2013 Record: 7-9
Record in Games Decided by Seven Points or Fewer: 3-3 (.500)
2013 Strength of Schedule: 0.521 (seventh-toughest)
Estimated 2014 Strength of Schedule: 14th-easiest
Turnover Margin: minus-15 (second-worst)
2014 Out-of-Division Schedule: AFC South, NFC West, vs. Falcons, at Lions
By Brian Wilson
It is easy to beat up on the New York Giants, or as they are still called in certain watering holes in Manhattan, the New York Football Giants.
The Giants outperformed their point differential by nearly a game and a half, which suggests they were even worse than their 7-9 record suggests. They weren’t lucky in close games, but the Giants didn’t blow anybody out and were on the receiving end of a few whuppings. The Giants lost four games by 20 points or more, including a 38-0 shellacking by Carolina, and didn’t win a single game by more than 16 points.
That 16-point win came against Josh Freeman in his now-infamous start for the Vikings, and it wasn’t the only time the Giants took advantage of a backup quarterback to win. The Giants feasted on tripe and gizzards last year, beating some of the worst quarterbacks in football. Five of New York’s seven wins came against Freeman, Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor, Scott Tolzien, and Kirk Cousins. None of those five may even be on an NFL roster this time next year. A win’s a win, but in projecting future performance, all wins aren’t necessarily created equal.
And the Giants defense isn’t quite as good as the advanced metrics say. They were 18th in points allowed, but DVOA rates New York as the sixth-best defense, even after adjusting for quality of opposition. The problem is that those adjustments happen on a team level and not a quarterback level, so the team adjustment for the Packers includes the games when Aaron Rodgers was at quarterback and the Eagles adjustment includes the games when Nick Foles was starting, and on and on. On the other hand, as Chase Stuart noted in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, the Giants defense is unfairly charged with nine touchdowns that occurred while it was on the sideline. Eli Manning and the Giants offense allowed six returns for touchdowns and a safety for 38 points, a figure topped only by the Bears last year. Big Blue also allowed three touchdowns on punt returns, where their coverage was the second-worst in football. The good news is that the return touchdowns are unlikely to be as bad again; since 1999, teams that have allowed between 30 and 45 points on defensive touchdowns in a given season have allowed an average of just 17.8 points the following year.
A lot of the players who suited up for that defense are gone, too. Longtime contributors like Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph, Terrell Thomas, and Corey Webster are no longer on the roster. Some of those moves are addition by subtraction, but the Giants will miss safety Will Hill, who played well above expectations before being suspended for his latest drug-test failure and then released. The new arrivals all have question marks. Some of them are really simple questions: Why sign Robert Ayers at all? Others are more complex. Will Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie live up to his massive contract after playing well on a one-year prove-it deal last season in Denver? Can Walter Thurmond play well outside the Pete Carroll cocoon in Seattle? Is Stevie Brown the guy who picked off eight passes in 2012 or a liability after coming back from a torn ACL? And, again, Robert Ayers? You guys watched the Super Bowl, right?
The good news for the Giants, at least on paper, is they really can’t be injured as much as they were one year ago. New York led the league in Adjusted Games Lost, posting the highest figure Football Outsiders has ever seen.4 Forty-six players started at least one game on offense or defense for the Giants last year, including six halfbacks, nine offensive linemen, and nine defensive backs. The Giants will surely be healthier in 2014 than they were in 2013, if only because it’s impossible to stay that injured from year to year, even if your general manager has a track record of drafting players who get hurt.
Unfortunately, the Giants are already struggling to stay healthy. Chris Snee and David Wilson retired with injury issues during camp. Geoff Schwartz, one of the critical additions to improve a porous offensive line, dislocated his toe. Odell Beckham, the team’s first-round pick, has a hamstring injury that isn’t going away. Mario Manningham has been placed on IR with a calf injury. The Giants aren’t exactly a deep team to begin with, given that they’ll start the regular season with just two players (Will Beatty and Jason Pierre-Paul) from their 2008-10 drafts on the active roster.
I think most people tie this team’s fortunes to Eli Manning, but I don’t. I wrote about why I think Manning will take a step forward this season and why the preseason doesn’t affect that, but I’m not as confident about the rest of the roster. Manning might be able to emulate what Philip Rivers did last season, but I doubt that the other parts of this team will be able to swing their way into the playoffs like the Chargers did a year ago.
Best-Case Scenario: I’m right about Manning and wrong about the rest of the team, and the Giants go 10-6.
Worst-Case Scenario: I’m wrong about Manning and right about the rest of the team, and the Giants go small number–big number.