Must-Watch Matchups on New York Giants' 2014 Schedule
The 2014 Giants will be a somewhat unfamiliar-looking Giants team.
The offense projects to be a total overhaul by new coordinator Ben McAdoo (with a West Coast influence, as he coached in Green Bay). Long-time head coach Tom Coughlin is still the Giants' CEO of all that occurs on the field, and quarterback Eli Manning is still his faithful marshall of the aerial assault. But the third most popular player of the two most recent Super Bowl runs, end Justin Tuck, now a Raider, leaves the Big Blue defense devoid of its captain and vocal leader in the locker room.
This fall's team will feature several new faces. Of the 15 new free agents signed this spring, some are certain to find the starting lineup. And don't forget about the rookie class, scheduled to join the Jints early next month via the 2014 NFL Draft.
The identity of this team remains undetermined, but you can bet there will be several defining performances—fair and poor—between early September and the winter holidays.
This list was not particularly easy to write, because I know many of you are as I am when it comes to watching the Giants—the type of fan who defines every game as "must-watch."
So, this slideshow will highlight the 2014 games that are must-watch in the sense that they will paint us the clearest picture of who these new-look Giants really are.
Week 1: Monday Night Football at Detroit Lions
First impressions mean something, and maybe more so for this 2014 Giants team than ever before.
Last season began like a car wreck for New York. The first play of the season (on prime-time television) was a Manning interception on a failed screen pass intended for running back David Wilson, instead gobbled up by Dallas' Demarcus Ware, who was then tackled by tackle Will Beatty, who looked more like a cornerback in coverage than a blocker on the play.
Can you think of a single play more symbolic of New York's 2013 season, as a whole? I think not.
Anyway, it really set the tone for an awful season, in which the Giants dropped their first six contests, playing themselves out of playoff contention right from the get-go.
Nothing would give me that here-we-go-again feeling quicker than a Week 1 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Giants fans have it bad enough waiting until Monday night, while almost all of the league's fans get their team-specific fix a day earlier (only fans of the Chargers and Cardinals, who kick off right after the Giants/Lions, have it worse), losing the first game of the season for a fourth consecutive year might sink the fan base to a new low.
There is a lot of pressure to perform immediately, and perhaps it is presumptuous to expect intricacies such as McAdoo's new offense and the revamped defensive backfield to come together so quickly.
But, with a win, the Giants take a significant step forward.
Toward the end of last season, the Giants flashed potential. Players like linebacker Jon Beason (re-signed to a three-year deal) were proving themselves as individuals to build around, while others like wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan (final year of rookie deal) showcased previously hidden ability.
One late-season win came against the Lions in Week 16, when the Giants came from behind to tie the game in the fourth quarter and eventually steal victory in overtime, simultaneously eliminating their opponents from the NFC playoff picture.
That wound still fresh, this is a grudge match for Detroit.
So, with a quality win against Detroit in Week 1, in front of a national audience, the Giants will make a positive first impression, as some late momentum from 2013 could spill over into 2014.
All Six NFC East Matchups
One of the perks of being a fan of an NFC East team is taking part in the four-way rivalry.
The Giants-Eagles-Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is one that provides a heated encounter anytime any two of the four teams get together. The last few weeks of the season are bound to be explosive within the division, as Giants/Redskins and Eagles/Cowboys meetings in Week 15 are followed by Giants/Eagles and Redskins/Cowboys meetings in Week 17.
Speaking of New York's season finale with Philadelphia, this has to be the must-watch game of the 2014 season.
The last three seasons have ended with a Week 17 playoff for the NFC East title and a playoff bid. The Cowboys have lost all three, one to each of its rivals (Giants '11, Redskins '12, Eagles '13). This is a hard-fought division that is difficult to dominate, so whichever team reigns champion may finish no better than one or two games above a .500 winning percentage, per usual.
Can we expect another winner-take-all, this time featuring the Giants and Eagles (or Redskins and Cowboys)?
Tomorrow we learn who will win the NFC East: Whoever is scheduled to play the 8-7 Cowboys in a winner-take-all Wk 17 matchup per tradition.— Tom Rock (@TomRock_Newsday) April 23, 2014
The next biggest divisional game for New York will be its Week 7 trip to Dallas, where the Giants must atone for the embarrassment of 2013.
In Week 1 last year, the Giants were comically gallivant with their protection of the ball. New York turned it over to Dallas six times in 60 minutes, resulting in a 36-31, season-opening loss.
Then, riding a wave of confidence after a four-game winning streak heading into Week 12, the Giants were forced to eat their barbed, mid-week words, as the Cowboys claimed a three-point victory on a kick that sailed through the uprights as the final seconds ticked away.
Beating the 'Boys just before the Week 8 bye would erase some of last year's left over shame, while putting Big Blue in a beautiful state of mind entering the mid-season break.
And that's just where the Giants will need to be, as nothing is to come easier on the other side of the bye...
Weeks 9-12: The Tough November Stretch
When the Giants return to action in Week 9, they better return refreshed.
It will begin on Nov. 3, when the Giants host the Colts on Monday Night Football. The Giants and Colts have not yet met in the regular season since Andrew Luck became Indianapolis' starting quarterback (met in 2013 preseason), so New York must handle the young passer—who has qualified his Colts for the postseason twice already—mostly on the fly. The game will also be New York's fourth of five scheduled to be played in prime time.
From there, the Giants will travel to Seattle on Sunday, Nov. 9, to face the Seahawks in one of the hardest environments to play as a visitor, CenturyLink Field. These two teams met in Week 15 of last season, as the Seahawks handed New York what remains its most recent loss to date—a 23-0 shellacking. Manning threw a season-high five interceptions that game.
The Giants return home on Sunday, Nov. 16, when the 49ers are scheduled to visit MetLife Stadium. The Giants did not play the 49ers last season, and the last three meetings, including the 2011 NFC Championship game, were all played in San Francisco. The Giants went 2-1 in those games, but they hope to claim their first victory over the 49ers at home since 2008 in Week 11.
In the final game of this tough stretch—also the fifth prime-time game on New York's 2014 schedule—the Giants will again play hosts, this time to the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The Giants and Cowboys have met in prime time every season since 2006, making for must-watch television annually.
If the Giants can make it through these four games—the toughest stretch of their 2014 season—without sustaining too bad a beating, their prospects as playoff contenders are realistic. The first three of these four opponents won a combined six playoff games last season (including Seattle's Super Bowl XLVIII victory), and the Cowboys always pose a unique challenge as fierce divisional rivals.
How the Giants handle this quarter of the 2014 season, along with their other divisional contests, will determine their future identity more so than anything else.