In anticipation of the upcoming NFL season, Head & Heart Sports will feature one division each week until the season begins and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the NFC East, concluding with the New York Giants today.
Recap of 2015: Let’s just say that when Jason Pierre-Paul’s July 4th incident hit the news, it should have been a sign of things to come. Before the season even started, the Giants spent months trying to figure out how many fingers one of the stars of their defense had left. Not a good omen. Sure enough, the team that has failed to be the standard bearers for the NFC East since 2011 finished last season with a disappointing 6-10 record, Tom Coughlin’s 12th as head coach. In 2015, the Giants struggled in close games and playing from a lead, losing all but two of their contests by less than a touchdown, with the only blowouts coming at the hands of the Eagles and Vikings. According to Big Blue View, the Giants managed to secure the title of worst pass defense in league history after conceding 4,783 yards in the air, as well as the second worst defense in league history by points allowed. There was some silver lining, as Eli Manning threw only 14 interceptions against 35 touchdowns and Odell Beckham Jr. hauled in 13 of those scores while racking up 1,450 receiving yards in a fairly potent offense. The Giants also managed to put up competitive games against the likes of the Super Bowl-bound Panthers (lost by 3) and Patriots (lost by 1), suggesting a better team was hiding underneath last season’s mishaps. New York’s expected win-loss, too, was closer to that of a .500 team and with some better clock management they may well have had more to celebrate. Instead, all of those close losses meant that Coughlin “retired” and the Giants had the offseason to ponder whether they should rebuild or largely run it back with the same team. In the end, they did a little bit of both.
Significant Additions: CB Janoris Jenkins, DE Olivier Vernon, DT Damon Harrison, LB Keenan Robinson, CB Leon Hall
Significant Subtractions: HC Tom Coughlin, DE Robert Ayers, OL Geoff Schwartz, CB Prince Amukamara, DT Cullen Jenkins, S Brandon Meriweather
Potential Impact Rookies: CB Eli Apple, WR Sterling Shepard, S Darian Thompson, LB B.J. Goodson
Team Strengths: The Giants’ offense should be even better this season, assuming the offensive line can keep Eli Manning off the ground. With Manning throwing balls to Beckham and adding in rookie receiver Sterling Shepard, this offense should be able to keep the team in most shootouts, although there is hope that there will be less of those in 2016. In addition, new coach Ben McAdoo ought to rely less on the running back-by-committee approach from last year and allow Rashad Jennings to be a workhorse. That consistency should lend itself to a more balanced offensive approach and keep defenses honest. Lastly, the Giants’ defense, particularly the front four, ought to see a complete turnaround from last season’s lows where the team has, at least on paper, one of the best defensive lines in football. Pierre-Paul has every incentive to prove his capability on his new contract, Olivier Vernon should be a monster opposite him, and even the starting cornerbacks should be an overall upgrade from last season. All of that should mean this is defense and passing attack that could be some of the best in the league, except …
Team Weaknesses: The offensive line is a serious question. Although most of the NFL has realized the value of protecting the quarterback, the Giants missed the memo and allowed Schwartz to walk in the offseason without an equal replacement. Instead, New York will trust a largely subpar offensive line that includes Ereck Flowers at left tackle and Marshall Newhouse at right tackle. Not really inspiring cornerstones and it certainly is not a good sign when articles like this are being published in the preseason. In addition, the Giants’ linebacking corps is not going to strike fear into most opponents and the team is going to have to hope everyone else does their job to not put too much pressure on the group. Unfortunately, if a running back gets to the second level or teams run a good crossing route, the Giants’ linebackers are going to struggle.
Fantasy Players to Watch: An easy no brainer here, where Beckham has already been drafted in the first round of your fantasy league. There have been a few haters (take it easy Josh Norman), but Beckham is a rare talent and he should continue to produce at an extremely high level. Manning could certainly be a starting QB in a twelve team league and if he can keep his interceptions down is a safe late round draft pick. Jennings, especially early in the season, could be a low end RB2, although he has to make the plays himself behind this offensive line. As the workhorse though, he’ll have plenty of touches. Lastly, rookie wideout Sterling Shepard should shine opposite Beckham where he’ll get favorable coverage and plenty of looks.
2016 Outlook: For all of the potential upside this season, the Giants are going to be playing the NFC North and the AFC North, two of the best divisions in football. In particular, some of the defenses they play will hit hard and be on Manning in a second for every mistake his blockers make. Luckily, Manning’s durability is something that should be marveled at, considering how often he gets hit. He currently has the longest active streak for consecutive starts at 194 games including playoffs, more than a season ahead of second place Philip Rivers. That health matters, particularly as Manning continues to get older. In addition, if Jennings can just be average, that will take some pressure off of Manning and help force defenses to not rush everything on every down. Jennings’ success or failure will directly impact the perception of the offensive line as well and the team as a whole. The Giants need to be able to kill off games late, something they failed to do in 2015. Particularly against powerful offenses like the Steelers, Bengals, Vikings, and Packers, controlling the game will be important. On the other side of the field, the team focused heavily on their defensive weakness in the off season, adding many high-profile free agents and solid draft picks. If they can perform at their best, this team should be in just about every game they play. If, on the other hand, the linebackers get exposed, Pierre-Paul fails to perform, and the offensive line is in shambles all season, this is going to be another long season.
Record Prediction: The Cowboys are going to struggle, Washington is ride or dying with Kirk Cousins, and the Eagles are going backward in time with Andy Reid-lite. If there was a time for the Giants to reclaim the NFC East crown, this season looks pretty good. They can probably get it done with a 9-7 record and that seems obtainable. Getting there starts with taking care of divisional business at home as well as finding wins against the Saints, Lions, and Bears. They also have winnable road games against the Browns and Rams. If they can succeed there, it will likely set up a couple must-wins on the road against the Eagles and Redskins at the end of the season, perhaps both. Nothing like a nail biter to end the season, but in 2016 the Giants will find a way to get back into the playoffs under first year coach McAdoo.
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