New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) Although Joe Judge is still looking for his first victory as the New York Giants' head coach, he already has a win over Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams that was so big, he got a ring for it.
Judge was New England's special teams coordinator when the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3 in the Super Bowl 20 months ago. He moved on last year to a rebuilding job with the Giants (0-3) that's even more massive than it seemed, if the results of New York's three mostly miserable games this season are any indication.
When New York visits brand-new SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Judge doesn't think he'll get much of an advantage out of his knowledge of the Rams (2-1) from two seasons ago, or from his more recent conversations with McVay when he was seeking tips on how to succeed as a first-time head coach.
''Obviously there's some information I gathered, but I'll tell you right now, Sean is always evolving,'' Judge said. ''He's always changing. He's always improving and getting better. What we may have game-planned based on another club I was with will have nothing to do with what we do going forward here.''
McVay's evolution also seems like a revitalization. He acknowledged being exhausted last season by that Super Bowl run and the subsequent short offseason, but several months spent mostly at home this year left McVay clearly re-energized for his job, and the results have shown up on the field.
Despite losing Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks, and despite only replacing them with rookies who haven't yet made a mark, McVay's offense is off to a strong start. The Rams have gained at least 400 yards in all three games, with Jared Goff putting up strong passing numbers to complement a revitalized running attack.
The Rams are heavy favorites in their second game at their new football palace, but they don't seem overconfident. Los Angeles is still smarting from last week's trip to Buffalo, in which it rallied from a 25-point deficit before losing in the final minute.
The Rams' first taste of defeat left McVay praising his team's resilience and tenacity, and the Giants provide an opportunity to back it up.
''They just kept battling,'' McVay said. ''They just kept swinging. We're a tough group, a mentally tough group. We're going to use this (week) as an opportunity to respond, and we're not going to allow the Bills to beat us twice.''
Here are more things to know about the Giants' first game in the Los Angeles area since 1994:
HERE COMES 99
Aaron Donald has three sacks and eight quarterback hits in the Rams' first three games. The NFL's premier interior defensive linemen could feast on Giants left guard Will Hernandez or center Nick Gates, who have both struggled this season.
''This guy will really ruin your birthday party in a hurry,'' Judge said.
New York undoubtedly will send multiple blockers at Donald, but this week seems a prime opportunity to see evidence of McVay's biggest takeaway from watching film of the Rams' loss in Buffalo: ''Aaron Donald is a freak.''
The Rams and Giants are on different ends of the statistical spectrum on offense. Los Angeles is in the NFL's top four in total yards (449.7), rushing (170.3), third-down conversions (56.41) and time of possession (33:01) while averaging 29.7 points per game. Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's injury-plagued group is in the bottom three in total yards (273.3), rushing (56.7), red zone (33.33), time of possession (24:41) and points (12.7).
The Giants have a total of three touchdowns, and they haven't had a lead since the first half of their season opener. They didn't run a play in the red zone last week against San Francisco, and their leading rusher is their quarterback.
''We have to do a better job controlling the ball, and turnovers play a big part in that,'' said quarterback Daniel Jones, who also has six turnovers. ''It's tough to win when you're turning over the ball as much as we have.''
HENDO ON THE RUN
While the Giants can't run the ball, the Rams are moving it tremendously on the ground in their first three games since releasing Todd Gurley last spring. Darrell Henderson grabbed the starting job last week and promptly surpassed his career high in yards rushing for the second straight game. New York's unimpressive group of linebackers will have to bring down LA's relentless ball-carrier to keep the Giants in the game.
The Giants' defense is not getting off the field. Against the 49ers last weekend, New York got exactly one stop while allowing seven scores. Pat Graham's defense is tied for 12th in total yards (357.7), but has allowed opponents to convert on 58.14% of third-down chances, worst in the NFL.
Oh, and the Rams have converted 56.4% of their third downs, tops in the NFL by a significant margin.
''It's not good, it's not the standard, it's unacceptable,'' defensive back Logan Ryan said. ''You just have to do better. Football isn't easy, but it's simple. You have to get off the field. The best defense you can play is on the bench, honestly. We just have to get off the field and give our offense the ball.''
Five Hot Plays: Week 8
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder has somehow been productive in New York's otherwise atrocious offense in 2020. In only four games played, Crowder has racked up 194 yards after the catch. He's made plays with the ball in his hands as the team's top playmaker, gaining more than half of his total receiving yards after he's caught the ball. Crowder has taken what the defenses have given him. The Jets offense as a whole is dead last in the league in yards per game and passing yards per game, making Crowder's achievements even more impressive. The 27-year-old missed last week with a groin injury, though, and he may be questionable for Week 8 against the Chiefs. If he plays, he should be peppered with targets in a game in which the Jets will likely be behind by multiple scores throughout.
Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin is second in the NFL through seven weeks with 309 yards after the catch, trailing only Alvin Kamara. The second-year receiver is averaging a full 10 air yards per target as well, meaning he's not just catching short passes and racking up the yards after the catch. McLaurin hasn't been over the top in gaining yards after the catch based on expectations, but he's gotten the job done as Washington has already made a quarterback switch from Dwayne Haskins Jr. to Kyle Allen. Washington is on bye this week, but McLaurin should be back in all lineups in Week 9 against the Giants after he caught seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown in last week's win over Dallas.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron has been productive over the last month of the season, catching at least five passes in three of his last four games. He could struggle to keep it going in Week 8 as he will face off against a tough Baltimore Ravens team. Baltimore's pass defense ranks seventh in DVOA and is allowing the 16th-most fantasy points per game to the tight end position. Ebron settles in as an uninspiring TE2 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster finally showed some signs of life in Week 7, setting season highs with nine catches and 85 yards in a win over the Tennessee Titans. While his big performance helped to ease concerns about his slow start to the season, Smith-Schuster could struggle to produce against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. Baltimore's defense is tough against the pass, ranking seventh in DVOA and allowing the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position. Fantasy managers can still start Smith-Schuster, but treat him as a WR3 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool disappointed in Week 7, finishing with just one catch on his lone target. The slow outing by Claypool coincided with the return to action by No. 1 wideout Diontae Johnson, who caught two touchdowns in the game. Claypool appears to have a tough matchup on tap for Week 8 as he will go up against the Baltimore Ravens, a pass defense that is ranked seventh in DVOA this year. That being said, Claypool does draw the most favorable matchup of the top three Pittsburgh wideouts, as he will primarily run his routes against Marcus Peters. Peters has struggled in coverage this season, so Claypool could see more targets come his way if the Ravens can successfully shut down JuJu Smith-Schuster and Johnson. Treat Claypool as a WR3 for Week 8.
Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson has 28 catches for 537 receiving yards so far this year, and 36.3 percent of those yards have come after the catch. Jefferson has proved to be extremely difficult to cover and tackle for opponents, and his contributions have helped overcome the departure of Stefon Diggs. At the rate he's currently on, Jefferson will finish his first year in the NFL with well over 1,000 yards receiving, with nearly half of those yards coming after he's caught the football. The 21-year-old is the real deal. He's averaging 3.20 yards per route run and had nine catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns before the team's Week 7 bye. The LSU product has become a must-start WR2.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (toe) is coming off a two-touchdown outing in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans. Johnson's big day was evidence that he is still the No. 1 wide receiver in Pittsburgh, despite the emergence of rookie Chase Claypool. Johnson is a bit banged up, however, as he missed practice on Wednesday with a toe injury. This is a situation worth monitoring ahead of his Week 8 game against the Baltimore Ravens. If Johnson does play, he faces a tough matchup against the Baltimore secondary. Treat Johnson as a high-end WR3 for Week 8.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown had 2.9 receiving yards per route run in his rookie year in 2019, which trailed only Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown since 2016. Brown has played in only four games this year due to injury, but he's still been a yards-after-the-catch monster despite only accounting for 20.5 percent of the team's total receiving output. He had 96 yards after the catch in the Week 7 loss to the Steelers, and that one game accounted for almost two-thirds of his total yards after the catch for the season. Since returning from injury, Brown has 293 receiving yards and four touchdowns in three games. We'd say he's back. Keep him in your lineups as a high-end WR1 against Cincinnati this weekend.
X-rays this week showed that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (thumb) has multiple fractures and a strained ligament in his right thumb, according to sources. Minshew has been dealing with pain in his thumb since Oct. 11 against the Texans, but the team didn't know about his injury until this week. The Jags are on bye this week, but it's unclear if he'll be able to play in Week 9 against the Texans. We'd be surprised if the 24-year-old is ready to go coming off the bye with this injury, so plan ahead if you've been using him in superflex leagues as a QB2. Mike Glennon is the team's backup and would get the starting nod against Houston if Minshew cannot go.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) took part in the quarterback meeting on Thursday, showing that he's making some progress in the league's concussion protocol. However, he will not practice again on Thursday, according to head coach Mike McCarthy. Rookie Ben DiNucci will continue to see first-team repetitions in practice and looks increasingly likely to see his first career NFL start in Week 8 against the division-rival Eagles. DiNucci will be an unappetizing low-end QB2 in superflex leagues if Dalton cannot get cleared, while the Eagles Defense will be a strong play this weekend. Dallas receivers should be downgraded with the rookie likely to start.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (calf), who did not practice on Wednesday, is itching to get back onto the field after sitting out in Week 7. Jones thinks he can play in Week 8 against the Vikings and wants to play, but the Packers medical staff continues to be very conservative, especially with Green Bay having a short turnaround in Week 9 against the 49ers on Thursday night. As of right now, it seems like the Packers will err on the side of caution and keep Jones out for the second straight week. Jamaal Williams stepped in last Sunday for a season-high 19 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Texans, and he also caught four passes for 37 yards. If Jones is inactive again, Williams will be a plug-and-play RB2 against Minnesota.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (ankle) will not be taken off Injured Reserve and activated for Thursday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. McCaffrey returned to practice this week, but the short week probably prevented him from getting back up to speed and ready for game action. Mike Davis can be started by fantasy owners with confidence and should flourish in a great matchup against the Falcons. McCaffrey, meanwhile, should be considered likely to make his return in Week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In Week 8, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be looking to bounce back from his worst performance of the season. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions and two touchdowns in Week 7, although the Steelers still wound up winning. He draws a tough matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. Baltimore's defense is allowing the 13th-most fantasy points per game to the quarterback position but their pass defense does rank seventh in DVOA. Fantasy gamers should treat Roethlisberger as a mid-range QB2 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner has been a productive fantasy option for much of the season, having found the end zone four times in six games. He may struggle to reach his normal production levels in Week 8, however, against a tough Baltimore Ravens run defense. Baltimore is allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to the running back position and has a run defense that is ranked third in DVOA. Conner should see enough work to finish as an RB2, just don't expect a big game out of him this weekend.
The Cleveland Browns Defense has been a solid play in fantasy for much of the 2020 season. While they are allowing opposing offenses to score frequently, Cleveland's defense has been opportunistic, leading the league with 14 takeaways through seven games. Cleveland is installed as three-point home favorites for their Week 8 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders. While the Las Vegas offense has been good this season, Cleveland can still be treated as a top-12 fantasy option for Week 8.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry is averaging just 5.57 targets per game through the first seven weeks of the season. He should, however, see an uptick in targets with Odell Beckham Jr. out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Now Cleveland's No. 1 WR, Landry draws an excellent Week 8 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders. Las Vegas' pass defense ranks just 29th in the league in DVOA and is allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to the position. While he has been borderline unstartable most weeks this season, fantasy gamers can trust Landry as a low-end WR2 for Week 8.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins set season-highs in Week 7 with six catches for 110 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals. Slated to see a larger role thanks to Odell Beckham's season-ending knee injury, Higgins is all of a sudden very fantasy viable in Week 8 against a weak Las Vegas Raiders defense. Las Vegas is allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position and ranks just 29th in pass-defense DVOA. Fantasy gamers in a pinch can fire up Higgins as a solid flex option this Sunday.
Cleveland Browns tight end Harrison Bryant had a huge game in Week 7, finishing with four catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie tight end took on a larger role in the game with Austin Hooper unavailable after needing an emergency appendectomy. Hooper didn't practice on Wednesday and is looking unlikely to play in Week 8 against the Las Vegas Raiders. Provided Hooper doesn't play, fantasy gamers can use Bryant as a mid-range TE2 against a Raiders pass defense that ranks just 29th in the league in DVOA.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is coming off an excellent five-touchdown game in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7. Mayfield will look to repeat that success in Week 8 when he faces the Las Vegas Raiders at home. Las Vegas' pass defense has been shaky this season, allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to the quarterback position. While it is unlikely that Mayfield tosses five touchdowns in a game again anytime soon, he does set up as a high-end QB2 for fantasy contests this weekend in a game that could turn into a shootout. Fantasy gamers who have a quarterback on bye or facing a tough matchup can pivot to Mayfield with confidence this weekend.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt has managed to find the end zone seven times through seven games thus far in the 2020 season. He draws an excellent Week 8 matchup against a leaky Las Vegas Raiders run defense that ranks just 29th in DVOA and is allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to the position this year. Hunt will continue to see the vast majority of the backfield work for the Browns with Nick Chubb sidelined, making him a no-brainer RB1 for Week 8. Fire him up as a sure-fire starter in all formats this Sunday.