The defending champs sit at an unfamiliar 2-3. Big Blue resides in the NFC East cellar at 1-4. Is it too early for a must-win game? You be the judge.
1. Uproar: Are Odell Beckham and Eli Manning okay?! Is Big Blue doomed for a McAdoolian meltdown for the second straight season?! Or was this week's sports-radio hubbub over Beckham's Lil Wayne-adjacent interview just a bucket of clickbait bologna, soon bound for the ash heap of overblown tri-state controversies?! We'll get a hint Thursday night. This will be the first game back in the Meadowlands for the G-Men since Beckham insinuated to the Worldwide Leader, among other things, that he had issues with his 38-year-old quarterback's hesitance to throw the ball downfield. The Giants "responded" to those statements with their first 30-point game since the Coughlin administration in a close loss to Carolina, one in which Manning and Beckham both had stellar games. Eli averaged 4.4 more air yards per attempt, Odell was targeted 14 times and caught his first score of the season and, in a perfect wrinkle, they both threw for touchdowns. So everyone's happy and all is well in East Rutherford, right? When the Giants are three games under .500, things are never well. New York needs to avoid a setback on offense and a loss so as to avoid more tabloid tumult and drummed-up drama. All eyes will be on the Eli-Odell battery, which may as well be a barometer for New Yorkers' panic levels at this point.
2. Took his time: In his first three games back from injury, Carson Wentz is feeling the pressure -- and leaning into it. Though the Eagles have gone just 1-2 since his return, Wentz is getting better every week and resembling in some form the MVP contender from 2017. His passer rating is steadily increasing and he has thrown for over 300 passing yards the last two games, the first time he's done so since last September. Oh, and that pressure? Wentz is excelling under duress, ranking second in the league in passer rating under pressure (123.1). Good thing he is because Philly's offensive line, once a model of excellence but now in flux at right guard, resembled turnstiles against a short-handed Vikings front seven last week. If New York's front seven, led by Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and rookie B.J. Hill, pierces the right side of Philly's line on Thursday night, Wentz must continue to stay cool under pressure because while his mobility is improving, his out-of-pocket performance isn't back to 2017 levels (4.3 vs. 6.0 YPC; 60.4 vs. 94.1 passer rating).
3. Let it fly: Wentz might have no other choice. Eagles running backs are falling like flies this season. Darren Sproles (hamstring) has played in just one game; Jay Ajayi tore his ACL against the Vikings; and Corey Clement missed the last two games with quad issues. The result? Philly is averaging 21.4 fewer rushing yards per game this season. Clement should be back this week to pair with Wendell Smallwood, who has been efficient as a dual-threat back since earning more touches in Week 3 -- but will that pairing be enough to jump-start the Eagles' offense? If Philly can't regain its top-tier rushing attack from last season against New York's 27th-ranked rush defense on Thursday night, then the calculus for the Eagles' success in 2018 will have to change. That includes a more balanced, less Zach Ertz-centric passing attack, one in which a now-healthy Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews spread defenses out and create mismatches at all three levels. This is especially true against the Giants, who haven't surrendered more than four catches to opposing tight ends this season. The Eagles don't want Wentz attempting 50 passes every week, like he did in Week 4's loss to Tennessee, but until the short-handed running game finds its footing, they might need him to.
4. Hittas:Ereck Flowers' career in New York is pushing daisies, and Big Blue's offensive line is better for it. But the remaining Giants' blockers will have their hands full against arguably the league's deepest defensive line in Philadelphia. Fletcher Cox and Co. lead the league in rushing defense since 2017 (76.1) and are the only unit this season to not allow 100 rushing yards. Philly won't have Haloti Ngata at its disposal but should see the return of Derek Barnett, who in his second season is already the Eagles' most feared edge rusher. All this spells trouble for Saquon Barkley, who through five games has been the most productive rookie running back in Giants history, but is also a boom-or-bust prospect on any given play. Given Philly's success corralling running backs, it might behoove New York to use Barkley more in the passing game this week, especially if the Giants' fragile O-line can't handle the Eagles early.
5. Let it all work out: So what if the NFC East is a dumpster fire through five weeks? So what if it's the Pac-12 South of professional football, a gaggle of should-be contenders instead mired in early-autumn mediocrity? There's still time for all of these teams to get healthy and improve their records. Take the Giants, who in their first season under Pat Shurmur, are currently floundering during the toughest part of their schedule, a four-game stretch against four 2017 playoff teams. A win Thursday night pulls them even with the defending Super Bowl champions and even in the win column with the division leaders in Washington. And it's easy to gain ground from there, as New York plays the 'Skins twice down the stretch. Don't get down in October. The NFC East is still very much up for grabs. But whether the eventual division champion, as currently constructed, can make any noise in January ... well, let's not go there.