With minicamp over and training camp six weeks away week one of the NFL season will be here before we know it. A group of writers with the Last Word on Sports team will be previewing all 32 teams in the NFL by division. We will be highlighting some of the strengths and weaknesses of the team, as well as a final record prediction for the upcoming season. Now it is time for the NFC East, usually one of the most competitive divisions in football.
2018 NFL Breakdown: New York Giants 8-8
The Giants had an extremely active offseason bringing in a new coach and general manager signifying a new direction of the team. New GM Dave Gettleman and Coach Pat Shurmur had a wide range of options with the No. 2 pick in the draft and chose running back Saquon Barkley from Penn State, whom many considered to be the best player in the draft.
An extreme threat in both the running and passing game’s Barkley brings a new dimension to the Giants offense that they have not had since the days of Tiki Barber. In addition to Barkley, the Giants are still filled with a plethora of weapons including: Odell Beckham Jr, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram. When healthy Beckham is arguably the best receiver in the league. Shepard is an outstanding slot receiver. Engram is a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers and tight ends. Eli Manning will not not have as much pressure on him because he has an extremely talented running back alongside him, who can also act as a safety net out of the backfield when he faces pressure.
In addition to the plethora of weapons on offense, the Giants finally found an established middle linebacker Alec Ogletree who can confidently anchor the defense. After years of young inexperienced linebackers leading the defense, Ogletree brings another veteran presence to the huddle. The middle linebacker is essentially the quarterback of the defense, therefore experience is extremely beneficial and important. New defensive coordinator James Bettcher is bringing a lot of optimism to the Big Apple, his defenses in Arizona were always extremely versatile and fun to watch. He brings in a new scheme transitioning from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense, and will look to impart the same wisdom on the Giant defense that he did in Arizona.
Despite all of the outstanding weapons the Giants have, there are still significant questions about their offensive line. After years of poor play by Ereck Flowers management found a solid replacement left tackle Nate Solder from the Patriots, who protected Tom Brady’s blind side for seven years prior. Alongside Solder, they signed guard Patrick Omameh from Jacksonville in order to strengthen the offensive line. The two biggest questions on the offensive line are at the center and right tackle positions, which are currently held by Jon Halapio and Ereck Flowers. Putting it kindly, Flowers has been abysmal as the Giants starting left tackle and it’s still unknown whether he will improve at right tackle. The Giants signed Halapio to a reserves contract in the offseason, but he had an impressive minicamp. After the impressive minicamp he is now believed to be the starter over Brett Jones, but still has limited NFL experience. Not knowing how they will fare, there is a sense of concern. It does not matter how many weapons Manning has if he can’t get them the ball facing constant pressure.
Defensively their weakness lies within the secondary, more specifically cornerback depth. After cutting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason, the Giants three starting corners right now are William Gay, Janoris Jenkins, and Eli Apple. Jenkins is a solid corner, but the verdict is still out on Apple. He has shown some great defensive instincts, but also some childish behavior both on and off the field last season. Gay a 12-year-veteran has been acting as a veteran mentor to Apple, who will try and turn it around this season.
Teams Most Valuable Player: WR Odell Beckham Jr
Without Beckham the Giants offense is nowhere near as explosive or effective in putting points on the board. Opposing defensive coordinators must gameplan for Beckham, by sending double teams and stacking that side of the field. This leaves more opportunities for the other weapons on the offense. After all of the controversy in the offseason about whether the Giants would trade Beckham, he is ready to show out and dominate this season. Beckham is a gamer who loves being on the field with his teammates week after week. After having his season cut short in week 5 of last season against the Chargers, he is hungrier than ever to go out and perform. Despite not having agreed to a contract extension yet, he has still shown commitment to the team. He has shown up to minicamp, voluntary ota’s and said he will participate in training camp according to SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano. If healthy for all 16 games, expect Beckham to put up some outstanding numbers as he did in the previous three seasons prior to the injury.
Team Sleeper: RG Patrick Omameh
The Giants invested heavily into their offensive line this offseason, after losing their two best starters Justin Pugh to Arizona and Weston Richburg to San Francisco. Omameh the lesser known of the two signed, will need to play an integral role for the offense to have success this season. Playing on the same side as Ereck Flowers, which is considered the weaker side of the line Omameh will need to be at his best. If he plays at his best, the offensive line will be much improved ensuring that Barkley has holes to run through and Manning has time to hit open receivers. He finished out last season strong against the Steelers with a grade of 84.9 ,according to Pro Football Focus and will look to build on that success this season.
Reason for Prediction
The Giants are still one year away from being considered a playoff caliber team, and will finish just on the outside of the playoffs looking in at 8-8. Barkley and a healthy Beckham will make the Giants offense extremely difficult to stop and will allow them to tack on some more wins this season. However, the question marks about the offensive line play and cornerback depth are too much to look past. In addition, they have tough games weeks 1-4 Jacksonville, Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans. All four teams pose a significant challenge and they still have to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles twice. The 2018 season will be a significant improvement from 2017, however not enough to make the playoffs.