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Giants defense could avoid being worst in NFL

Brandon Marshall #15 of the New York

Brandon Marshall #15 of the New York Jets hauls in a touchdown late in the fourth quarter against Prince Amukamara #20 of the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Giants have the worst defense in the NFL. But there is an opportunity for that to change.

As the team heads into the final day of the regular season, they have a chance – slim though it may 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 are behind them at 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 the Eagles (371.4 to 359.7, a modest difference of 11.7). Second, the Giants will host the Eagles at MetLife Stadium in early January in chilly though not arctic temperatures and usually windy conditions. The Saints will host the Falcons in the climate-controlled Superdome.

And finally, the Eagles are playing during a week in which their head coach was unexpectedly fired. Although this may backfire on the Giants. 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, thus the ranking predicament in which they find themselves. Brinkley said he feels 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 may be because Spagnuolo was in charge of the all-time worst defense, the 2012 Saints, who allowed 7,042 yards in one season. Barring something truly horrific on 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 4 yards of it when they finished with a record 4,796 passing yards against them for a record 299.7 per game. They were also 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 passing yards or less on Sunday to avoid becoming the worst pass defense of all time, and 331 or less passing yards to avoid the 300 average. 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.”

New York Sports