After an 11-win campaign a year ago and a wild-card berth, Super Bowl aspirations look more realistic for the New York Giants than they did ahead of Ben McAdoo’s first season as head coach.
But those lofty expectations come with a timer, one attached inextricably to quarterback Eli Manning. The most accomplished quarterback in franchise history will make his 200th career start, a milestone only nine other passers have reached, when he takes the field Sunday in Dallas against the Cowboys.
Assuming his streak of consecutive starts remains intact through the duration of the 16-game slate, Manning will move into eighth on the all-time list for quarterback starts. The 36-year-old can’t play forever. Even older brother Peyton looked his age in the years before hanging up his cleats for good at 39.
That being said, the elder Manning still found a way to walk off into the sunset thanks to a supreme defense and a talented supporting cast with the Denver Broncos when they won Super Bowl 50. Not for nothing, Eli’s team is constructed similarly.
But if the Giants are to win the third championship of their QB’s career — and fifth Super Bowl overall — their offensive line must improve. Nobody will be under more scrutiny than left tackle Ereck Flowers, who has disappointed since being taken ninth overall in 2015. Without stable blocking along the O-line, Manning won’t have time to get much done.
Despite their success as a whole, the Giants’ offense paled in comparison to its rebuilt defense in 2016. While the G-Men ranked second in the league in points allowed, they produced the seventh-fewest points of their own.
To bouy their side of the scoreboard, the Giants brought in Brandon Marshall, the former Jets receiver, to complement electrifying Pro Bowl wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and second-year pro Sterling Shepard. With three capable pass catchers on the outside, plus first-round pick Evan Engram at tight end and Paul Perkins as the lead running back in his second season, Manning has plenty of tools to increase scoring in 2017. If his line gives him the time to throw, that is.
There’s less to worry about on the other side of the ball after last offseason’s spending spree paid off immediately. All three of their biggest signees — defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins — were first- or second-team All-Pro selections. The same can be said of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is back for his fourth year with the G-Men.
But the MVP of the Giants’ defense in 2016 was, without a doubt, safety Landon Collins. A high second-round pick in 2015, Collins seemed to be involved in every important defensive play last season. He finished the year with five interceptions, four sacks and 100 solo tackles, becoming the third player to reach those benchmarks during the past 25 years according to Pro Football Refence.
The Giants’ defense is the type that wins championships. And while the jury remains out on Manning’s offense, the team remains solidly in the crowded NFC playoff picture.