The New York Giants come out of their bye week with plenty of momentum. They'll need it to overcome some daunting numbers in their next game against a fellow first-place team.
The Giants face the Seattle Seahawks - who will be without their starting quarterback - on Sunday as they look to end a four-game road skid in the series while trying to continue improving a dismal record after the annual week off.
New York (5-2) has won four straight to take over the top spot in the NFC East, putting a rough start in the rearview mirror with a streak marked by dominant defense and versatile offense. The Giants defeated Dallas 41-35 on Oct. 25, limiting the Cowboys to 254 yards and knocking quarterback Tony Romo out with a broken collarbone.
The Giants had three sacks to give them 24 on the season - tied for third in the NFL. They've allowed 68 points in the last four games after giving up 85 in the first three, and are second in the league in total defense at 263.3 yards per game.
Given their history after the bye, though, continuing their roll could be a tall order. New York is 6-15 following the week off, although it has been better recently, winning its last two post-bye games to move to 3-3 under coach Tom Coughlin.
"Well, that's always the challenge, not just to come back where you were, but to come back and escalate the quality of your performance, lift your game to another level, which is the constant message," Coughlin said.
One area where the Giants need to escalate their quality of performance is taking care of the ball. New York had five turnovers against Dallas and is third in the league with 19 giveaways.
While Eli Manning is among the NFL leaders with 14 touchdown passes, he is tied for first with 11 interceptions, with at least seven coming on tips by his receivers. The Giants have lost 10 fumbles in seven games.
"We can't afford five interceptions and turnovers and those things will lose games for us with some of those tight games when things aren't going as smoothly," said Manning, who led the Giants to a season-high 497 total yards versus the Cowboys and threw for 306 yards and four TDs, but also three INTs.
New York's resurgent running game led by Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs totaled 200 yards, posing an additional challenge for a Seattle defense that's 26th in the league with 368.3 yards allowed per game. While the Seahawks have been more effective against the run, allowing 100.6 yards on the ground, they're giving up 267.7 through the air - 29th in the NFL.
None of that, though, may matter at raucous Qwest Field. Seattle (4-3) is 3-0 there on the season and has outscored opponents 80-36 in the deafening stadium, which is known for causing false-start penalties by visiting offenses. New York had 14 combined false starts in losing its only two games there in 2005 and '06, and has dropped four straight trips to Seattle since a 32-0 victory in 1981.
Making matters worse for the turnover-prone Giants, the Seahawks have a plus-eight turnover margin at home and have forced 12 of their 13 takeaways there.
Manning played in the last two matchups in Seattle, throwing for 619 yards and five touchdowns but also tossing four interceptions. The Giants lost 42-30 in the most recent visit Sept. 24, 2006.
The Seahawks will need their home-field advantage, having limped back to Seattle after a 33-3 loss at Oakland last week. The team lost five starters to injury, including quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who is out after suffering a concussion.
Hasselbeck was sacked eight times last week - the most allowed by the Seahawks since 1992 - and hit another seven. That forces Seattle to turn to Charlie Whitehurst, who will make his first NFL start against a ferocious Giants pass rush that has knocked five quarterbacks out of games with injuries this year.
The circumstances are good,'' said Whitehurst, who has played three career games and never thrown a pass. ''We're playing a good team. Playing at home. It's all you can really ask for. I plan on going out there and executing and helping this team win.''
Another major blow for Seattle came in the form of a season-ending knee injury to defensive end Red Bryant, who had been anchoring the team's improved play against the run.
The Giants won the last game between the teams 44-6 in 2008, avoiding a third straight loss in the series. New York has taken eight of 13 all-time matchups.