Will the Giants Tough Schedule Prevent a Rebound Season?
Safe to say, no one saw last year coming. Nothing presaged 3-13. Nobody predicted the no. 2-overall pick. Zero pundits said the defense would surrender almost a touchdown more per game.
The Giants were the chic Super Bowl 52 pick heading into 2017, and even the biggest pessimists in Big Blue Nation thought the defense would carry the team to respectability.
But 17 weeks of futility later, the Giants were dead-last in, not just the NFC East, but the entire conference.
The good news as heading into 2018 is that help is on the way.
Say what you will about using the no. 2-overall pick on a running back – a position where assets deteriorate faster than plastic Ikea screws – Saquon Barkley looks like the real deal. His fresh legs will help a rushing game that averaged just 96.8 YPG, especially with veteran Nate Solder coming in to play left tackle and 34th-overall pick Will Hernandez shoring up left guard.
Solder’s presence will also allow the Giants to shift Ereck Flowers to right tackle, which should give Eli Manning more confidence that he won’t get blindsided in the pocket.
Eli’s quick trigger (i.e. his unwillingness to stand in a constantly collapsing pocket) kept New York’s sack numbers artificially low last year (34). Upgrading at left tackle was a must if Manning is going to bounce back and take full advantage of a healthy Odell Beckham Jr.
On defense, it’s hard to see any of the additions being huge difference makers, outside of potentially ILB Alec Ogletree. But realistically, the team just needs guys like Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins, and B.J. Goodson to play like they did two years ago in order to be competitive.
Goodson, in particular, went from a rating of 70.3 on ProFootballFocus in 2016 (a respectable number) to 42.5 in 2017 (not a respectable number).
Now for the bad news: even with improvements across much of the roster, making big gains in the win column will be awfully difficult thanks to a gauntlet of a schedule.
Based on ESPN’s strength of schedule calculations, the G-Men face the eighth-toughest slate. By sportsbettingdime.com’s more realistic calculation– which uses opponents’ 2018 win projections instead of last year’s winning percentage – the Giants have the second-hardest schedule in the NFL.
It starts with arguably the toughest stretch, too, which is bad news for a team trying to integrate so many new pieces.
First out of the gate is the Jaguars and their first-ranked defense (per FootballOutsiders). Then it’s a trip to Big-D where Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ vaunted offensive line will be waiting, eager for a bounce-back year of their own.
That’s followed by a road game with the Texans, a team that looked nothing short of dynamic while rookie QB Deshaun Watson was healthy, and also features arguably the best pass rush in the NFL between JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus.
In Week 4, the Giants return home to host the Saints, who would have been in the NFC Championship Game if not for the Minnesota Miracle.
Week 5 is a visit to Carolina. Week 6 is the Super Bowl champion Eagles. Week 7, they’re in Atlanta. The Giants might not be favored in a game until they host Washington in Week 8.
Vegas has taken note of the trials and tribulations that await, setting the Giants’ win total at just 6.5 games. That’s higher than just four teams (Browns, 5.5; Cardinals, 5.5; Dolphins, 6.0; and Jets, 6.0) so Big Blue Nation should make sure its expectations are tempered accordingly.
But hey, last year didn’t go as expected. Maybe this one won’t either.