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What to watch for in Giants-49ers on 'MNF'

We won't lie to you.

In terms of the playoff picture, there's little -- well, nothing -- at stake when the one-win Giants clash with the two-victory Niners on Monday Night Football.

Until the league finds a way to flex out these low-octane, late-season Monday evening affairs, we're destined for a few stink bombs.

New York and San Francisco are a pair of teams spiraling in the abyss from a win-loss perspective, but both clubs house a handful of players worth laying your eyes on.

Here's what we'll be watching for come kickoff:

  1. San Francisco was lavished with a heavy dose of prime-time tilts due to the presence of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. His early season knee injury immediately morphed the Niners into a largely meaningless entity, but don't ignore the work of coach Kyle Shanahan. After milking quality play out of backup C.J. Beathard, Shanahan helped author a stunning debut from Nick Mullens in last week's nighttime romp over the Raiders. The previously anonymous signal-caller hit the scene with a bang, spinning magic against Oakland's baffled defense from wire to wire. His 151.9 passer rating served as the highest mark by any first-start quarterback since 1990. Mullens also became just the third player in the Super Bowl era to throw for 250-plus yards, three-plus scores and zero picks in his first start, joining Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Fran Tarkenton.

Mullens was decisive in that win over the Raiders, showing elements of the fiery play he put on display at Southern Miss. He's not a big-bodied quarterback at just 6-foot-1, but he made the most of his weapons against the Raiders, helping target-magnet tight end George Kittle to 108 yards and a score off four catches. Look for plenty of Kittle tonight with wideout Pierre Garcon ruled out with a knee injury. Marquise Goodwin and Richie James will also see action, while Matt Breida is set for a heavy workload on the ground after Raheem Mostert was shipped to injured reserve with a broken arm. There aren't many stars inside this attack, but San Francisco is a well-coached squad with the juice to exploit a Giants defense that has struggled for spurts in pass coverage while allowing the Redskins to plow for 182 yards on the ground before New York's much-needed bye week.

  1. The G-Men are a frustrating outfit despite housing a handful of household names on offense. Odell Beckham remains one of the game's loftiest performers, capable of catches other receivers can only fantasize about. He came into Week 10 fourth in receptions (61) and sixth in yardage (786), but his heroics are somewhat lost inside a floundering offense with a broken-down quarterback in Eli Manning. The 37-year-old Manning's eight touchdown strikes are the fewest among any passer with eight starts this season, while his 31 sacks topped the league entering Week 10. The ghastly pass-protection is no help, but neither is Manning's utter inability to move in the pocket. He's in prime territory for a benching, but coach Pat Shurmur is sticking with Eli -- largely because there's nothing behind him save for the milquetoast Alex Tanney and recently arrested rookie Kyle Lauletta.

We should see plenty from second-overall pick Saquon Barkley, the fascinating running back who ranks fourth in touches per contest and third in scrimmage yards per game with 100-plus yards in seven of eight games this season. Barkley is a beautiful rumbler on the ground, but also a major game-changer through the air with more receiving yards in his first eight starts (497) than any back since the 1970 merger. There's no questioning Barkley's value -- he's a locked-in star -- but it's fair to ask if New York made a mistake by passing on Sam Darnold. It's not about doubting Barkley, but more about the massive issues under center, a problem the Giants should have seen coming after Eli was an equal hot mess last autumn.

  1. The giddy MNF broadcast crew will certainly zero in on the matchup between Beckham and Richard Sherman, but the Niners cover man doesn't flip sides -- while Odell does -- so look for Sherman to also see doses of Sterling Shepard. Giants tight end Evan Engram is another young talent enduring a down season. An MCL injury knocked him out for three weeks, but Engram has just 17 grabs after piling up 64 catches for 722 yards and six scores as a rookie. Barkley's heavy workload through the air has cut into Engram's share -- so has Manning's inability to author watchable performances.

My advice to you: Find a nice bottle of California Merlot -- maybe three of them -- and give this tilt a chance. If the contest disappoints, the adult grape juice will serve as a balm, guiding you swiftly into new realms of imagination and inward-focused adventure. Monday night is yours.

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