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Can Giants’ defense shed ‘league’s worst’ label?

Credit: Getty Images / Chris Trotman

The Giants have the worst defense in the NFL. But they have an opportunity to change that.

As the team heads into the final day of the regular season, they have a chance — slim though it might be — to move up from their ranking of 32nd.

“It’s not the worst,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said of the possibility of finishing next-to-worst. “You don’t ever want to be last in anything. You could not have done anything and still been last . . . It’s embarrassing to say, but hopefully we lock up that 31st spot.”

Here’s how it can happen:

The Giants have allowed 6,290 yards through 15 games, an average of 419.3. The Saints have allowed 6,201, an average of 413.4. For the Giants to move ahead of the Saints, they have to allow 90 fewer yards to the Eagles than the Saints allow to the Falcons on Sunday.

There are a couple of advantages for the Giants. First, the Falcons average slightly more offensive yards per game than do the Eagles (371.4 to 359.7, a modest difference of 11.7). Second, the Giants will host the Eagles at MetLife Stadium in chilly (though not arctic) temperatures and usually windy conditions. The Saints are in Atlanta, playing in a climate-controlled Superdome.

And finally, the Eagles are playing during a week in which their head coach was fired unexpectedly. This might backfire on the Giants, though. We’ll call it the Ding-Dong-The-Witch-Is-Dead Syndrome.

Interestingly, the Eagles have the 30th-ranked defense, but it seems impossible for the Giants to leapfrog them. The Giants would have to outgain the Eagles by 366 yards just to tie them for yards allowed this season. That’s more yards than the Giants average per game (363.6).

Not everyone is as half-full excited as Amukamara about the opportunity to shake the label of worst defense in the NFL.

“At this point, no, it doesn’t matter,” defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. “We just want to play solid defense, but as far as rankings at the end of the year, we are what the numbers say we are.”

Linebacker Jasper Brinkley was equally indifferent.

“You definitely want to finish as best as possible,” he said. “That’s the plan. We want to have a great game because it’s our final game. You definitely want to play a complete game.”

The Giants’ defense has yet to do that this year. Brinkley believes the Giants had the potential to do it and showed flashes of being a complete defense, but never for a full game. It’s frustrating.

“If you’re not [frustrated],” he said, “then this may be the wrong profession for you.”

One of the reasons the Giants aren’t lunging for the carrot of escaping the statistical basement is that few are aware of it.

“I’m not a stat guy,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “I very rarely put anything up there. It’s about winning the game. It’s about winning the game.”

That might be because Spagnuolo was in charge of the all-time-worst defense. The 2012 Saints allowed 7,042 yards in one season. Barring something truly horrific Sunday, Spags’ record should be safe from Spags’ current defense.

The Giants, though, are teetering on another all-timer. They have allowed a league- high 4,468 passing yards this season, an average of 297.9 per game. No team in NFL history has ever allowed 300 per game, though the 2011 Packers came within .3 yards of it when they finished with a record 4,796 passing yards against them for a record 299.7 per game. They also were 15-1, a distinction worth noting when comparing them to the 6-9 Giants.

Holding the Vikings to a season-low 150 passing yards last week helped bring the Giants’ average below 300. They’ll have to hold the Eagles to 327 or fewer passing yards Sunday to avoid becoming the worst pass defense of all time, and 331 or fewer passing yards to avoid the 300 average (without rounding up, of course). The Eagles are averaging 251.5 passing yards per game this season.

“That shouldn’t be too . . . ,” Amukamara said, cutting himself off before saying “difficult” or “unattainable” or any other word that would complete the positive sentiment. Instead, realizing what has happened to the defense all season, he changed courses.

“But you never know.”


The NFL’s three lowest-ranked defenses, showing points and yards per game:

30 Eagles

26.7 PPG / 394.9 YPG

31 Saints

30.6 PPG / 413.4 YPG

32 Giants

27.1 PPG / 419.3 YPG

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