Not all that long ago, the New York Giants were the kings of professional football. In February 2012, they were coasting down the Canyon of Heroes and basking in the glow of a second Super Bowl title in five years.
As for Big Blue’s most recent five-year stretch, well, it hasn’t been pretty. Tossing out an 11-win 2016 season that looks more and more fluky as time passes, the Giants have been losers. Alongside the Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Giants have the dubious distinction of posting four double-digit loss seasons in the last five campaigns.
On paper, 2019 doesn’t appear to be bucking that trend for the G-Men, even as the other four teams in the aforementioned category of franchise futility look poised to improve. But parity reigns in the NFL, and the difference between the league’s best team and its worst often isn’t drastic.
Each season offers infinite outcomes, but for now amNewYork will break down the Giants’ best- and worst-case scenarios this season, which begins Sunday afternoon in Arlington, Texas, against the rival Dallas Cowboys.
Nothing would make head coach Pat Shurmur happier in his second season at the helm than for quarterback Eli Manning, who will turn 39 within days of the regular-season finale, to turn back the clock in his 15th consecutive season as the Giants’ Week 1 starter. Picture the potential future Hall of Famer in vintage form, distributing the ball evenly among his top targets such as wide receivers Golden Tate (after he serves his four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances) and Sterling Shepard as well as tight end Evan Engram.
Manning finding a groove should be directly linked to improved offensive line play. Returning Nate Solder and Will Hernandez would finally get help on the right side of the line from newcomers Kevin Zeitler, acquired from the Cleveland Browns as part of the package for Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon, and Mike Remmers. Center Jon Halapio also will have bounced back from last September’s brutal leg and ankle fractures.
All of the above would allow Saquon Barkley, by far the most talented player in a Giants uniform, to assert himself as the most dominant running back in football. The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year posted 2,028 yards from scrimmage, third most ever by a first-year player, on a bad team. If he gets to work in an offense that’s clicking on all cylinders, he’s got the talent to chase Chris Johnson’s 10-year-old scrimmage yards record of 2,509. That’s lofty, but it’s not unthinkable for a player who could run and catch passes as an elite level at age 21.
A potent offense would make the defense’s job a lot easier, of course. General manager Dave Gettleman has rapidly overhauled this unit, with only two major contributors remaining on the roster from before his December 2017 hiring (cornerback Janoris Jenkins and nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson). The majority of the Giants’ defensive starters are age 25 or younger, and six were selected within the first three rounds of the three most recent NFL drafts.
In a perfect world, 2019 first-round picks Dexter Lawrence and Deandre Baker would be neck and next for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The massive Lawrence (6-4, 342 pounds) could be a major disruptive force as a 3-4 defensive end, while Baker shakes off his preseason knee injury to emerge as a brilliant cornerback alongside Janoris Jenkins, the highest-paid and longest-tenured of the Giants’ starters on defense.
Strong safety Jabrill Peppers, another asset from the trade with Cleveland, could break out in his third NFL season. Not always known for his skills in pass coverage but solid everywhere else, the former first-round pick thrives playing 20 minutes from his childhood home and joins the conversation alongside the top defensive backs in the game.
In need of a fearsome edge rusher, the Giants find one under their nose in Lorenzo Carter. The team’s third-round selection in last year’s draft, the linebacker builds off his four sacks mostly as a situational player as a rookie with a dozen in Year 2. He’ll also get some help from Markus Golden, inked to a one-year deal after two consecutive injury-riddled years with the Arizona Cardinals but a player who tallied 12.5 sacks in 2016.
Not to be neglected is kicker Aldrick Rosas, a Pro Bowler a season ago. If the offense is in such a groove and he continues to nail kicks from distance, he could earn first-team All-Pro status.
Even at their best, the Giants don’t figure to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this winter. At their worst, though, they could be bad with a capital "B."
Manning could look very much like a quarterback who’s less than 18 months from his 40th birthday and been sacked 406 times over the past 15 years, a figure that ranks 15th all-time entering this year. Maybe his old interception-heavy habits return, leading to yet another winless start to the season. By midseason, Manning’s career will come full circle as first-round pick Daniel Jones supplants him as the starter for good.
Worse still, Jones looks completely out of his depth, vindicating those who criticized the Giants for selecting the Duke product with the first of three Round 1 selections instead of waiting to snag him in the middle of the round, when many pundits expected Jones to still be on the board.
With struggles to move the ball through the air, compounded by renewed injury woes from Engram who missed five games last year, Barkley will take a step back in his second season. It’s not uncommon for backs in Year 2 to regress some, especially in poor offenses. It wouldn’t be stunning if Barkley’s yards per carry average was held under 4.0 after ending up at 5.0 as a rookie.
Trouble along the offensive line doesn’t help, either. Solder, the left tackle who came over from the New England Patriots last offseason, markedly declines at age 31 and makes it that much harder for Manning and Jones to make throws. Halapio’s path back to 100% health hits a snag, forcing him to miss more time and rely on less desirable options. Remmers, who has ties to both Gettleman, Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula, fails to lift the right side of the line from the tackle position.
The overall inexperience of the defensive unit allows opponents to run up leads. Rookies Lawrence and Baker quickly look like busts, ruining the potential that came with having three first-round picks in April. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree fails to live up to the increased expectations after a noteworthy first season with the Giants, who traded for him last offseason. Jenkins, who turns 31 in October, continues his steep decline from a Pro Bowl campaign with Big Blue in 2016.
All of this, along with a case of the kicking yips from Rosas, culminates in Shurmur and Gettleman as Black Monday casualties on Dec. 30.
These Giants, despite the high-profile trade of Beckham in the winter, are better than the 2018 version. Not markedly better, but it would be a surprise to see them in the running for the top pick in the next draft. Look for Barkley to shine, even when playing from behind at times. Expect better O-line play, some rough weeks from the defense as the youngsters catch up to NFL speed, and the eventual coronation of Jones as the quarterback of both the present and future.
Gaints 2019 schedule
Week 1: at Dallas Cowboys, Sept 8, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: vs. Buffalo Bills, Sept. 15, 1 p.m.
Week 3: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sept. 22, 4:05 p.m.
Week 4: vs. Washington Redskins, Sept. 29, 1 p.m.
Week 5: vs. Minnesota Vikings, Oct. 6, 1 p.m.
Week 6: at New England Patriots, Oct. 10, 8:20 p.m.**
Week 7: vs. Arizona Cardinals, Oct. 20, 1 p.m.
Week 8: at Detroit Lions, Oct. 27, 1 p.m.
Week 9: vs. Dallas Cowboys, Nov. 4, 8:15 p.m.*
Week 10: at New York Jets, Nov. 10, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Chicago Bears, Nov. 24, 1 p.m.
Week 13: vs. Green Bay Packers, Dec. 1, 1 p.m.
Week 14: at Philadelphia Eagles, Dec. 9, 8:15 p.m.*
Week 15: vs. Miami Dolphins, Dec. 15, 1 p.m.
Week 16: at Washington Redskins, Dec. 22, 1 p.m.
Week 17: vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Dec. 29, 1 p.m.