DJ Williams could be released by Broncos

Last week, DJ Williams lost the appeal of his 6 game suspension for providing a “non-human specimen” in a drug test. Since then, there has been speculation that Williams could be released. Williams has a history of off the field issues and is owed 11 million dollars over the final 2 years of his contract in 2012-2013. Being suspended for 6 games is not helping his case.

The Broncos could give Wesley Woodyard, a talented young linebacker, an every down role. They also have 2011 3rd round pick Nate Livings, to go with middle linebacker Joe Mays and outside linebacker Von Miller. On top of that, 6th round rookie Danny Trevathan is impressing in camp. They would be fine without Williams, who is not the player he used to be. He was ProFootballFocus’ 35th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker last year, including playoffs.

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Gerhart could open season as Vikings’ starter even if Adrian Peterson is healthy

Adrian Peterson is doing extremely well in his recovery from a torn ACL suffered in December and while he may begin Training Camp on the PUP, he is now expected to be ready to go for week 1. However, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, it is “a given” that the Vikings will limit Peterson’s early season workload and goes as far as to say that backup Toby Gerhart will carry the load early on.

Gerhart is certainly a capable back. He was a 2nd round pick in 2010 and he rushed for 431 yards and 1 touchdown on 85 carries in 5 starts last season. The Vikings would be smart to ease Peterson back into action, especially since they’re probably not going anywhere this year regardless. They still owe Peterson a lot of money over the next few years and, when healthy, he’s one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game. The last thing this troubled franchise needs is something to happen to him to effect him into 2013 and beyond. Stay away from Peterson in the first 2 rounds of fantasy drafts and if you do draft him at any point, make sure to handcuff him to Gerhart. Gerhart, meanwhile, is the definition of a mid round upside pick at his current ADP in the 9th round.

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Bills, Jairus Byrd talking extension

Jairus Byrd is arguably the Bills’ 2nd best defensive player (after 100 million dollar man Mario Williams) and he was ProFootballFocus’ 3rd rated safety last year, ahead of notables like Ed Reed and franchise players Michael Griffin, Dashon Goldson, and Tyvon Branch. Only Troy Polamalu and Adrian Wilson rated higher than him. However, the 2009 2nd round pick is unsigned after the 2012 season. The Bills are working on changing that.

According to BuffaloBills.com, GM Buddy Nix is hopeful of signing Byrd to a long term contract and the two sides are currently in talks. You’d have to figure that the contracts of Eric Weddle (5 years, 40 million, 19 million guaranteed), Michael Huff (4 years, 32 million, 16 million guaranteed), and Michael Griffin (5 years, 35 million, 15 million guaranteed), as well as whatever Dashon Goldson and Tyvon Branch get, will be the starting points for negotiations.

That means Byrd can reasonably expect something like 7-8 million per year over 4-5 years with 15-19 million guaranteed. If Byrd remains unsigned going into the season, the Bills will likely franchise him after next season, though that might be dependent on them resigning Andy Levitre and Kraig Urbik first. The Bills are also reportedly in talks with those two, who are also heading into contract years. For reference, the franchise tag value for this season was 6.2 million, but that number could be significantly higher in 2013 with all of these new contracts being factored in.

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Sean Lissemore will have a larger role for Cowboys in 2012

The Cowboys use a lot of rotation on their defense, with 4 players all playing more than 243 snaps at 3-4 defensive end. Those 4 players were Jason Hatcher, Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, and Sean Lissemore. Lissemore only played 243 snaps, but he played the best of the four last year according to ProFootballFocus, as he had a 13.4 rating. In fact, he might be one of the league’s best kept secrets, an very underrated and underutilized player.

According to the Dallas Morning News, it “seems certain” that Lissemore, a 2010 7th round pick out of William & Mary, will have an expanded role in 2012. Lissemore isn’t that great of a pass rusher, but he graded out 3rd at his position against the run, behind only Ray McDonald and Glenn Dorsey, on the strength of 18 solo tackles, 8 assists and 16 stops on just 119 run defense snaps, while missing only 2 tackles. He also played all over the line, both end spots and another 40 snaps at nose tackle.

We’ll see if the added playing time will help or hurt him, but he’s definitely a potential breakout star. With Lissemore having an expanded role and the Cowboys using a 3rd round pick on Tyrone Crawford, another 3-4 defensive end, it is really starting to look like the rumors that Kenyon Coleman will be cut will become validated. Coleman is a marginal player, especially at 33 years of age, and owed 1.9 million this year. He seems like the odd man out.

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Vikings expect Percy Harvin to attend Training Camp

It’s become well known that Percy Harvin is upset with several situations in Minnesota, including his contract status and his playing time. However, the Vikings say they fully expect him to attend Training Camp. Even though he originally demanded to be traded, it sounds like Harvin has backed off and that he will return for Training Camp. The Vikings will certainly not be trading him as he’s their only good receiver and they may play him in more than just the rotational role he was in last year (621 snaps, 2nd on the team at his position behind Devin Aromashodu).

Harvin has real fantasy value early in drafts. He was the #8 scoring fantasy football receiver last year and in his last 11 games, he had 69 catches for 784 yards and 6 touchdowns, good for 100 catches for 1140 yards and 9 touchdowns over 9 games. He could even exceed those numbers if he plays more and with Christian Ponder playing his 1st full season as a starter. On top of that, he rushed for 345 yards and 2 touchdowns on 52 carries. He could easily be a top-5 fantasy football wide receiver this year. He’s currently the 19th receiver off the board based on average draft position because people don’t pay attention to his rushing ability.

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49ers’ Aldon Smith stabbed during party

49ers fans got some troubling news about their 2011 leader in sacks today when they found out that Aldon Smith, who had 14 sacks last year, was stabbed during a house party in nearby Santa Clara last night. This was originally reported by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee and confirmed by several other sources. Meanwhile, the 49ers have confirmed that Smith was injured, but will not confirm that he was stabbed. Smith was said to have escaped with only “minor injuries.”

Smith is an incredibly talented pass rusher. As only a part time player in 2011, Smith had 17 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and 43 quarterback pressures on 441 pass rush snaps, including playoffs, good for a 17.5% rate. He’ll have a full time role in 2012 and the 7th pick of the 2011 NFL Draft has an incredibly bright future, but he’ll need to start making better decisions off the field and not putting himself in so many dangerous situations. Earlier this offseason, he was arrested for DUI and now this incident, as the result of his off the field lifestyle. He needs to focus more.

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New York Giants 2012 NFL Season Preview

Offense

Last year, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl. However, can you argue that they were the worst regular season team to ever win the Super Bowl. They were the first team to win the Super Bowl despite single digit wins (9) and they even had a negative points differential (-6), one of only 2 playoff teams last season to have one (Denver). They barely made the playoffs and had to win their final 2 games to do so.

At 7-7 heading into week 16, it said far more likely that Tom Coughlin would be fired than that he would win his 2nd Super Bowl. In fact, had Miles Austin not dropped a wide open touchdown in the Giants/Cowboys week 14 clash, the Giants wouldn’t have even made the playoffs. You can say the same thing about a borderline “gave himself up” call in the Giants’ game against the Cardinals earlier in the season that led to a Victor Cruz touchdown.

Of course, in the playoffs, everything changed. Eli turned into ELIte, throwing to a great group of receivers, their running game finally got going after ranking dead last in the regular season, and they got just enough guys back from injury defensively that their amazing pass rush was able to shine. Some think they have turned a corner and are now the elite team that they weren’t during the regular season, as the Packers did after winning the Super Bowl the season before.

I disagree. I think this was just a team that got hot at the right time, as they did the last time they won the Super Bowl. They didn’t turn the corner and become an elite team last time. Sure, they went 12-4 in the 2008 season, the season after winning the Super Bowl, but their Super Bowl was followed by 4 straight seasons without a playoff win. It wasn’t like the Packers setting the world on fire and going 15-1 last year. They’ve proven countless times that they are not an elite team, just an above average team that can get hot at the right time. I think they’ll more closely resemble the above average team they were last year in the regular season, and in the regular seasons previous, than the elite team that won the Super Bowl last postseason.

In a loaded NFC and a loaded NFC East, that could be trouble. No defending Super Bowl champion has won a playoff game since the Patriots won back to back Super Bowls in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. I don’t think the Giants are going to be the ones to break that streak. In fact, considering they barely made the playoffs last year, and that they’re in an improved division overall (Eagles ended last year really well, Cowboys upgraded their secondary, Redskins got RGIII), they might not make the playoffs at all this season. Every year, 5 teams that made the playoffs the year before miss the playoffs the following season. The Giants could easily be one of the 5 out this season.

Quarterback

Eli Manning had an amazing season last year. He threw for 4933 yards in the regular season and played extremely well in the playoffs, carrying the team in a way he had never done before. He definitely proved himself to be an elite quarterback. However, after the Giants won the Super Bowl, I still argued I’d rather have Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees because of their consistent excellence.

Eli was on their level last year, but before last year, his career high in yards was 4021. Before last year, he might not even have been a top-10 quarterback. I need to see him do it once more before I’ll put him in that top, top tier with the 3 guys just mentioned (for the record, brother Peyton is in that tier too if fully healthy). Still, the Giants are in very, very good hands with Eli. He’s at worst the 4th best quarterback in the league and you can do a lot, lot worse than that.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

The Giants have always been a good running team, so it was a real surprise when they ranked dead last in yards (1427) and YPC (3.5) last season. That’s why Eli carried this team in ways he had never before. He didn’t really have a great running game to lean on. In the postseason, they got things together, a big part of why they were able to win it all.

The Giants return starter Ahmad Bradshaw, but they lost Brandon Jacobs and while his replacement David Wilson, their 1st round pick, is much more talented than the aged Jacobs, he isn’t the short yardage bruiser that Jacobs was. They could miss that. To replace Jacobs as a short yardage back, the Giants have had DJ Ware bulk up from around 225 pounds to 240 this offseason. He’ll see very limited work in specialized situations.

Bradshaw and Wilson, meanwhile, are very, very similar football players. In fact, in my scouting report of Wilson, I actually gave him a Bradshaw comparison, this of course being before the Giants took him. For that reason, I actually didn’t like the Wilson selection because you typically want complimentary players in a running back tandem. Still, Wilson is a talented back who will help their running game get back on track.

After rushing for 1235 yards on 278 carries in 2010 (4.5 YPC), Bradshaw rushed for 659 yards on 171 carries (3.9 YPC) last season thanks, in large part, to injuries, which caused him to miss 4 games and be limited in several others. Bradshaw has hardly been the picture of good health in the past in his career, aside from the 2010 season, so Wilson will come in handy as they attempt to get back to being a good running football team.

Grade: B

Wide receivers

Eli Manning was definitely helped out by a great receiving corps last season, led by the trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham. In the Super Bowl, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick told his defense to make Manningham be the one to have to beat them. That backfired as he did with an amazing catch against the sideline on what would eventually be the game winning touchdown drive late in the 4th quarter.

Manningham is gone, after signing in San Francisco, but Manningham actually only had 39 catches for 523 yards and 4 touchdowns as their 3rd receiver last year so it’s not like he’s irreplaceable. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were the key guys as they had 76/1192/7 and 82/1536/9 respectively and both are back this season.

Nicks is the more sure thing between the two as he was a highly ranked prospect coming out of college and has two years of great production as opposed to just one for Victor Cruz, who came out of literally nowhere to finish 3rd in the league in receiving and pace the team in catches, yards, and receiving touchdowns last year. Nicks was the better receiver of the two in the playoffs, with 28 catches for 444 yards and 4 touchdowns, as opposed to 21 catches for 269 yards and 1 touchdown for Cruz. Barring any further setbacks with his foot injury (he should be good for week 1), I expect Nicks to lead the team in receiving this year, though don’t count out the Giants having two 1000 yard receivers once again.

The 3rd receiver this year is expected to be Rueben Randle as he fills in for Manningham. Like Manningham, Randle will play outside opposite Nicks in 3-wide receiver sets, with Cruz playing in the slot where he’s most dangerous. Randle will compete with veterans Domenik Hikon and Ramses Barden, as well as 2011 3rd round pick Jerrel Jernigan, but the Giants used a 2nd round pick on Randle in this past 2012 NFL Draft and considering he was seen as a steal there and one of the draft’s most NFL ready receivers, he should win that job.

Tight end, however, could be a problem for the Giants this year. Their Super Bowl victory was not without losses as they lost both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to torn ACLs. Those were their top 2 tight ends at an already thin position. Ballard was not expected to be able to play at all this season, so they cut him. He was then claimed on waivers by none other than the New England Patriots, which pissed off Head Coach Tom Coughlin. Beckum, meanwhile, might be able to play at some point this year but he’s pretty unproven with 26 career catches.

With those two out, the Giants signed Martellus Bennett and used a 4th round pick on Adrien Robinson. When they signed Bennett, I thought there was some real upside with him. Bennett was underutilized as a receiver in Dallas behind Jason Witten, but was talented enough as a receiver to go in the 2nd round in 2008 and he’s one of the league’s best blocking tight ends. On top of that, Manning has always gotten the most out of mediocre receivers like Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard at tight end before. However, Bennett showed up to camp at 291 pounds and while he insists that’s all muscle, that won’t help him separate from defenders. Robinson, meanwhile, is an athletic freak and a strong blocker, but he caught just 12 passes in his senior season at Cincinnati last year so the 2012 4th round pick is a major project who won’t contribute much this season.

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Offensive line

The offensive line was absolutely miserable for the Giants last year. I’m amazed they managed to win the Super Bowl in spite of it because they didn’t really get much better in the playoffs. Eli Manning was only sacked 28 times, but that’s because he, like his brother, gets the football out very quickly (he was sacked 11 times in 4 playoff games on top of that though). They were ProFootballFocus’ worst rated pass blocking offensive line and 4th worst rated run blocking offensive line. In the playoffs and regular season combined, they allowed 250 quarterback pressures. On 840 pass plays, that’s one every 3.4 pass attempts.

Their worst offensive lineman was David Diehl. Diehl played 10 games at left guard and 6 games at left tackle and managed to rank among the worst at the position at both. As a tackle, he ranked 64th out of 76 with a -22.0 (in 6 games), allowing 4 sacks, 6 quarterback pressures, and 20 quarterback pressures, while committing 2 penalties. In 10 games at guard, he ranked 76th out of 77 with a -26.1, allowing 5 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, 28 quarterback pressures, while committing 3 penalties. Including playoffs, in 20 games, he allowed 13 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 61 quarterback pressures, and committed 6 penalties. His -58.1 overall rating was the worst among any player at any position.

Diehl has been moved to right tackle this season. He’ll compete with James Brewer, their 2011 4th round pick, for the right to start there and he might move back to left guard and start there if he can’t win the right tackle job. Diehl and Brewer are competing for Kareem McKenzie’s old job. McKenzie was almost as bad as Diehl, allowing 9 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 58 quarterback pressures, and committing 4 penalties in 20 games at right tackle. He, not surprisingly, remains unsigned on the open market as of this writing and may have to retire at 33 years of age.

Things were better aside from Diehl and McKenzie, but still not great. Chris Snee was their right guard once again, allowing 6 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, and 27 quarterback pressures, good for a -18.7 rating in 20 games. He’ll start there once again. Opposite him, Kevin Boothe is penciled in as the starting left guard with Diehl at right tackle, though he could lose his job to Diehl if Diehl can’t win the right tackle job. Boothe played all over the line last season, including center, and had a -19.0 rating overall with 3 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, 21 quarterback pressures, and 2 penalties, though he was a putrid run blocker. The Giants would still be better off with Boothe as their starting left guard and Diehl serving Boothe’s old role as a versatile 6th offensive lineman.

When healthy, David Baas played center last year. A natural guard, Baas looked out of position at center last year, as he too graded out well below average with a -11.3 rating. He allowed 3 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, and 14 quarterback pressures. Some expected them to take a natural center like Peter Konz in the 1st round and move Baas to guard, but they didn’t do that. In fact, they didn’t put much emphasis on the offensive line at all in the draft, which was surprising considering how poorly they played last season. They used a 4th round pick on the versatile Brandon Mosley and a 6th round pick on the raw, but athletic Matt McCants, but neither will have much of an impact this season. At best, they’re going to be their 7th and 8th offensive linemen.

The only offensive lineman who wasn’t absolutely miserable for the Giants upfront last season was William Beatty, who was actually pretty average with a -1.2 rating. The left tackle allowed 4 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 24 quarterback pressures in limited action, but he had trouble staying healthy. That’s been an issue for him throughout his career. A full season of him on the left side will really help, but if he can’t stay healthy, they’ll probably use Diehl there, which would be a nightmare again. Giants fans can hope Beatty stays healthy all year and that Brewer plays well in his 1st year as a starter and that some other veterans bounce back or maybe even that a rookie steps up, but overall things are really bleak in front of Eli Manning. The offensive line could also stifle their talented running backs once again.

Grade: C

Defense

The Giants had major issues at linebacker and with injuries in their secondary, but their pass rush was so good that no one really noticed, especially not in the postseason when their defense was just as big a part of why they won it all than Eli Manning and the offense. Heading into 2012, the Giants have a healthier secondary and added some talent at linebacker behind their amazing defensive line.

Defensive line

The Giants get after the quarterback like no one quite can. Postseason included, they had 59 sacks, 64 quarterback hits, and 211 quarterback pressures. They frequently went with 4 defensive ends on the defensive line with Jason Pierre Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Dave Tollefson, with their #4 defensive end Tollefson actually playing 575 snaps on the season (including postseason). Meanwhile, linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka blitzed more than almost any 4-3 linebacker in the league, doing so 328 times, as opposed to 251 times where he dropped into coverage.

Tollefson is gone, but he actually played horribly. He graded out with a -20.5 overall and managed just 5 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, and 13 quarterback pressures on 355 pass rush snaps (5.6%). Converted linebacker Adrian Tracy (a defensive end in college) may take his old role or the Giants could use Kiwanuka, who has been a defensive end before in the NFL, on the defensive line more often in 2012.

Jason Pierre Paul was their leader with a 39.1 rating, producing 17 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and 39 quarterback pressures on 736 pass rush snaps (9.8%). He also played the run better than every defensive end except 3 and graded out 6th overall. No other defensive end had ratings of 15+ as both a pass rusher and a run stuffer and he also batted down 10 passes, something that bothered Tom Brady a lot in the Super Bowl. He’s incredibly well rounded.

Justin Tuck wasn’t quite as good as JPP, but he spent most of the 1st half of the season injured and really caught fire late in the year in the playoffs. Tuck was ProFootballFocus’ 9th ranked defensive end in 2010 so if he’s healthy this year, the Giants’ pass rush will be near impossible to stop even in base packages with JPP and Tuck lined up outside opposite each other.

Umenyiora and Tollefson would line up on the defensive line along with those two in sub packages. I already mentioned Tollefson’s struggles, but he’s gone. Umenyiora, meanwhile, is back after getting a pay raise this offseason. Umenyiora has been complaining about not being a starter and about his contract for years, but an extra 2-3 million dollars seems to have shut him up, definitely a good thing because of how talented he is. He’s terrible against the run (which is why he’s no longer a starter), but he had 13 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and 29 quarterback pressures on 382 pass rush snaps, which gave him a 12.8% rate that actually led the team.

At defensive tackle, the Giants also have two talented defensive lineman who can get to the quarterback. They don’t play much in sub packages, but Chris Canty and Linval Joseph graded out with a 9.8 and a 8.1 respectively and while they were above average both against the run and as pass rushers, they were both better as pass rushers. Canty had 4 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, and 22 quarterback pressures, while Joseph had 2 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, and 23 quarterback pressures.

Rocky Bernard was their top reserve last year and he was just resigned. He’ll compete with 2011 2nd round pick Marvin Austin, who missed last year with injury, and free agent acquisition Shaun Rogers for positioning on the depth chart and he might not even make the roster. He was solid last year though, but there’s definitely more upside with Austin. However, anyway you look at it, this is an incredible defensive line that might be even better this year with a healthy Tuck and the addition of Austin. In my opinion, this is the top defensive line in the league.

Grade: A

Linebackers

Things aren’t nearly as good in the back 7, but good defenses are built in the trenches. I’ve already mentioned Mathias Kiwanuka. He’s their most talented linebacker. Not only is he a good blitzer, but he also was the 5th rated 4-3 outside linebacker against the run. He’s terrible in coverage as a former defensive lineman, but they don’t ask him to do that much. Overall, he had a 10.3 rating last year, but, as I’ve mentioned, he may play more defensive lineman this year.

The Giants traded for Keith Rivers to provide depth both inside and outside. He didn’t play at all for the Bengals last year with a wrist injury, but he was a solid starter before last year and he can help in coverage. He’ll also compete for the starting middle linebacker job with Chase Blackburn. Backups Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich will also be in that competition. Jones was a 6th round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, while Herzlich was undrafted, but the team is high on both of them.

Blackburn is currently the favorite for the starting middle linebacker job. He played well down the stretch last year and even had a game changing interception of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, but there’s a reason why he was available in November. He’s a career journeyman and a mediocre talent who could easily struggle if counted on to start this year. Luckily, they have other options should that happen, but not anyone that great. Rounding out the linebacking group is Michael Boley, an average starter who graded out as such on ProFootballFocus with a -0.4. Like Kiwanuka, he is terrible in coverage.

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Cornerbacks

The Giants had tons of injuries in the secondary last year as it seemed like they had a different defensive back go on IR every week. The two most prominent injuries were to Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara. Thomas was supposed to be a starter, but missed the entire season with a torn ACL. The 27 year old is talented and the Giants don’t seem too worried about his long term future as they guaranteed him 11 million this offseason as a free agent, but he was missed last year. Amukamara, meanwhile, struggled with injuries all year after being selected 19th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Thomas, barring any setbacks injury wise, will start opposite Corey Webster. Aaron Ross, who started in place of Thomas, is gone, but he wasn’t that good and Thomas, when healthy, is much better. In 2010, Thomas had a -1.4 rating and a 12.8 rating in 2009. Webster, meanwhile, was above average with a 4.9 rating last year. Neither of those two are #1 shutdown cornerbacks and the Giants ranked just 13th against the pass in 2010 with 6.8 YPA with Webster and Thomas as the starters, but it’s better than the 22nd (7.5 YPA) they ranked in 2011 without Thomas. With the awesome play of their defensive line, they should be average to above average against the pass in 2011.

Behind those two starters, Prince Amukmara should be the 3rd cornerback in his 2nd year in the league. He’ll hopefully have better health. The Giants also added Jayron Hosley in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft and he could be their 4th cornerback. At safety, Kenny Phillips is one of the most underrated players in the league while Antrel Rolle is one of the most overrated.

Phillips was their best rated defensive back with a 9.6. Meanwhile, Rolle had a -21.5 rating on the season, including a -19.8 at safety, worst at his position. That was largely because of his struggles in coverage as he allowed 73 catches on 99 attempts (73.7%) for 841 yards (8.5 YPA), 4 touchdowns, 2 interception, 1 deflection, and 4 penalties.

He’s a versatile player who can play both safety spots and lined up on the slot at times last year when they really needed cornerback depth, but he’s incredibly poor in coverage and has been for years. With improved depth at cornerback, he can focus more on being just a safety. Because of this, their #3 safety won’t see quite as much action as the 1125 snaps that Deon Grant saw last year, but they do like to use 3 safeties often so their new #3 safety, 2011 6th round pick Tyler Sash, will see the field quite often.

All in all, they should do reasonably well against the pass this year. Thanks in large part to their front 4’s play, they should rank at least in the middle of the pack against the pass. They ranked 23rd against the run with 4.5 YPC allowed, thanks in large part to poor linebacker play, but I expect them to be improved slightly in that aspect this year given all of their talent on the defensive line. Overall, their scoring defense was 25th with 25.0 points per game allowed. They should be a little better than that this year, but not nearly the 14.0 points per game they allowed in the postseason. This is still far from a top-10 defense.

Head Coach

It’s funny how things work out. Tom Coughlin might have been fired had the Giants missed the playoffs last year, but now with 2 Super Bowl rings, he might have job security for life. He’s 66 in August, the oldest Head Coach in the league, but he says he wants to coach into his early 70s and he’s certainly one of the league’s better ones. I wouldn’t have disagreed with him being fired had they missed the playoffs last year because he would have only won a playoff game in 1 of his 8 seasons and because of how poorly his teams do in the 2nd half of seasons (47-17 in the 1st half, 27-37 in the 2nd half). However, now you have to respect the two rings. One might be a fluke, but you can’t say two is.

Grade: A-

Overall

People might think they turned the corner as a team after how they played in the postseason last year, but Eli Manning is 31. He’s not some unproven, untapped potential like Aaron Rodgers was. If you look at his career, the two Super Bowl runs are the flukes. Since the start of the 2005 season, he’s averaged 9.7 wins per season and only has won playoff games in 2 of 7 seasons. This year, I think we’ll see the Giants resemble the above average team they normally are and not the elite team they were late last season. They have too many holes.

Unfortunately, they play in a stacked division. Philadelphia is incredibly talented and finally put it all together in the final 4 weeks of last season. They look poised to win the division. Washington added Robert Griffin to what was already an at least decent supporting cast and could be a real sleeper team this year as every year one team who previously had 5 or fewer wins makes the playoffs. Even Dallas, as much as they are perennial disappointments, upgraded their biggest weakness, their secondary, in a big way with arguably the free agent market’s top cornerback and the draft’s top cornerback in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne respectively.

They won 9 games last year, which could have easily been 7 or 8. They had a negative points differential. They play in a tough conference, a stacked division, have a tough schedule and the entire league gunning for them as defending Super Bowl Champions. My prediction is that the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants will MISS THE PLAYOFFS this year.

Take a look at the schedule. In a tough division, they’ll be lucky to get 4-2 and will probably end up with 3-3 or 2-4. I mean they were barely 3-3 last year. Outside of the division, they host Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and New Orleans. Tampa Bay and Cleveland should be fairly easy, but Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and New Orleans will all be very tough. They should get about 3-2 out of those 5 games, which leaves them at 6-5 or so through the 11 games mentioned so far. Their remaining 5 games send them to Carolina, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Baltimore. Carolina and Cincinnati are easier, but San Francisco and Baltimore are both tough places to win and Atlanta rarely loses at home. They could definitely go 8-8 or 9-7.

Their schedule is actually set up for them to have one of their patented late season collapses as the easier games are in the 1st half of the schedule. They started out at home for Dallas and Tampa Bay, go to Carolina and Philadelphia, then return for Cleveland, go to San Francisco, then host Washington, and go to Dallas. The 2nd half, meanwhile, features Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and New Orleans, as well as trips to Atlanta and Baltimore, and another game against Philadelphia. The only really tough games in the 1st half of their schedule are a trip to Philadelphia and a trip to San Francisco. This could be another 6-2/2-6 or so 1st half/2nd half split for them.

Projection: 8-8 2nd in NFC East

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