The Giants kick off the 2017 season against the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday night at 8:30. With Super Bowl expectations, how will things shake out for Big Blue?
11-5, second place in the NFC East, wild card berth, first-round loss in the playoffs.
WR Brandon Marshall, TE Rhett Ellison, TE Evan Engram
DT Johnathan Hankins, RB Rashad Jennings, WR Victor Cruz, TE Will Tye
Can the offensive line improve enough to help the offense improve from 25th in the NFL last season?
The Giants are counting on it, but they're basing their faith on … well, faith alone. They did nothing to improve the line in the offseason, choosing instead to go with the status quo of LT Ereck Flowers, LG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RG John Jerry and RT Bobby Hart. That was a clear problem in the preseason. Oddly, the interior line was the biggest of their issues. The Giants' passing attack should be better thanks to the additions of Marshall and Engram, and maybe the blocking will be better with TE Rhett Ellison and FB Shane Smith on board. That should help boost the sagging offense. But the offensive line hasn't shown any real signs of improvement yet.
ROOKIE TO WATCH: TE Evan Engram
He has impressed everyone this summer with his hands, his speed and even his better-than-advertised blocking ability. The tight end position has been a black hole in the Giants' offense the last few years, plagued by drops, bad routes, and general unreliability. Engram is expected to be a huge weapon, especially down the field, where his speed creates a mismatch. He also could be a reliable red zone target and an important outlet in the likely frequent event that Eli Manning is under pressure and has to go to his "hot read."
Slotting Engram in for the Will Tye/Larry Donnell duo, and replacing Victor Cruz with Marshall are definite upgrades, so the passing attack has the tools to improve. The problems are the same as last season -- the offensive line and the running game in general. The Giants were hoping for a spark from the younger, fresher legs of RB Paul Perkins, but there's been no sign of that this summer. If they can create a rushing attack, their passing attack could be devastating and they could return to a top 15 offense. But they may not have the line to power that attack.
By the end of last season this was one of the top five defenses in the NFL. Could it be better this season? Absolutely. Don't worry about the loss of Hankins. He was their fourth-most important lineman anyway. Focus on the additions of MLB B.J. Goodson and S Darian Thompson -- two really promising young players. Also, DEs Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are coming off terrific summers. They were good as a pass-rushing duo last season. They are on the verge of being great.
THE GIANTS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF …
They stay healthy. They are good enough to be one of the best teams in the NFC, even with that offensive line. They have a top five defense, perhaps the best WR in the NFL (Odell Beckham, Jr.) and a still-top-10 QB. That can carry them a long way.
THE GIANTS WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS IF …
The offensive line is a complete disaster. That's not out of the question, but if they can't sustain a running game and provide some protection for Manning, this will become a really easy offense to defend. It also would put Manning's consecutive-games streak at risk, which would make this season a real disaster.
I love the Giants defense and hate their offensive line, which are the two forces that will be pulling against each other all season. If the line was a little better, if they had the offense of two years ago, this might be the best team in the NFC. But if they have the ugly offense they had last season they might struggle to make the playoffs.
Assuming that Manning and Beckham will be healthy for the majority of the season, though, I do think the offense will be improved -- but only slightly. I think they'll struggle to run, especially in key situations, and too many pass plays will be disrupted by heavy pressure. Yes, they won 11 games with similar problems last season, but keep in mind eight of those wins were by a touchdown or less (and by a total of 30 points).
They walked a tightrope all season to those 11 wins.
Can they do it again? It won't be easy. I don't think they'll actually do it. I think they will regress in record even if they improve a little in offense. But I will put my faith in Manning and the defense. That should be enough to get them to the playoffs.
10-6, second place in the NFC East, wild card.
NFC EAST PROJECTION
1. Dallas Cowboys - 11-5 … There is a big asterisk to any Cowboys prediction, of course. Will Ezekiel Elliott be suspended, and for how long? I think it'll be tied up in the courts for a while. If he ends up missing a third of the season, though, say goodbye to their playoff hopes.
2. New York Giants - 10-6 … If they can get their offensive act together, they'll be the division favorites. Either way, their defense makes them a true Super Bowl contender, no matter how they get to the postseason.
3.Philadelphia Eagles - 7-9 … They are an up-and-coming team with good talent and a terrific young quarterback. In a year or two they might be the class of this division. But they're still building and not there yet.
4.Washington Redskins - 6-10 … They were a disappointment last year then spent the offseason in turmoil with the firing of their GM and the drama around Kirk Cousins' franchise tag. That's not good for a team with plenty of holes.