Any team in the NFC East could take the division, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Well, maybe a top spot held by my beloved Washington Redskins would be slightly shocking.
Realistically, a lot of guys need to step up their game this year for the New York Giants to catapult deep into January. Can they do it? Absolutely.
The Good: The Giants' defense only gave up an average 292 total yards and 18.4 points per game, both of which ranked fifth in the league last season. The front four created more pressure than just about any other team in the league, hurrying opposing quarterbacks to throw 17 interceptions. Not only was the defense successful against the pass, it was extremely effective against the run, allowing just 95.8 yards per game.
The Bad: Last season, third-down efficiency was lacking and the Giants' defense allowed conversions 40.7 percent of the time, which is ranked 21st in the league. Unlike many teams, the Giants can create pressure without blitzing.
In these situations, they need to limit the risky zone, safety and corner blitzes, and stop sending defensive ends into coverage. Instead, keep the pass rush simple and use the four down lineman while blitzing the linebackers from different positions to keep the offense on edge.
The Ugly: Defensive genius Steve Spagnuolo has left the team for a head coaching position in St. Louis, and expectations for replacement Bill Sheridan are running high. Big Blue struggled with defensive penalties last season with 111 infractions totaling 866 yards. Only two teams in the NFL ranked worse—San Francisco and Baltimore.
Tom Coughlin needs to remember that he comes from under Bill Parcells’ coaching umbrella. Perhaps it's time to resurrect the classic sideline glare when players make mistakes or implement some hefty fines.
The Good: First-round draft pick Hakeem Nicks is an excellent route runner. He has speed and the potential to make an immediate impact as the No. 1 receiver.
Nicks and fellow rookie Ramses Barden need to quickly build confidence on the field, and the best way to do that is to focus on quick, short passes, slants, and screens and increasing the yards after catch. Rookies rarely shine their first year on the field, but maybe this year will be different.
The Bad: The Giants have a healthy group of second and third receivers to choose from, but not a clear No 1. Steve Smith has experience as Eli Manning's target and should be able to contribute right from the start, but he could lack consistency throughout the season. The jury is still out on receivers Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss, and Mario Manningham, so don’t count them out just yet.
The Ugly: The loss of Plaxico Burress will definitely be felt, and Manning will lose out on those big-play situations. The Giants could be halfway through the season before one of these guys becomes comfortable running a play for a deep pass.
The Good: Brandon Jacobs is healthy and should be a beast on the ground this season. Take a look at the Tennessee Titans or Minnesota Vikings. Both teams had an explosive rushing attack last season and very limited productivity from the wide receiver position. Yet, both teams managed to take the top spot in their respective divisions.
A good running game will also open up the pass, and the Giants can start selling the threat of play action.
The Bad: The loss of Derrick Ward is big. He ran for 1,066 yards last season and was the perfect No. 2 behind Jacobs. Replacement Ahmad Bradshaw is small, but he's fast and could be a good change-of-pace running back and a perfect fit for third downs. He could also step in to relieve some of the pressure off of an injury-prone Jacobs.
The Ugly: The rushing attack is hugely important this season. The wide receiver position is shaky, and the only way to make up yards is on the ground. If Bradshaw can't step up to the No. 2 position, the Giants will run into some trouble this year.
The Good: Every home game at Giants Stadium is an advantage with a noisy 12th man on the field. The Giants are ranked second, just after the Washington Redskins, averaging 79,069 fans per game.
The Bad: The NFC East is arguably the toughest division in the league. They host some of the biggest rivalries in the game and every divisional matchup is a toss-up.
The Ugly: The second game of the season is going to be tough for the Giants. Traveling to Cowboys Stadium that early in the season with a team that has only played one game together will be tough. Things could definitely get ugly and Big Blue could end up with a rough start.