This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.
New York Giants
“We really have to picture this guy putting on a gold jacket,” said Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, when talking about what the team was looking for with the number two overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. That guy turned out to be Penn State superstar running back, and my favorite college football player of all time, Saquon Barkley. The thought of drafting the heir apparent to aging quarterback Eli Manning was enticing for the franchise, but with no sure things, the front office loves the idea having Barkley paired up with All-Pro WR Odell Beckham Jr. This dynamic duo, along with TE Evan Ingram and WR Sterling Shepard, gives Manning an arsenal more talented than he has ever had in his fourteen-year NFL career. The offensive line also sees major improvement from a unit that was among the worst in the league the past two seasons. The Giants were able to sign former New England Patriots LT Nate Solder to a four-year deal, while adding LG Will Hernandez in the second round of the 2018 draft. That does not excuse the fact the Ereck Flowers is still on a football field, moving from left tackle to right tackle, but hey, you can’t win them all I guess. The other major flaw in this offense is the guy running it for the fiftieth consecutive year.
Eli Manning has regressed as a passer ever since the Giants Super Bowl victory in 2012, but it has been particularly noticeable the past two seasons. Part of this could have been the lack of protection from the offensive line, but the fact of the matter is Manning is turning 38 this year, and we all saw how quickly Peyton dropped off the face of the earth in his final season in Denver. One injury could put Eli’s career to a screeching holt, leaving the Giants with unproven Davis Webb. Regardless of the loaded skilled position players, that would not go well. If Manning can be average, and first year head coach Pat Shurmur can implement his offensive scheme that exceeded expectations in Minnesota, this offense should put up big numbers.
The defense is top heavy, led by former Pro Bowlers DE Olivier Vernon, DT Damon Harrison, CB Janoris Jenkins, and SS Landon Collins. All these players have ceilings to be top five league wide at their respective positions, but after that, there is nothing but question marks. CB Eli Apple was a top pick coming out of Ohio State, and was essentially written off late last season, but miraculously returns to the Giants for his third season and will be looking to prove himself to earn himself a paycheck in the coming years. DT Dalvin Tomlinson had a strong rookie year beside Snacks Harrison and looks to fight for a spot at the Pro Bowl this season. Veteran linebacker Alec Ogletree comes over from the Los Angeles Rams to bolster up the Giants linebacking core that does not have much talent, even with Ogletree. The potential for this defense to return to their 2016 success is there, but it will require strong leadership to get the most out of the players that took a step back in 2017.
By all accounts, former head coach Bob McAdoo was a cancer to this locker room last season, and with a new front office and coaching staff led by Shurmur, that might be exactly what this organization needs. There is no questioning the star power sprinkled throughout the Giants roster, and with proper guidance, this team can compete for a playoff spot this season. Unfortunately for the team, the NFC might be the best in NFL history this season, and that does not bode well for a franchise trying to regain their confidence. I think the Giants get above .500 solely based on talent, and a significant coaching upgrade, but fall short of the playoffs.
Favorite Potential Storyline: Saquon Barkley highlight reels + Odell Beckham Jr catches = lots of fun for NFL fans
Prediction: 9-7 (3rd in NFC East)
America’s team is welcoming back their star running back Ezekiel Elliott for the entire 2018 season after serving a six-game suspension in 2017 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Elliott was the X-factor in Dak Prescott’s rookie season in Dallas. Elliott’s presence, along with a top offensive line allowed for Prescott to find open receivers across the field, making the transition from an average college program, Mississippi State, to the most recognized sports franchise in America, Dallas Cowboys, a smooth one. Year two presented obstacles for Prescott that revolved around the absence of Elliott, and the decline of both WR Dez Bryant, and now Monday Night Football analyst TE Jason Witten. Elliott returns to the fold, but Prescott will face a new challenge this year: he has no one to throw the ball. The additions of WR Allen Hurns and WR Tavon Austin provide some depth, but neither of these players are number one option material. Defenses are going to stack the box against the Cowboys, and force Prescott to beat them in the air. The offensive line is one of the best positional group in the NFL, pending on if they survive the injury bug going around, and will continue to give Prescott the support he needs to produce in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s offense.
The 2016-2017 season could have ended much differently if it was not for the below average defense the Cowboys put on the field each week. The offense had to control the clock for 60 minute every week to get the W, and luckily for Dallas, that was easy to do with a wrecking crew of an offensive line, and young, hungry running back. Unfortunately, that formula was not effective in the postseason against Aaron Rodgers, and Stephen Jones realized he needed to turn his attention to the defensive side of the ball. Since then, the Cowboys have been able to add talent at all three levels on the defense. DE DeMarcus Lawrence has emerged as one of the best edge defenders in the game, and DT David Irving, when he is not suspended, showed he can be a great compliment to Lawrence. The Cowboys also have two lottery tickets on the defensive line with DE’s Taco Charlton and Randy Gregory. If either one of these players can step up, and provide a consistent pass rush, the Dallas defensive line is going to be a problem. Ole reliable Sean Lee is back for year nine, and this time around, he has two promising young linebackers along side of him in Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch. The Cowboys took a chance on Smith two seasons ago after suffering a major knee injury in his last college football game that some thought could end his career. The former top five draft prospect showed why he was highly regarded coming out of college in a small sample size last season and continues to build on that success. The secondary is deep. The group is headlined by three second year players in CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and FS Xavier Woods. SS Jeff Heath is the only member of the secondary group to have 4 or more years of NFL experience, indicating the unit should continue to improve as the season goes on. The Cowboys defense does not have that one guy that drives media coverage, but the unit does not have major holes, and should hold its own in a conference full of tenacious offenses.
The Cowboys are a high floor, low ceiling team for me. The team is strong on the offensive and defensive lines, which almost eliminates the potential for a disastrous season. I know everyone is saying this, but this is going to be a telling year for Dak. If Dak comes out, and returns to rookie form without having many playmakers, the Cowboys will be a playoff team, and look to spend whatever money they must add a few more pieces to contend in 2019. If he continues to trend down, and head coach Jason Garrett is shown the door, that could cause speculation of Dak’s future in Dallas, no matter if it is reasonable or not. I have the Cowboys having an average season, and other than maybe a coaching change, I do not see anything crazy happening at the end of the season.
Favorite Potential Storyline: Dez Bryant cannot find a team, Jerry Jones feels bad for one of his favorite players, brings him back, leading to Dez and Sean Lee having a fight to the death to establish the alpha male in the locker room.
Prediction: 9-7 (2nd in NFC East)