The New York Giants entered the 2016 season off four straight years of missing the playoffs. That led to Coach Tom Coughlin being pushed out and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo promoted to the top job.
I expected the Giants to be a playoff contender last year because I thought the offense would be leaps and bounds better. Not so much because of McAdoo but the talent around Eli Manning, including rookie receiver Sterling Shepard, the No. 40 overall pick out of Oklahoma, and the return to health of Victor Cruz. He had been one of the league's best receivers in 2011-12 before injuries hit. Cruz didn't play at all in 2015. Add those two to the incomparable Odell Beckham Jr., and I thought Manning would play like an MVP candidate.
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Well, the Giants were a wild-card team at 11-6 but it wasn't much because of Manning and the offense but a vastly upgraded defense. New York ranked just 25th in total offense and 26th in scoring (19.4 ppg). Manning regressed and the running game was non-existent. Beckham Jr. was still awesome. Meanwhile, thanks to some free-agent additions, the defense might have been the most improved in the NFL. Big Blue was No. 10 in total defense (32nd in 2015) and No. 2 in scoring (17.8 ppg).
Big Blue impressively beat Dallas twice last year but had only one other victory over a playoff team (Detroit). In reality, this was probably closer to a nine-win team - those two "extra" victories were over the sad-sack Rams and Browns. Manning & Co. were no match for the Packers at Lambeau Field in the wild-card game, getting blown out 38-13.
The Giants were 4-4 on the road last year, 4-3-1 against the spread and 1-7 "over/under." New York travels to just two playoff clubs in 2017: Dallas and Oakland. The home slate looks more challenging. It's a pretty balanced schedule overall with two sets of back-to-back games at home and two back-to-back on the road. Plenty of travel, though, heading to California twice, Denver, Arizona and Florida. I project a 3-5 record. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 10 at Cowboys (-5, 50.5): First Sunday night game of the year. It's the third straight season the Giants open on the road against the Cowboys and fifth time in six years the division rivals will meet in Week 1. New York won 20-19 last year on a Manning-to-Cruz 3-yard TD pass (and the extra point) with 6:10 to go. New York beat Dallas in an opener for the first time in nine tries. Key trend: Giants 4-6 ATS in past 10 as road dog of at least 3.5 points in series.
Sept. 24 at Eagles (-1): Short week for New York off its Monday night home opener in Week 2 vs. Detroit. New York lost 24-19 in Philly in Week 16 last year on a Thursday. Manning threw for 356 yards, but it took him a whopping 63 attempts and he had three picks. Beckham caught 11 balls for 150 yards. The Giants had 470 total yards but kept settling for field goals. Key trend: Giants are 0-3 SU & ATS in past three as road dog in series.
Oct. 1 at Bucs (-2.5): The heat and humidity of Florida could still be a factor here, although the 4:05 ET start helps. The Giants won in Tampa 32-18 in November 2015 thanks in part to forcing three turnovers. They are on a five-game winning streak in the series. Key trend: Giants 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 at NFC South teams.
Oct. 15 at Broncos (-3): Sunday night, with the G-Men hosting the Chargers the previous week. New York's road schedule is a bit misleading because while it features only two playoff teams, clubs like the Broncos and Bucs had winning records last year but didn't make the postseason. The Giants have dropped the past two in this series. Key trend: Giants 4-6-1 ATS in past 10 at AFC West.
Nov. 12 at 49ers (+4.5): New York should be off a Week 9 home win over the Rams and likely takes this one too to start a potential three- or four-game winning streak. Clubs met in New Jersey in Week 5 of 2015 and the Giants won 30-27 behind 441 yards and three TDs passing from Manning. Key trend: Giants 6-4 ATS in their past 10 as road favorite of at least 4 points.
Nov. 23 at Redskins (-1): Thursday night, with the Giants hosting Kansas City the previous Sunday. I know many people who lost various pools last season in Week 17 when the Giants had nothing to play for at the Redskins, who had to win for a playoff berth. New York pulled the stunning 19-10 upset, clinching with a late interception of Kirk Cousins. Key trend: Giants 4-0 SU & ATS in past four as road dog in series.
Dec. 3 at Raiders (-3): This will be the Giants' final-ever game in Oakland. Of course, the Raiders' star QB is Derek Carr, the younger brother of David Carr, a former backup to Manning with New York. The Giants (four) and Raiders (three) are one of nine organizations with at least three Super Bowl titles. Key trend: Giants 5-5 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of at least 3 points in December.
Dec. 24 at Cardinals (-2): The Giants come off back-to-back home games vs. Dallas and Philly and close vs. Washington. This would thus appear to be a potential trap game. New York won its last trip to Arizona in 2011 but lost the most recent meeting at home, 25-14 in 2014. Key trend: Giants 6-4 ATS in past 10 at Cardinals.
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