tonight, and the Eagles can't let him get loose. Let Shepard, Cruz, and Will Tye try to beat you. It can't be Beckham. That's easier said than done, but my guess is there's always safety help on Beckham. Manning's ability to get rid of the ball quickly limits the sacks he takes. The key on Thursday will be the edge rushers. The strength of the Giants offensive line is on the interior. This will be a game Barwin and Curry to try to quiet critics, and for Graham to play up to his Pro Bowl alternate billing. The Giants ran effectively last week, but they're still one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL. It'll come down to how the Eagles do against Manning and Beckham. They hurt the Eagles in the first meeting, and that's why it was a loss.
3. Who's a player to watch?
McLane: Darren Sproles returns after missing the Ravens game with a concussion. Doug Pederson said that he would resume his usual role. The Eagles should have chances to get Sproles going, particularly if they can exploit mismatches against linebackers Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson.
Berman: I'm going to go with Vinny Curry. He has 1.5 sack entering Week 16. That's not what the Eagles expected when they gave him a five-year, $47.5-million contract. He needs to be a factor on Thursday. This isn't about how many snaps he takes – he'll have opportunities against an offense that likes to pass and a left tackle that has allowed pressure. Curry is part of the Eagles' future, so they need him to end the season on a positive note.
4. What's your prediction?
McLane: There's absolutely no reason why the Eagles can't knock off the Giants. A break here, a turnover there, and they have enough to eek out an upset. Their offense put up 443 yards on the Giants the first time, which still stands as the most that defense has allowed all season. The Eagles just couldn't convert on fourth down and in the red zone. The Giants still have a shot at winning the NFC East. They still have a lot to play for. The Eagles have shown that they haven't packed it in yet, but I think they'll struggle to move the ball. Giants 20, Eagles 13.
Berman: I agree with Jeff – the Eagles can win this game. The Giants have thrived this year in close games, and the Eagles have struggled in close games. That's been the difference. The Giants are +22 in point differential, Eagles are +17. Yet the Giants have five more wins. I expect Thursday to be another close game, and I stand by what I wrote above: It will come down to how the Eagles do in red zone opportunities. But in close games, I need to give the Giants the edge. Giants 21, Eagles 19.