The New York Giants come into the season with high expectations, and on the surface they’re right to do so. Odell Beckham is in his prime, the acquisition of Brandon Marshall gives them one of the best receiving corps in football and the defense finished second in DVOA last season. They won 11 games — including two against the Dallas Cowboys — and would have won most divisions. However, Super Bowl expectations are unfounded. In fact, if the Giants get back to the postseason, it will have more to do with a lack of talent in the NFC wild-card race than anything else.
The biggest reason for this is quarterback Eli Manning. This isn’t an anti-Eli take from a historical perspective, it’s an anti-Eli take from a 2017 perspective which is an important distinction. Manning is 36 years old and looked washed up at times last season. He survived without melting down, thanks in large part to the receivers. But he had a -6.5 percent DVOA, 20th among quarterbacks, missed throws that he used to be able to make and struggled throwing beyond five yards. According to Cian Fahey’s charting, Manning had a 58.46 accuracy percentage when throwing over five yards, which was 23rd in the league. Even more remarkable, 2,201 of his 4,027 passing yards were picked up after the catch, per Fahey, ranking fifth in the league.
Of course, Manning has an even better receiving corps this season. It’s not as if his supporting cast has gotten worse and it’s not as if the Giants’ offense is suddenly going to crumble. However, the receivers are the only positional group in which anyone can come into the season with unbridled confidence about.
The offensive line is unreliable as ever. The Giants failed to address it in a big way over the offseason, the only changes being D.J. Fluker at right guard and drafting tackle Adam Bisnowaty, who is unlikely to see serious time barring injury. Ereck Flowers is one of the worst left tackles in football. He whiffed on 19 pass blocks last season, per Football Outsiders’ Almanac, a number so bad it’s almost impressive. Across from him at right tackle, Bobby Hart blew 14 pass blocks, per FOA, and had an abysmal 46.0 PFF grade. Left guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg can provide some stability on the interior, but Fluker had a 50.3 PFF grade and there’s no backup plan if somebody gets hurt. The Giants were able to mitigate the negative effects of the line by throwing short so often last season — thus ranking second in adjusted sack rate — but they won’t be playing from ahead quite as often. Manning will have to throw downfield more, particularly late in games.
New York has the fourth-toughest schedule in the league by Football Outsiders’ projections, a byproduct of success (and the NFC East). Last season, they needed to tough out squeakers against the Rams, Eagles, Bengals, and Bears — none of whom were particularly good. Even their 27-13 victory against Cleveland wasn’t the best of performances. They can’t pull that this season. The Rams and 49ers are the only “easy” games on the slate — they’ll be favored in other games, but their offense to be a bigger positive.
Moreover, their run game is a perpetual question mark. It is a better place than it was a year ago but a question mark nonetheless. Wayne Gallman is an enticing prospect, but he needs to hone his vision, especially running inside. Moreover, Paul Perkins will likely start at the beginning of the year. There are things to like with Perkins, who flashed ability at times last season, but the UCLA product averaged a pedestrian 4.1 yards per carry last season, albeit behind this terrible line.
If New York improves on its offense — which finished 22nd in DVOA last season — it will be because of the receivers. Odell Beckham had 1,367 yards last season and it felt standard. Sterling Shepard was one of the best WRs in the 2016 rookie class, putting up 683 yards and eight touchdowns. After a scare in camp, he was diagnosed with just an ankle sprain and shouldn’t miss much or any time. Brandon Marshall is a 33-year old coming off a down year. Some of Marshall’s struggles can be credited to his situation with the Jets last season, but a 46 percent catch rate doesn’t look great regardless. If he’s getting one-on-one matchups as a third receiver, he can be a great contributor. But ask him to do more and things could get shaky. Rookie tight end Evan Engram fills a hole and figures to be a red zone threat. There should be some worries about a lack of variance in his route tree at Ole Miss, but his physical ability will still make him a force in the passing game.
Defensively, the Giants are going to be as good as ever. Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for 16 sacks, 29 hits and 94 hurries off the edge last season, according to FOA. They weren’t half-bad in run defense either, with Vernon putting up an 81 stop percentage, per FOA, and Pierre-Paul earning an 82.5 run defense grade from PFF. On the interior, Damon Harrison is the best run defender in football, full stop. The only issue could be generating pressure from the inside. Harrison won’t do that and second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson seems better suited to 1-technique than the 3-tech he figures to play. Tomlinson was a stalwart run defender at Alabama, but had just one sack and five hits last season, per PFF. It’s hard to see him staying at 3-tech in the long-term. Romeo Okwara could see DT snaps in third down situations to help solve this issue.
The secondary figures to be great as well. Strong safety Landon Collins had a good case for Defensive Player of the Year last season, finishing sixth at his position in run stop rate and fifth in average rushing yards per tackle, according to FOA. In coverage, he had a 53 percent success rate, also per FOA, along with five interceptions. At 92.5, he ranked second among safeties in PFF grading. Janoris Jenkins got most of the attention at corner and deservedly so. Jenkins ranked second at his position with a 69 percent success rate in coverage, per FOA. However, slot corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ranked first at 71 percent.
Second-year man Eli Apple is a bit of a question mark at corner after struggling through his rookie year. So is the free safety position, where Darian Thompson — he played just two games last season — figures to have a leg up over Andrew Adams. However, it’s hard to see the secondary as a whole struggling with Collins yet to enter his prime and Thompson returning. The only thing that could sink it is a decline from Rodgers-Cromartie, but after last season it’s tough to see that happening so suddenly.
If this defense has issues, they’ll likely stem from linebacker. Devon Kennard is a solid run defender, putting up a 67 percent stop rate, per FOA, but he’s horrific in coverage. He had a 39 percent success rate, per FOA, and allowed 7.2 adjusted yards per target. Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson had PFF grades of 49.8 and 40.4 last season. Most alarmingly, depth simply isn’t there. B.J. Goodson is the next man up and he played only 13 snaps last season.
The Giants won’t be a bad team this season. After all, we’re picking them to finish second in a tough division. But it’s tough to see so many of the same things going right for them. Ben McAdoo’s coaching should have hurt them worse than it did last season. He got a lot of credit, but it’s a red flag when an offensive-minded head coach’s great season happens because of the defense. On McAdoo’s side of the ball, New York wasn’t creative enough — they used ’11’ personnel a stunning 92 percent of the time. Moreover, his style of game management left a lot to be desired. Just as the Giants lost a lot of close games under Tom Coughlin in 2015, they won a lot of them last season, finishing over two wins above their Pythagorean Record. And Manning is getting older.
New York may still have enough firepower to compete for a wild card spot. Their competition in that area — Carolina, Tampa Bay, Arizona and Washington right now — leaves a lot to be desired, other than the Panthers. The Giants could easily sneak into the playoffs, but don’t expect them to contend for a championship.