The New York Giants are ready for 2014—heck, there were times during 2013 that they seemed ready for 2014.
For the first time since 2004—Tom Coughlin's first season with the team—the G-Men finished the season under .500, needing two wins in Weeks 16 and 17 just to get to 7-9.
Eli Manning had arguably the worst season of his career, finishing with a league-high 27 interceptions. Injuries plagued the skill positions, and a quietly solid year defensively—the Giants tied for fourth in the league in yards per play allowed—went wasted.
Improvement seems likely, though.
The Giants have been one of the most active teams during free agency, acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Geoff Schwartz, Rashad Jennings, Robert Ayers and Trindon Holliday, among others. They also re-signed Jon Beason.
Coughlin talked about his excitement for Jennings, via Giants.com's Dan Salomone:
We just think he’s an all-purpose player. He has a great attitude, he’s in tremendous shape, he's a solid 230, he has speed and he's a good receiver out of the backfield. The more we looked, the more we liked.
ESPN's Ryan Ruocco summed up the entire group:
There haven't been BIG splashes but I'm a big fan of what the Giants have done in free agency.— Ryan Ruocco (@RyanRuocco) April 2, 2014
Throw in a solid position in the top half of the draft, and there's certainly reason for optimism. Let's see how the schedule affects New York's 2014 outlook.
|1||Monday, 9/8||at Detroit Lions||7:10 p.m.||ESPN|
|2||Sunday, 9/14||Arizona Cardinals||1 p.m.||FOX|
|3||Sunday, 9/21||Houston Texans||1 p.m.||CBS|
|4||Thursday, 9/25||at Washington Redskins||8:25 p.m.||CBS|
|5||Sunday, 10/5||Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m.||FOX|
|6||Sunday, 10/12||at Philadelphia Eagles||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|7||Sunday, 10/19||at Dallas Cowboys||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|9||Monday, 11/3||Indianapolis Colts||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|10||Sunday, 11/9||at Seattle Seahawks||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|11||Sunday, 11/16||San Francisco 49ers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|12||Sunday, 11/23||Dallas Cowboys||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|13||Sunday, 11/30||at Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m.||FOX|
|14||Sunday, 12/7||at Tennessee Titans||1 p.m.||FOX|
|15||Sunday, 12/14||Washington Redskins||1 p.m.||FOX|
|16||Sunday, 12/21||at St. Louis Rams||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|17||Sunday, 12/28||Philadelphia Eagles||1 p.m.||FOX|
If you want to determine strength of schedule by opponents' 2013 records, then things look pretty good for the Giants.
According to ESPN, the G-Men have the sixth-easiest schedule in the NFL, with their opponents combining for a win percentage of just .465 last year. That's not even due to the fact the NFC East struggled in 2013, either, as the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins rank just 13th, 15th and 16th easiest, respectively.
Of course, we know that's not really how things work in the NFL. Teams get better, teams get worse, teams suffer injuries, teams play differently at different times of the year. Things change.
Unfortunately for the Giants, the entire NFC West remains on the schedule. The ultra-physical division produced both NFC championship participants and the Super Bowl champion last season, and it should be just as formidable in 2014.
How many wins will the Giants record in 2014?
Divisional matchups are obviously the most important battles on every team's schedule, so we'll go a bit beyond that.
While the G-Men are fortunate to get the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals at home, they must travel to Seattle, arguably the most difficult place in the NFL to get a road win, and St. Louis. Getting through that stretch at 2-2 will be key.
Being able to stay home against the most difficult opponents, in my mind, is a good way to benefit from your schedule, and the Giants do just that for the most part. In addition to the 49ers and Cardinals, they host the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons.
The Colts will continue to be a playoff contender with Andrew Luck under center. That game will also mark the return of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who signed with the Colts in free agency. He's sure to be motivated against his former team.
Meanwhile, both the Texans and Falcons should improve after injury-riddled 2013 campaigns. Playing those very good teams at home gives Coughlin's squad a better chance at racking up wins.
Getting four wins out of the aforementioned seven games would put the Giants in tremendous position, as they also travel out of the division to play the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.
For now, though, this is all just speculation, and if the Giants' new pieces mesh, they stay healthy and they protect Manning, the schedule won't matter.