The collapse of the New York Giants down the stretch was perhaps the most surprising element of the NFL regular season in 2012. The Giants looked to be coasting home in the NFC East, before they fell apart, watched the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys play for the division title, and the Giants ended up out of the postseason altogether. Was it a temporary swoon or a sign of things to come?
Eli Manning simply has to improve his efficiency in the passing game. The quarterback completed less than 60 percent of his throws, and while New York ranks 11th in yards-per-pass, that’s not high enough to compensate for subpar percentages.
Manning’s protection is arguably the best in the league—no team allowed fewer sacks—so there’s no excuse for him not to play at a high level. Especially when he was a top receiver in Victor Cruz and a quality #2 in Hakeem Nicks to play catch with.
The Giants are at their best when they run the football well, and their rush game was effective last year. The problem is, they didn’t use it nearly enough, ranking in the NFL’s bottom third in rush attempts. There are some injuries on the offensive line that are going to slow them up in the early going, but the season-long goal for head coach Tom Coughlin should be to make the Giant offense again built on power running.
New York’s defense mastered the art of bending, but not breaking last season. They rank poorly in almost every category, but were above the league average in the one that matters—points allowed. The question is whether that state of affairs can continue, or whether the two disparate parts will eventually meet in the middle.
The answer to that question is going to rest, in large part, on the performance of Jason Pierre-Paul at defensive end. The 24-year-old seemed to be starting a career as one of the game’s best rushers, a true dominant force on the perimeter of a 4-3 scheme. But he slipped to 6 ½ sacks last season. The New York defensive front is still respectable all the way across, including fellow end Justin Tuck. But if they want to be Super Bowl-caliber again, they need someone who can dominate and Pierre-Paul has to be that person.
Las Vegas seems to incline toward the view that the Giants’ late-season slippage was an aberration. Their Over/Under win prop is 9. While that’s not amazingly high, it does require a double-digit win campaign just to cash the Over, and it is narrowly higher than anyone else in the NFC East.
I’d bet 9-7 as the likeliest finish for New York. But the self-imposed rules of TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis require me to take a position on the win prop. I view 8-8 more likely than 10-6, but at the same time my respect for Coughlin makes me see a really good year as more likely than a really bad one. I’m going to put my chits on the Over.