The New York Giants have suffered a second-half slide under head coach Tom Coughlin, finishing at or below .500 in seven of his 10 years at the helm of the team.
Moreover, the Giants have had just one playoff berth in their last four seasons, a statistics that, at the start of training camp, general manager Jerry Reese said simply isn't good enough.
Can Coughlin and the Giants hit their stride early and keep it going through the marathon-long season when playoff berths are earned in the later months?
The second half of their schedule won't be easy, and the dangers of trying to forecast an entire season can be tricky as well, as all it takes is one or two key injuries to occur that change the entire complexion of a team's strategy.
However, with Coughlin and Reese trying to keep the players focused on becoming the first team in modern-day NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium, the team is aware of the high stakes it faces this year and is determined to earn a spot in the postseason.
|1||at Dallas Cowboys|
|3||at Carolina Panthers|
|4||at Kansas City Chiefs|
|6||at Chicago Bears|
|8||at Philadelphia Eagles|
|11||Green Bay Packers|
|13||at Washington Redskins|
|14||at San Diego Chargers|
|16||at Detroit Lions|
The Giants' 2013 schedule begins with a stretch of three of their first four games on the road, the first stop being a Sunday night national affair in Dallas, where New York is 4-0 in Cowboys Stadium.
This will be the second consecutive season the Giants open against their NFC East rivals, to whom they lost last year's season opener, 24-17, at MetLife Stadium. The Giants are 19-31-1 in Dallas, but are 49-34-5 in road openers.
This year, the Giants might catch a break, as the Cowboys defense has some injury concerns. Earlier in the preseason, the Cowboys lost their promising young defensive end Tyrone Crawford for the year after he tore his Achilles in the first practice.
Meanwhile, OLB Anthony Spencer is currently recovering from knee surgery, which he had on August 7, while defensive tackle Jay Ratliff looks like he'll spend the entire preseason on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a sore hamstring.
While both Spencer and Ratliff are believed to be on schedule for the Week 1 opener against the Giants, both players might be a little rusty in their first action back after such a long absence.
The Giants receiving corps of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz should be healthy and inspired to go. The Giants also have apparently found a viable third receiver in second-year man Rueben Randle, who is coming off a strong training camp.
The passing game should present a nice challenge to Dallas' revamped defensive secondary featuring cornerbacks Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne and safeties Barry Church and Will Allen.
PREDICTION: Giants 34—Cowboys 17 (1-0)
It's time for "The Manning Bowl III," as Eli's Giants square off against Peyton's Broncos. Peyton Manning is 2-0 against Eli's Giants, with both wins coming with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 and 2010.
Pre-Peyton, Denver won the most recent meeting against the Giants, by a score of 26-6, on Thanksgiving night in 2009 in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Giants won the last game the teams played in New Jersey (Giants Stadium) on a last-minute Eli Manning touchdown pass to receiver Amani Toomer with five seconds remaining for a 24-23 victory in 2005.
This time around, the Giants offense could catch a big break as the NFL has suspended Broncos linebacker Von Miller six games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Miller has logged 30.0 sacks in two NFL seasons, and his absence from the lineup would certainly make things a lot easier for the Giants' offensive line.
The Giants, meanwhile, will need to consistently get after the elder Manning with a pass rush that, last year, faded in and out of the picture. Give Peyton Manning a lot of time to survey the field, and he'll pick apart the defense with the precision of a surgeon.
It's probably going to be a tight one, but Eli's Giants, who are likely to be the underdogs in this game, should be able to thwart Peyton's Broncos.
PREDICTION: Giants 33—Broncos 30 (2-0)
The Giants will kick off a two-game road swing, the first stop being in Carolina, a team they crushed last year, 36-7, during a Thursday night road game.
But this isn't the same Panthers team. For one, they've hired former Giants senior pro personnel analyst David Gettleman as their general manager, and Gettleman has been quickly trying to fix the Panthers' shortcomings, which have included adding a couple of former Giants in linebacker Chase Blackburn and receiver Domenik Hixon.
Two things Gettleman didn't address, however, are the head coach, Ron Rivera, whose 2012 defense was shredded by the Giants to the tune of 405 total net yards and starting quarterback Cam Newton, who seemed to regress last season when he completed just 57.7 percent of his passes and posted just 19 touchdowns (down from the 21 in his rookie season) and 12 interceptions for a pedestrian 86.2 passer rating.
There's no reason to think that the Giants, with a two-game winning streak against the Panthers, dating back to December 2008, won’t continue their winning ways, as on paper, their passing game matches up very well against the Panthers defensive secondary.
Newton, meanwhile, has shown that he can be rattled by a heavy pass rush, so if the Giants can get after him early, they could force a few bad throws from which they could benefit.
PREDICTION: Giants 27—Panthers 17 (3-0)
During his tenure as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid, seemed to have the number of Tom Coughlin-led teams (both Jacksonville and New York), which are 9-10 in regular-season games against Reid.
Reid will, once again, attempt to work his magic against the Giants in his new role as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that has lost its last five games against the Giants.
Reid will be pinning his team's hopes this year on former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith to run the offense. Last year with the 49ers, Smith had a forgettable game against the Giants, completing 19 of 30 passes for 200 yards while taking four sacks and throwing three interceptions before he was replaced by Colin Kaepernick.
Smith's top receiving target, Dwayne Bowe, is fully healthy after recovering from a season-ending broken rib suffered late last year, and, more recently, a non-football related illness at the start of this year's training camp.
Meanwhile, running back Jamaal Charles, who has been nursing a leg injury, may be a question mark when the two teams meet, depending on where he is in his rehab.
PREDICTION: Giants 34—Chiefs 21 (4-0)
Former head coach Andy Reid's West Coast offense might be gone, replaced by the faster-paced offense run by former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, but many of the players from Reid's tenure still remain.
The biggest question for the Eagles right now is who will be their starting quarterback. It's looking like it might be Michael Vick, who, based on his showing in the preseason so far, seems to have been rejuvenated in Kelly's system, and who, by the way, is 6-3 in games played against the Giants, against whom he's completed 60 percent of his passes.
While the Eagles receiving corps looks to regroup following the season-ending loss of Jeremy Maclin and the distraction caused by Riley Cooper's caught-on-tape racial slur, the Eagles running game, which should be headlined by LeSean McCoy, has long been a thorn in New York's side.
That's especially true after McCoy posted 168 rushing yards against the Giants last season. McCoy and second-year man Bryce Brown should be a good test for New York's revamped run defense.
The Eagles might be in a state of transition this season, but despite their injuries, they might not be as much of a pushover as some are projecting.
PREDICTION: Eagles 27—Giants 24 (4-1)
The Giants' visit to the Windy City to meet the Chicago Bears will be their first regular-season head-to-head with one of the NFL's oldest franchises since New York topped the Bears, 17-3, at MetLife Stadium in October 2010.
This week’s game will be the third in a row in which the Giants face a team with a new head coach. This week also marks the start of two straight prime-time games for the Giants.
On offense, the Bears will be sporting a familiar face to New York—tight end Martellus Bennett, who signed with Chicago as an unrestricted free agent after one season in New York. Bennett, former Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall and receiver Alshon Jeffery give quarterback Jay Cutler a nice round of options from which to choose in the passing game.
With the Giants linebacker situation historically having trouble against some of the more physical tight ends over the middle, Bennett must be licking his chops at the thought of going against his old teammates in a prime-time game.
Meanwhile, running back Matt Forte, who, last year, dealt with an ankle injury, is sure to be a good test for the Giants' revamped run defense.
On defense, Brian Urlacher, the longtime Bears linebacker, might be retired, but the matchup to watch in this one will be right defensive end Julius Peppers vs. Giants left tackle Will Beatty.
PREDICTION: Bears 24—Giants 21 (4-2)
The Giants' prime-time showcase continues with a Monday night showdown at MetLife Stadium against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings will be making their first regular-season visit to the Giants' new home since it opened in 2010.
This game will also be the Giants' second Monday night home game for the Giants in head coach Tom Coughlin's tenure (not counting the 2005 “road” game against the New Orleans Saints which was moved to New Jersey following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina).
The Vikings passing game might just be one of the most potent ones on the Giants schedule to date with former Packer Greg Jennings and dynamic rookie Cordarrelle Patterson leading the charge.
Last year, as a member of the Packers, Jennings missed the meeting with the Giants, but in 2011, he caught seven passes for 94 yards in his team's 38-35 win over New York.
The Vikings also have running back Adrian Peterson, a one-man wrecking crew in himself, who, last season, fell three rushing yards short of 3,000. That's not good news for a Giants run defense that, because it allowed 129.1 rushing yards per game, was overhauled this offseason and has been shaky in the preseason against the run.
PREDICTION: Vikings 31—Giants 20 (4-3)
The Giants will face the Eagles for the second time in the month of October, this time with New York paying a visit to Philadelphia's home turf at Lincoln Financial Field, where New York is 5-5 in the regular season.
This game will also mark the first time the Giants and Eagles conclude their regular-season series before Halloween since the 2000 season.
PREDICTION: Giants 24—Eagles 14 (5-3)
The last time New York's bye week fell at exactly the midpoint of the season was in 2007. That year, New York finished 10-6 and in second place in the NFC East.
More importantly, though, they qualified for a wild card and rode a hot streak all the way into Super Bowl XLII, where they upset the previously undefeated New England Patriots, 17-14.
Head coach Tom Coughlin couldn't ask for better timing.
“The bye is at the right time for us,” Coughlin said after the 2013 NFL schedule was announced in April. “That’s something I think we can look at, plan toward, play hard for. The break has been a nice spot for us to regroup.”
The Giants will begin a three-week stretch of games at home, starting with the Raiders, who will make their first visit to MetLife Stadium in hopes of snapping a two-game Giants winning streak.
The last time these two teams met was in 2009. New York dominated Oakland, 44-7, a game in which quarterback Eli Manning only played the first five series, completing 8 of 10 passes for 173 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Under head coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants have outscored the Raiders, 74-28. With the Giants coming out of their bye week, they should be refreshed and ready to roll against a Raiders team that, in recent years, has struggled to find an identity.
PREDICTION: Giants 28—Raiders 10 (6-3)
The Giants and Packers will meet for the fourth consecutive season, and the third straight year at MetLife Stadium. In their most recent meeting, on Nov. 25, 2012, the Giants rolled over the Packers, 38-10, to snap a four-game home losing streak against Green Bay that dated back to 1998.
Despite the Packers’ triumphs over the Giants, New York has played them very close in the regular season, the combined score of the last three meetings being 93-90 in favor of Green Bay. If New York is healthy by this point in the season, they should be able to keep things close and pull out an important conference seeding win in front of their home crowd.
PREDICTION: Giants 38—Packers 27 (7-3)
In a contest that could very well shape the NFC East playoff picture, the Giants will host the Cowboys, a team with which they've split the season series in two out of the last three years. The Cowboys, 2-1 at MetLife Stadium, have outscored the Giants, 71-68, on New York's home turf in that period.
Unlike in Week 1, when these two teams met for the first time this season, the Cowboys should have a fully healthy Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer in their defensive lineup, a duo that, in the past, has created problems for the Giants offensive blockers.
PREDICTION: Dallas 34—Giants 24 (7-4)
By this point in the season, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III should definitely be back on the field full-time following an aggressive rehab schedule for his right knee.
The question, though, is: Will he be the same RG3 he was prior to suffering his injury in January?
If he is, the Giants might just be in trouble. In his rookie season, RG3 completed 70.2 percent of his passes against the Giants for 421 yards and three touchdowns. He also racked up 161 rushing yards on 14 carries in that read-option offense that gave the Giants defense all kinds of fits.
The Giants have put an emphasis on building a defense that can stop offenses like Washington's.
However, if RG3 is anywhere near the player he was prior to his knee injury, the Giants could be in for a long afternoon.
PREDICTION: Redskins 22—Giants 10 (7-5)
The San Diego Chargers and first-year head coach Mike McCoy are attempting to break a trend in which, despite finishing second in the AFC West the last three seasons, their year-end season record has worsened in each of those years.
On offense, the Chargers will look to quarterback Philip Rivers, who, to date, has been best known for being the man who headlined the Giants' 2004 draft-day trade with San Diego for quarterback Eli Manning, the Chargers’ first-round pick that year.
Rivers' Chargers are actually undefeated against the Giants, with victories of 45-23 in September 2005 and 21-20 in November 2009. However, there are already concerns about 2013 after San Diego suffered some injuries at the receiver position.
The Chargers’ top receiver, Malcom Floyd, suffered a strained knee injury on August 13, an injury that could potentially have a yearlong effect on him, depending on his rehab progress. Meanwhile, Danario Alexander, the No. 2 receiver, was lost for the season to a torn ACL suffered early in training camp.
Defensively, the injury bug has been just as hard on the Chargers. The team lost backup linebacker Jonas Mouton to an ACL injury earlier in training camp and could be without starting outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, who tore his ACL during a non-contact organized team activity (OTA) practice in May.
PREDICTION: Giants 28—Chargers 23 (8-5)
The East Coast hasn’t exactly been kind to the Seattle Seahawks. Since 2008, the Seahawks are 3-7 in regular-season games played against East Coast teams, which have outscored them, 259-183, in that period.
Against the Giants, the Seahawks are 2-6 in games played in New Jersey. However, Seattle’s luck against East Coast teams started to change last season when they won games against the Panthers and Buffalo, while just barely losing to Miami by a field goal.
Credit the play of quarterback Russell Wilson, whose performance put him right up there with Washington’s RG3, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick in what was the “Year of the Quarterback” last season.
In his rookie season, Wilson threw for 3,118 yards with 26 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, completing 64.1 percnt of his pass attempts. He also rushed 94 times for 489 yards and four touchdowns as an all-round threat that created headaches for opposing defenses.
Speaking of defenses, one matchup in this game that should be especially fun to watch is that of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman against Giants receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Sherman has become one of the upper-echelon cornerbacks in the game and should provide a nice challenge for the Giants receiving duo.
PREDICTION: Seahawks 27—Giants 21 (8-6)
The Giants will be seeking their third straight win against the Detroit Lions, a team which they have defeated the last five times in Detroit.
The Lions, with a 4-12 record, which was a steep drop-off from their 10-6 mark the year prior, added running back Reggie Bush to the mix. However, all eyes will probably be on quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson, who, if on the same page, can create many headaches for a defensive secondary.
With playoff seeding up for grabs at this point in the NFL season, the Giants need to make sure its pass rush is firing on all cylinders if it's to come out on top in their final 2013 regular-season road game.
PREDICTION: Giants 31—Lions 18 (9-6)
The Giants will close their 2013 regular-season campaign against the Redskins in a game that could very well decide the winner of the NFC East.
Last year, the Giants lost ground in their quest to win the NFC East by losing their second game against the Redskins. This year, with their home crowd behind them in what should be playoff-like atmosphere, there shouldn't be any excuse for a let-down, as the Giants should be extra motivated to make sure that, come February, they’re still playing football in their home building.
PREDICTION: Giants 28—Redskins 18 (10-6)