Every week during the season, we’ll scout out the Giants' next opponent. This week, that opponent is the Baltimore Ravens.
In an alternate universe, Eli Manning never developed beyond the shaky inconsistency of his first few seasons and wound up being seen as a massive disappointment because he never took talented teams to the promised land.
We know this because this universe has someone who already fits that description. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has had some success, including two trips to the AFC title game, but he has fallen well short of what people expected when he was drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft.
In many ways, he's a rich man's Mark Sanchez. The highs are the same, but the lows of Sanchez have been mostly avoided by Flacco over the course of his career.
Time after time, though, the Ravens have looked to Flacco to make the step from a guy who can win with a great team around him to a guy who can win when the rest of his team isn't doing all the heavy lifting and Flacco's failed every time. And, just like Sanchez, it has never been worse than this season.
An aging Ravens team with some serious flaws asked Flacco to step up the aggressiveness and pace of the offense and got a series of flops in return. It hasn't been all his fault as the offensive line is a joke and wide receiver Torrey Smith, who could miss this game with a concussion, hasn't developed into the top receiver the Ravens need, but, again like Sanchez, there's only so many excuses you can make for a guy who keeps missing his opportunities.
Flacco's not getting benched, but he is playing for a long-term deal after this season comes to an end and he hasn't done anything to make that advisable. The Ravens might franchise him in order to assure themselves of a halfway decent quarterback next season, but it is hard to see them saying they want to continue to build around a guy who simply hasn't improved.
If Flacco wants to change that, beating the Giants at home and clinching the AFC North would be a very good way of going about it. If he doesn't, he may be battling Sanchez for jobs in the offseason.
Here's some of the other Ravens to watch this weekend.
Not Your Father's Ravens - Mainstream football pundits are the last to know, but the Ravens defense that they talk about in reverent tones just isn't that good anymore. Some of that has to do with injuries to Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs this season, but this is an older group that hasn't been able to strike gold as they try to augment and replace their longtime stars.
With One Exception - Safety Ed Reed has been around as long as most of those other guys, but he hasn't seen the same dip in his play. Manning is advised not to do any of those lazy, back-footed heaves down the field because Reed is headed to the Hall of Fame because of how often he turns them into touchdowns.
Rutgers' Shining Star - One of the reasons the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron last week was because he never seemed to figure out a way to make proper use of Ray Rice. Rice is the kind of back who has caused the Giants problems all season, but it won't make a difference if they continue to ignore him in favor of Flacco.
Coaching Conundrum - John Harbaugh took over a good Ravens team in 2008, took them to the AFC Championship Game and elicited talk about greatness to come. The team hasn't improved over the ensuing years, though, and their regression this year raises the question of whether the Ravens need to make a change to take the next step.