The Fourth of July is officially behind us and for football fans that means the countdown to training camp has officially begun. The New York Giants are coming off of one of their worst seasons in recent memory. Their 3-13 finish last season cost head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager their jobs, much to the relief of many Giants’ fans. New GM Dave Gettleman made some changes in the clubhouse and brought in reinforcements for Eli Manning in the hopes of making a playoff push this season. It isn’t often that a 3-13 team one year is talking playoffs the next but the Giants might have a legitimate shot at doing just that. Here are five reasons why the Giants will make the playoffs in 2018.
Offensive Line – Nate Solder was brought in to play left tackle on the richest contract ever for that position. It was a hefty price, but a necessary one. Ereck Flowers, the left tackle from last season, is getting a shot to win the job at right tackle but has some competition there. Patrick Omameh should take over at left guard, or right guard with rookie Will Hernandez taking the other spot. Brett Jones showed flashes last season at center, enough to allow Weston Richburg to walk in free agency. This unit, on paper, is the best the Giants have fielded in years, perhaps since their last Super Bowl win. Hernandez has a mean streak and the talent to back it up and could emerge as a Chris Snee-like leader on the interior while Solder provides a solid leadership example with a winning pedigree. This is a unit of lunch-pail workers. Even Flowers has shown something in offseason programs, enough to have fans hopeful that he might be better off at right tackle and with this being a contract year, might put in the work to better himself. If this unit comes together and gives Eli time to make his throws then the Giants could find themselves near the top when it comes to offense this season. Gettleman knows you win building inside out and there is a good foundation here to build on.
Passing Game Mismatches – The Giants have weapons in Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley that can create mismatches in the passing game. Beckham is one of the best receivers in the game and is looking fully healed after surgery that cost him most of last season. He is also entering a contract year and has something to prove. Shepard showed progress last year despite being the team’s only really viable option at receiver. He still managed to get open and can be dangerous across the middle. He has deceptive ability and runs his routes very well. If teams commit to shutting down Beckham then Shepard could exploit that and make them pay. Engram is one of the more promising young tight ends in the game. He has outstanding speed and if a team tries to play a linebacker or safety on him then they could very well find themselves in a world of hurt. He does need to improve on his pass catching skills, he had too many drops last season, but he also showed glimpses of what could be coming. With the Giants’ passing game in shambles last year Engram proved he can carry the passing game for stretches if needed. Teams won’t underestimate him this season but that might not matter, his physical tools are that good. Adding Barkley to the passing attack gives the Giants a threat at all three levels and each level is a threat to rip off huge gains. This layered passing attack is something the Giants haven’t had in years, maybe ever. Another thing the Giants will have going for them is a diversity of packages, something that was lacking under McAdoo who seemed to roll out the 3 WR,1 TE, 1 RB look every down. That alone could allow the Giants to catch some teams off guard.
New Defense – The Giants moved from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 base under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher. Bettcher helped lead the Arizona Cardinals’ defenses the last five years and built them into one of the better units in the NFL. Gettleman spent draft picks on B.J. Hill (Round 3) and R.J. McIntosh (Round 5) to add beef to the defensive line next to Damon Harrison who figures to get the majority of snaps at nose tackle. Lorenzo Carter was also added in the third round to give the Giants some speed off the edge and Carter could very well be one of the best pass rushers the Giants have this year. The secondary is a bit of a question mark with Eli Apple being asked to take a huge step forward into starting shoes this summer opposite Janoris Jenkins. Apple infamously had an attitude issue last year but the new staff gave him a clean slate and he seems to have reinvented himself this offseason. Landon Collins gives the Giants a very good safety who shouldn’t be exposed in coverage like he was last season and should be allowed to play more to his strengths. There is a lot to like with this unit but there are questions, such as how Olivier Vernon will fare rushing the passer from a stand-up stance, how the secondary will hold up throughout the season, and how the new linebacking corps will mesh with Alec Ogletree, Kareem Martin, Lorenzo Carter, and B.J. Goodson. The Giants haven’t had this many talented linebackers since Bill Belichick ran the defense. But all have questions surrounding them, questions which could be answered by the end of training camp.
An Actual Running Game – The Giants used to be a football team that prided itself on running the football. Then McAdoo took over the offense and it gradually disappeared and seemed to disappear altogether once he took over as head coach. Enter Gettleman who just used the second overall pick on running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley will be joined by veteran Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman, the 2017 fourth-round pick who rushed for 476 yards on 111 carries. The star is Barkley, however. Many draft experts had him as the top player in the whole draft and adding him to a team with Odell, Engram, and Shepard should give Eli Manning plenty of weapons who can break off long gains. Barkley also adds an element to the Giants’ passing attack that has really been missing, the screen pass. One might have to go back to the days of Tiki Barber to find a really explosive running back who can execute the screen and make something happen. Barkley is the real reason to be excited about this aspect of the Giants’ offense and it will add a dimension that has been lacking or ignored for years, literally since Ahmad Bradshaw left as a free agent.
Leadership – Sure, I could have taken the easy way out and put Eli Manning here. We know what Manning is at this point. He is a capable quarterback who will make mistakes. He should be improved with a new offensive line and a running game. However, the most underrated aspect of football is leadership. The Giants have a new coach in Pat Shurmur who has charmed the media, earned the respect of his players already, and seems to have a much more business-like approach to the game. The last few seasons under McAdoo saw teammates fighting with each other, players rebelling against the coaching staff and an image in the media of cluelessness and apathy. It was a bad look for a franchise that has a long history of pride and respectability. Shurmur being at the helm with Bettcher and offensive coordinator Mike Shula give the Giants a leadership core that players, fans, and the media can respect. That alone should get this season off on the right foot. Last season and the nightmares it created are gone. The Giants have the talent to contend for the playoffs, even with the reigning Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles residing in their division. It all starts at the top and right now the Giants seem capable and competent in that department.