New York Giants 2021 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

With the 6th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Giants surprised many by selecting Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. The selection of a quarterback was not surprising, with long-time signal caller Eli Manning clearly in the twilight of his career, but the selection of Jones so early, after many projected him as a mid to late first round pick who the Giants even could have gotten with their other first round pick at #17 overall, drew a lot of criticism, with many preferring Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, who fell to division rival Washington at 15.

Haskins’ poor work ethic and issues with the coaching staff led to him not even lasting two full seasons in Washington, so by default the Giants ended up with the better of the two quarterback prospects in a draft that has yet to produce another consistent starter aside from #1 overall pick Kyler Murray, but there have still understandably been questions about Jones’ long-term viability as an NFL starting quarterback.

Jones’ career got off to an underwhelming start, as he finished his rookie year completing 61.9% of his passes for an average of 6.59 YPA, 24 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, ranking 26th among 39 eligible quarterbacks on PFF, and only providing above replacement level ability as a runner, taking 45 carries for 6.20 YPC and 2 touchdowns. In his second season, his numbers might have actually been a little worse, as he completed 62.5% of his passes for an average of 6.57 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, while rushing for 6.51 YPC and 1 touchdown on 65 carries. However, those numbers don’t come close to telling the whole story of Jones’ 2020 season.

A critical moment for Jones last season was in the second half of the Giants’ week 12 game against the Bengals, when Jones suffered a hamstring injury. Prior to that injury, Jones had completed 63.2% of his passes for an average of 6.47 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions, while 7.33 YPC and 1 touchdown on 55 carries. These are still pretty unimpressive numbers, but they need to be understood with two important pieces of context. 

For one, Jones’ receivers dropped 9.5% of his passes over that stretch, with only Carson Wentz having a higher drop rate among quarterbacks who played as much as Jones. That still left Jones with an adjusted completion percentage that ranked just 21st out of 40 eligible quarterbacks, but being middle of the pack isn’t that bad, especially when you factor in how tough the Giants’ early season schedule of defenses was. 

Prior to that game against the Bengals in which Jones got hurt, in nine of the Giants’ first ten games of the season, they played a defense that finished in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (9th), the 49ers (6th), the Bears (7th), and the Buccaneers (5th). The Giants schedule was so tough over that stretch that, even though they ranked just 27th in first down rate, when schedule adjustments were taken into account, they ranked 15th and actually outperformed expectations against their schedule. Jones’ production was underwhelming, but when you take into the schedule, how often he was pressured (3rd most in the NFL), and how tough of a schedule he faced, Jones wasn’t that bad, all things considered.

That seemed to give the Giants hope for the final 6 games of their season, a stretch in which their schedule got significantly easier starting with that game against the Bengals, but then Jones got hurt, which derailed his season and ended any chances the Giants had of getting back into playoff contention. Jones still played in another 3 games after that, but really struggled despite the easy schedule and, in the games Jones missed, backup Colt McCoy showed very little, even if he did give them just enough against a weak Seahawks defense that the Giants could pull the upset with an uncharacteristically huge defensive effort.

After the season, the severity of just how bad Jones’ hamstring injury was came out, with it being described as an injury most quarterbacks wouldn’t have even been able to play through, so I’m pretty comfortable just throwing out all the tape from those last few starts and just giving him credit for toughness. Based on how Jones played the rest of last season, there is actually quite a bit to be excited about with him. Most prominently is the progress he made as a deep ball thrower last season, an aspect in which he was actually one of the best in the league, prior to his injury. 

Up until he went down against the Bengals, Jones actually led the league in completion percentage (59.3%), yards per attempt (19.81), quarterback rating (143.1), and big time throw percentage (50.0%) on passes 20+ yards downfield, among quarterbacks who went deep as often as he did. He also ranked 10th in the league in big time throw percentage on any type of pass attempt over that stretch. That’s all despite the grueling slate of defenses that Jones squared off with over that period of time. His statistical production might not look like much, but when you take into account who he was playing, how many passes his receivers dropped, how often he was pressured, and how well he threw the ball downfield, it’s a lot more understandable that Jones would have ranked 12th among quarterbacks on PFF prior to his injury. 

We’re still working with a relatively small sample size of about ten and a half games for a quarterback who didn’t show nearly as much promise as a rookie, but it’s an encouraging sign for a Giants team that spent much of their resources this off-season on getting Jones a more reliable receiving corps to throw to, in an effort to reduce the amount of his passes that are dropped and to try to open up the playbook more for a quarterback who, despite good deep throwing ability, ranked below average in air yards per attempt last season.

The Giants also nominally tried to upgrade the backup quarterback spot in case Jones gets hurt again, signing veteran journeyman Mike Glennon, who has a 83.5 QB rating across stints with five different teams in eight seasons in the league (27 starts) and is now heading into his age 32 season. Obviously, the key to the Giants’ success in 2021 will be Jones staying healthy and continuing to develop with more talent around him.

Grade: B

Receiving Corps

The biggest addition the Giants made this off-season was signing wide receiver Kenny Golladay to a 4-year, 72 million dollar deal. Most teams didn’t have significant financial flexibility this off-season, leaving most free agents to settle for the best one-year deal they could find with a hope of trying again in free agency next off-season, but the Giants and Golladay were the exception, in part because of the financial flexibility provided by having their quarterback signed to a cheap rookie deal. Golladay was also one of the best free agents available this off-season, so him getting paid at the top of the market was not surprising, even after he was surprisingly not franchise tagged by the directionless Lions. 

Perhaps the Lions were scared off by an injury that limited him to 225 snaps in 5 games last season, but he doesn’t otherwise have a significant injury history, he’s still very much in his prime in his age 28 season, and he didn’t show any signs of slowing down last season before the injury, actually averaging a career high 2.47 yards per route run (7th among eligible wide receivers) in the limited action he saw last season. That comes after he finished with a 70/1063/5 slash line (1.87 yards per route run) and a 65/1190/11 slash line (2.03 yards per route run) in 2018 and 2019 respectively, seasons in which he also ranked 20th and 16th respectively among wide receivers on PFF. Assuming he’s healthy, he’s a legitimate #1 receiver and a big upgrade for this team.

After signing Golladay, it seemed like the Giants would mostly be finished adding at the wide receiver position. Golladay was set to replace Golden Tate, who averaged a mediocre 1.28 yards per route run last season, giving them a top-3 that included Sterling Shepard, who is just 1 year and 16 million into a 4-year, 41 million dollar extension, and Darius Slayton, an impressive 2019 5th round pick who has two years remaining on his rookie deal. However, the Giants decided to add even further, trading down with the Bears from 11th to 20th, picking up a future first round pick in the process, and selecting Florida’s Kadarius Toney with the 20th overall pick.

I’ll get into what the Giants could have done in the first round instead later and Toney doesn’t seem to have a clear path to significant playing time in year one or year two barring injuries or Shepard being released prematurely next off-season, but the Giants at least get credit for getting an extra first round pick out of the exchange, which makes the Giants’ decision with this year’s first round pick a little less impactful. Toney could still develop into a talented wide receiver long-term and he’ll provide valuable depth as a rookie, but I wouldn’t expect him to have the opportunity to put up significant production in year one.

Even with Golladay and Toney coming in, Shepard and Slayton figure to continue having significant roles, after leading this group with slash lines of 66/656/3 and 50/751/3 respectively in 2020. For Shepard, it’s been back-to-back years where injuries have prevented him from a bigger receiving total. When the Giants traded Odell Beckham to the Browns two off-seasons ago, Shepard became their de facto new #1 receiver and, after averaging a 84/1085/3 slash line per 16 games in 2017 and 2018 combined without Beckham, it looked like Shepard had a good chance to break out in his absence. 

Instead, he’s averaged a 89/896/4 slash line per 16 games, but has missed 10 of 32 games with injury and has been more of a 1a or a 1b receiver than a true #1 when on the field. Now with Golladay added to the mix, Shepard will be back to being no better than the #2 receiver in this offense and I would expect his per game production to go down. Even if he doesn’t put up huge numbers, he should still be a better than average #2 option though and, while his injury history is concerning (at least 4 games missed in 3 of 5 seasons in the league), the Giants have the depth to be prepared for him missing time if it happens again.

For Slayton, last year’s level of production is largely in line with what he did as a rookie, when he had a 48/740/8 slash line, but it’s possible the former 5th round pick doesn’t have much remaining untapped upside and, even though he’s only going into his age 24 season, doesn’t have significantly better days ahead of him. He should still be a capable receiver in 2021 after back-to-back slightly above average grades from PFF in the first two seasons of his career, but his chances of getting a long-term deal with this team at some point went way down this off-season.

Tight end was where the Giants had the biggest problem with drops last season, led by starter Evan Engram, who dropped 8 passes on the season, including an egregious one on fourth down against the Eagles that would have clinched a win for the Giants that ultimately would have won them the division. Engram’s career per 16-game average slash line is above average at 69/774/4 and the 2017 first round pick does have impressive athleticism for his size at 6-3 240 that allows him to get separation regularly, but he has a career drop rate of 10.4%, he averages just 6.80 yards per target, getting most of his production from volume, and he hardly makes any contested catches, with a career 31.2% contested catch rate, including a 19.1% rate (4 for 21) that was worst in the league among tight ends last season. 

Engram gets open often, but when he doesn’t, he has a hard time fighting off defenders for the ball and even when wide open sometimes he drops the ball completely. He also has shown little as a run blocker and has had some injury problems as well, missing at least five games in half of his seasons. Engram is still relatively young, but, going into his age 27 season, he’s running out of time to become a drastically different player than the one he has been throughout his career. 

Depth was also a concern at tight end last season, with no other tight end topping 112 receiving yards or showing anything remarkable as a blocker, so the Giants went out and also made an addition at the tight end position this off-season, signing ex-Viking Kyle Rudolph a 2-year, 12 million dollar deal to not only provide depth at the position, but possibly to provide competition for Engram as the top tight end as well. 

Rudolph should add to the position by default and could see a significant role, but he was probably an overpay in an off-season where most players had to settle for taking a significant discount on a one-year deal. A long-time starter for the Vikings since they selected him in the 2nd round in 2011, Rudolph is now going into his age 32 season and has seen his playing time decreased in each of the past two seasons, culminating in a 2020 campaign in which he played just 573 snaps and was shortly after released ahead of an 8 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. 

Rudolph’s 1.20 yards per route run average over those two seasons isn’t far off from his 1.24 yards per route run average for his season, but it’s not very impressive either, especially for a part-time player, and he’s seen his run blocking fall off somewhat as well. He could still be a useful #2 tight end for another couple seasons, but the Giants are paying him to be more than that. He’s an upgrade by default though for a receiving corps that overall has a lot more talent than a year ago.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

The Giants didn’t make any big additions at the running back position this off-season, but they didn’t need to add anyone to be a lot better at the position this season, with feature back Saquon Barkley set to return from a season ending torn ACL that limited him to just 25 touches in two games last season. Barkley has averaged 4.72 YPC on 497 carries since the Giants selected him 2nd overall in 2018, including 3.25 yards per carry after contact, but he won’t just help this team on the ground, as he’s also a dynamic player in the passing game, averaging a 77/629/3 slash line per 16 games in his career. 

In Barkley’s absence last season, the running back position was simply not a big part of this passing game, as other Giants running backs combined for just 74 targets, on which they averaged just 4.57 yards per target, about a yard and a half down from Barkley’s career average. Barkley is only going into his age 24 season and there is no reason not to expect him to return at least mostly to form and be one of the best running backs in the league. That, of course, assumes he can stay on the field, which is becoming a growing concern as a major injury has now affected two of his three seasons in the league and he plays a position notorious for players getting hurt. 

You might not be able to tell from his overall stats in 2019, but Barkley was limited by an ankle injury for a big chunk of that season, impressively returning having missed only three games with what was expected to be a 6-8 week injury, but not returning to form for much of the season. The biggest difference from 2018 and 2019 for Barkley statistically was his relative lack of big plays, as he had 54.0% of his yardage on 20 carries of 15+ yards in 2018, but just 33.0% of his yardage on 9 carries of 15+ yards in 2019.

Big plays tend to be much more inconsistent on a year-to-year basis than consistently stats like success rate and in fact Barkley was significantly below average in that metric in each of his first two seasons in the league, ranking 40th among 47 eligible running backs with a 41% carry success rate in 2018 and 38th among 45 eligible at 44% in 2019, but Barkley is also arguably the most explosive running back in the league, so it makes sense that he would continue having a significant amount of big plays going forward and his more limited big play total in 2019 was probably largely the result of his ankle injury limiting his burst. On top of that, even with that ankle injury and limited big play total, Barkley still averaged 4.62 YPC on an otherwise underwhelming Giants offense in 2019. As long as he can avoid further injuries, the Giants will obviously benefit from his presence on the field in a big way this season.

Backup running back Wayne Gallman led the way in Barkley’s absence last season, followed by a trio of mediocre veterans in Dion Lewis, Devonta Freeman, and Alfred Morris. This season, the Giants have essentially cleaned house at the position behind Barkley and will have off-season additions Devontae Booker and Corey Clement competing for a true backup job behind a running back who almost never comes off the field when healthy, averaging 53.2 snaps and 20.8 touches per game in his career.

Booker probably has the upperhand for the backup job after signing a 2-year, 5.5 million dollar deal and, while the 2016 4th round pick struggled in the only extended action of his career as a rookie, rushing for 3.52 YPC on 174 carries, he’s somewhat redeemed himself with a 4.39 YPC average since that season, albeit on a max of 93 carries in a season. He’s also an experienced passing down back, although his 5.79 yards per target average leaves something to be desired. Clement, meanwhile, is even less experienced, with 200 career touches in 46 games since the Eagles signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2017. The Giants are obviously hoping they don’t have to use either for more than a few touches per game.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

If there is a reason this offense, which has plenty of skill position talent, doesn’t perform at a high level in 2021, it will likely be the fault of the offensive line. This group already had problems a year ago, ranking 23rd as a team in run blocking grade from PFF and dead last in pass protection grade. Daniel Jones was pressured at the 3rd highest rate of any quarterback in the league at 40.3% and was significantly better when not pressured, with a QB rating over 37 points higher than when pressured and the 10th best clean pocket big time throw percentage at 5.7%. Part of that is because the Giants faced such a tough schedule for the first 10 games of the season and then had an injured and largely immobile Jones under center for most of the rest of the season, but there is no denying this offensive line needs to be better this season.

Despite that, the Giants did very little to upgrade this group this off-season, actually releasing right guard Kevin Zeitler, who was aging and overpaid, but also arguably their best offensive lineman a year ago. I mentioned earlier that, while the Kadarius Toney pick was not a bad pick when you take into account that they acquired a first round pick for trading down to select him, the Giants didn’t need another big investment wide receiver and might have been better off just staying put at 11 and selecting Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, who could have been a big upgrade at any of the interior offensive line spots for the Giants in 2021, with the ability to kick out to tackle as well if needed. Even if the Giants didn’t like Slater enough to do that, it was still strange to see the offensive line go unaddressed on draft day.

Instead, the Giants will be hoping to get more out of some young players already on the roster and will welcome back veteran left tackle Nate Solder from a 2020 opt-out. In Solder’s absence last season, 2020 #4 overall pick Andrew Thomas, originally selected to play right tackle, was forced over to the blindside as a rookie, where he had an up and down year. He still has a massive upside though and could be a lot better in his second season in the league, now on the right side.

Solder, meanwhile, is likely on the downswing, now heading into his age 33 season, having not played for a full year. He earned an average grade from PFF as a 16-game starter in 2019, but that was a career worst for a player with 127 starts in 9 seasons and 6 finishes in the top-25 among offensive tackles on PFF in his career. Still, the Giants would take a middling season from Solder compared to Cameron Fleming, a journeyman swing tackle who started 16 games last season, and Solder’s presence allows Thomas to move back to the right side as well. It’s always possible he completely sees his abilities fall off a cliff this season, but unless that happens, it’s likely his return will be a benefit for this group. The Giants also used a 3rd round pick in 2020 on offensive tackle Matt Peart, but he only played 150 snaps as a rookie, despite Solder’s absence, and he is unlikely to be more than the swing tackle in 2021, barring injuries.

At guard, signing veteran Zach Fulton was the closest thing they did to replacing Zeitler and he’s not guaranteed a starting job. Fulton has started 90 games over the past 7 seasons, but hasn’t been much more than a middling starter and now is going into his age 30 season. He probably wouldn’t be more than a replacement level player if he winds up with a starting role, although the alternatives could be a lot worse, as his primary competition for a role will likely be 2020 5th round pick Shane Lemieux, who showed some promise as a run blocker, but was horrific in pass protection as a rookie and ultimately finished as PFF’s lowest ranked guard across 504 snaps. It’s very possible he’s better in his second season in the league, but he’d have to be a lot better to even be a capable starter.

When Lemieux played last season, it mostly came at the expense of another young guard, 2018 2nd round pick Will Hernandez, which should tell you something about how Hernandez’s year went. As a rookie, it seemed like Hernandez would live up to being selected 34th overall, as he made 16 starts and finished 23rd among guards on PFF, but he fell to 53rd out of 82 eligible in 16 starts in 2019 and things got worse in his third season in 2020, as he was benched for most of the second half of the season and finished 59th among 86 eligible guards across 525 snaps. Injuries have been part of the problem and Hernandez is still young enough to turn it around in his age 26 season, but his rookie year remains the outlier. He’ll likely begin the year as a starter in 2021, but if he doesn’t turn it around, he might again not end it as one.

Young center Nick Gates was also underwhelming last season, finishing 29th among 38 eligible centers on PFF as a 16-game starter. He showed some promise in limited action prior to last season, but he was new to the center position and couldn’t translate that promise to a season long starting role. It’s possible he could be better in his second season as a starter but the 2018 undrafted free agent has a very limited track record, with just 291 snaps played in his career prior to last season. This isn’t a terrible offensive line, but it’s the obvious weakness of what should otherwise be a talented offense.

Grade: C+

Interior Defenders

The Giants’ offense was above average in schedule adjusted first down rate last season before Daniel Jones got hurt (15th at +0.74%) and they’ll essentially add (or re-add) both Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay to that mix for Jones’ third season in the league, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if they are at least capable on that side of the ball in 2021, with the upside to be more. However, the Giants will still need to get more out of their defense as well, after finishing last season 23rd in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.98%.

One thing that could hurt the Giants in that attempt is the loss of Dalvin Tomlinson to the Minnesota Vikings. Tomlinson had been an above average starter for the Giants throughout his four year career, including a 2020 season in which he ranked 25th among interior defenders on 658 snaps, but the Giants are actually in pretty good position to deal with his loss because the interior defender position is by far where they had their most depth last season.

Fellow pending free agent Leonard Williams was kept on a 3-year, 63 million dollar deal and will continue in his usual role after ranking 18th among interior defenders on PFF across 803 snaps last season. Williams played at a high level against the run and added 11.5 sacks, 19 hits, and a 12.3% pressure rate as well. That sack total is out of line with what we’ve seen from Williams in the past, as he’s totaled just 17.5 sacks in his other 5 seasons in the league, but that doesn’t mean the 2015 6th overall pick is a one-year wonder, as he’s consistently posted impressive peripheral pass rush stats throughout his career and has consistently played at a high level against the run. 

In total, Williams has totaled 29 sacks, 106 hits, and a 10.4% pressure rate in 95 career games and he has earned an above average overall grade from PFF in all 6 seasons of his career, including top-23 finishes among interior defenders in three of six seasons. He might not quite have the same sack total in 2021 as he did in 2020, but he should continue playing at a high level, still in the prime of his career in his age 27 season, having only missed one game ever due to injury, despite playing an average of 52.5 snaps per game.

The Giants also have another talented former first round pick interior defender in Dexter Lawrence, who they selected 17th overall in 2019 NFL Draft, with the pick they many expected the Giants were saving for a quarterback before their surprise selection of Daniel Jones at 6. The jury is still out on the Jones pick, but Lawrence has been as advertised, if not better. The 6-4 342 pounder is predictably a dominant run defender and a natural fit as a nose tackle in this 3-4 defense in base packages, but he’s also an above average pass rusher, adding 6.5 sacks, 12 hits, and a 7.8% pressure rate for his career. 

Overall, Lawrence has finished 21st and 19th respectively among interior defenders on PFF in 2019 and 2020 respectively and, a former first round pick who is not even 24 years old yet, he could get even better going forward and develop into one of the top overall interior defenders in the league. An every down player, Lawrence played 655 snaps last season, after 701 snaps as a rookie, and could see even more playing time in 2021 with Tomlinson gone.

The biggest beneficiaries from Tomlinson’s departure in terms of playing time will be BJ Hill and Austin Johnson, who played just 375 snaps and 231 snaps respectively last season, but fared well in the limited action. Hill has the higher upside of the two, as he has averaged 501 snaps per season since being selected by the Giants in the 3rd round in 2018 and has earned an above average grade from PFF in all three seasons. At 6-3 315, he’s a better run stuffer than pass rusher, but the Giants will mostly just need him to be a run stuffing third base package lineman and he hasn’t been a bad pass rusher either, with 7.5 sacks, 6 hits, and a 7.5% pressure rate in a part-time role throughout his career. 

Still only going into his age 26 season, Hill could have a mini breakout year in a bigger role in place of the departed Tomlinson. Austin Johnson, meanwhile, has never played more than 399 snaps in a season since being selected in the 2nd round in 2016, due to his complete lack of pass rush (3.3% career pressure rate), but the 6-4 315 pounder is not a bad situational run stuffer. He’s likely to play behind Hill, but he’ll probably also see an uptick in playing time from Tomlinson’s departure. 

Additionally, the Giants also signed veteran journeyman Danny Shelton in free agency, another big, run defense oriented player. The 6-2 335 pound Shelton is coming off of a down year, finishing 114th among 139 interior defenders on PFF across 498 snaps, and he’s never been much of a pass rusher, with a career 5.1% pressure rate, but, prior to last season, he had earned an above average run stopping grade from PFF in his first five seasons in the league. Still only in his age 28 season, he should be able to bounce back in a rotational role for this defense. Even with Dalvin Tomlinson gone, the Giants are in good shape at this position with a talented duo of every down players, a promising third base package player, and capable depth.

Grade: A-

Edge Defenders

While the Giants were deep and talented on the interior last season, almost the opposite was true on the edges. The Giants cycled through six different edge defenders who all played at least 100 snaps on the season and they didn’t get much production out of any of them, with no one topping 4 sacks on the season. Two of those players were Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, who had potential, but hardly played due to injury, limited to 234 snaps in 5 games and 110 snaps in 4 games respectively. 

Carter and Ximines will return in 2021, as will 2020 7th round pick Carter Coughlin, who struggled on 193 rookie year snaps and may not ultimately make this final roster. Those three holdovers will compete for roles in a wide open, largely overhauled position group that added a pair of players through the draft, 2nd round pick Azeez Ojulari and 4th round pick Elerson Smith, and a pair of veterans in free agency, Ryan Anderson and Ifeadi Odenigbo. 

Ojulari probably has the most upside of the bunch and was a great pick at 50th overall, as he easily could have been a late first round selection, but both of their rookies are raw and obviously unproven. Carter is probably the most proven of the position group, but that says more about the rest of this group than it does about Carter, who has just 9.5 sacks, 22 hits, and a 9.3% pressure rate in 35 career games since being selected in the 3rd round by the Giants in 2018. Carter is a solid run defender, can cover as well on occasions, and has earned slightly above average overall grades from PFF in his career, while averaging 40.1 snaps per game, but his chances of being significantly better in his 4th season in the league in 2021 would seem to be reduced by him coming off of a torn achilles.

Ximines isn’t coming off quite as severe of an injury and is also a former 3rd round pick, selected in 2019, but he was mediocre over 502 snaps as a rookie before last year’s lost year due to injury, so, while he does have some upside, it’s hard to depend on anything from him. Free agent additions Ryan Anderson and Ifeadi Odenigbo haven’t shown much in their careers either. Anderson was a second round pick in 2017 by Washington, but he has only had a significant snap count in one of his four seasons in the league, finishing 95th among 121 eligible edge defenders on 551 snaps in 2019 and spending the rest of his career buried on the depth chart. 

Odenigbo, meanwhile, was a 7th round pick in 2017, who played just 7 snaps in his first two seasons, but flashed potential across 368 snaps in 2019, before earning a middling grade in a larger role across 696 snaps in 2020. I wouldn’t expect him to be significantly better in 2021, but he could be a useful part of a rotation. This group has a lot of questions, but they might be able to put together decent play on the edges if they manage their rotation right and young players bounce back from injury and/or take a step forward.

Grade: C+

Linebackers

In the linebacking corps, the Giants got a big boost last off-season with free agent signing Blake Martinez, who signed a 3-year, 30.75 million dollar contract and paid immediate dividends by finishing 7th among off ball linebackers on PFF as an every down 16-game starter. Martinez also has a 18th ranked finish among off ball linebackers in 2018 with the Packers, but he’s still a one-year wonder in terms of playing at the level he did last season and he’s been pretty inconsistent in his career overall, earning middling grades in his other three of five seasons since being selected in the 4th round in 2016. He could remain an above average every down player and his durability is an asset as well, having played all 64 games while playing 64.3 snaps per game over the past four seasons, but he probably won’t be quite as good as he was last season again.

At the other linebacker spot, the Giants didn’t have nearly as good of an option and instead relied on a trio of Tae Crowder, Devante Downs, and David Mayo, who all saw action at different points of the season, playing 403 snaps, 233 snaps, and 194 snaps respectively. All three struggled mightily though and I wouldn’t expect much to be different in 2021. The one change in this group is Mayo is gone, with another veteran journeyman Reggie Ragland coming in to take his place. Ragland can’t cover at all, but he might be a better run stuffer than any of the three who saw action next to Martinez last season and he’s shown a little bit of potential as an edge rusher and blitzer as well. 

Ragland will probably only be a base package player and has never exceeded 582 snaps in a season in 4 seasons in the league, but he’s not a bad fit in that role. Ragland especially looks like a good option compared to Crowder and Downs, a 2018 undrafted free agent and a 2020 7th round pick who finished 93rd and 81st respectively among 99 eligible off ball linebackers respectively last season in the first significant action of either of their careers. Even in a thin position group, neither is guaranteed a role. This group will once again go as Blake Martinez goes and I would bet against him repeating last year’s career best year.

Grade: B-

Secondary

The Giants had some players who saw significant playing time in the secondary last season who struggled, most notably safety Julian Love, who finished 75th among 99 eligible safeties across 722 snaps, and cornerbacks Isaac Yiadom and Darnay Holmes, who both saw action at cornerback, but ranked 82nd and 116th respectively among 136 eligible cornerbacks across 634 snaps and 442 snaps respectively. However, this should be a more talented group in 2021 and it’s very possible those aforementioned players won’t see more than a reserve role.

At safety, the Giants are expecting more from 2020 2nd round pick Xavier McKinney, who suffered a serious injury before the season started and only returned to play 211 snaps as a rotational player in the final six games of the season. Even with last year’s injury plagued season, McKinney still projects as a starter long-term and he flashed plenty of potential in that limited action. He’s a projection to a larger role, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him be a solid every down starter with upside in his second season in the league.

Jabrill Peppers remains as the other starter. He wasn’t a problem for the Giants last season, earning a middling grade from PFF as a 15-game starter, across a career high 65.7 snaps, but the 2017 1st round pick has yet to live up to the expectations that came with being a high pick or that came with being acquired as part of the Odell Beckham trade. Peppers finished 23rd among safeties across 765 snaps on PFF in his second season in the league with the Browns in 2018, before being traded to the Giants, which seemed like a sign of things to come, but he’s been only a middling starter across 25 starts in 2 years with the Giants. Only going into his age 26 season, he may still have some untapped upside, but he also might just remain a capable, but unspectacular starter.

Hybrid player Logan Ryan also sees some action at safety, although his primary value to this defense is covering the slot. Because of the lack of depth in this group last season, Ryan was forced into playing almost every snap last season, 65.7 snaps per game over 16 games, but I would expect that snap count to come down this season in a deeper group. Peppers and McKinley will be the primary starting safeties, with Ryan mostly working as a slot specialist. 

Ryan has been a middling or better defensive back throughout his 8-year career, but he’s going into his age 30 season now, so it’s probably for the best that his playing time will likely be reduced somewhat. The Giants also still have Julian Love and the 2019 4th round pick did show more promise as a rookie across 408 snaps, but I have a hard time seeing a path to significant playing time for him without someone getting hurt ahead of him on the depth chart.

Love can also play some cornerback, but he won’t be needed for a role there either, with the Giants signing ex-Titan Adoree Jackson to a 3-year, 39 million dollar deal and using a 3rd round pick on Central Florida’s Aaron Robinson. Robinson might not see much action as a rookie, but he’ll provide depth at a position where their other depth options, Isaac Yiadom and Darnay Holmes, have already proven to struggle in significant action, although as a 2018 3rd round pick and a 2020 4th round pick respectively, it’s possible both young players do still have some untapped upside.

Regardless, Adoree Jackson will start at cornerback opposite last year’s big free agent cornerback signing James Bradberry. A solid cover cornerback throughout his first four years in the league with the Panthers, albeit one who frequently ranked among the league leaders in yards allowed while going up against some of the best wide receivers in the league one-on-one in the NFC South, Bradberry took things to another level in his first season in New York, finishing a career high 7th among cornerbacks on PFF. Bradberry is a bit of a one-year wonder in terms of playing at the level he played at last season and he might not be as good again in 2021, but he should at least remain an above average starter.

Jackson, meanwhile, was a bit of a surprise free agent this off-season. A first round pick by the Titans in 2017, Jackson seemed like one of the more promising young cornerbacks in the league, finishing 35th, 30th, and 16th respectively among cornerbacks in his first 3 seasons in the league, but knee problems limited him to 155 snaps in 2020 and the cap strapped Titans made the surprising move to release him ahead of a his non-guaranteed 10.244 million dollar 5th year option. 

Jackson wound up getting more money annually from the Giants, which normally isn’t a good thing, but this was such a weird off-season that Jackson’s deal could prove to be a solid value for the Giants if he can stay healthy and pick up where he left off before his injury. Only going into his age 26 season, there is still plenty of time for Jackson to bounce back. If he’s on the field in 2021, he should remain an above average starter and if he’s not, the Giants don’t have terrible depth at the position, even if most of it is young and inexperienced. The Giants are also deep and pretty talented at safety in a secondary that overall has a lot of talent and is noticeably improved from a year ago.

Grade: B+

Conclusion

The Giants aren’t regularly talked about as a team that could make a leap in 2021, but quarterback Daniel Jones was better than most realize in his second season in the league last season and, if he can stay healthy, he could easily step a big step forward statistically in his third season in the league, especially with an improved supporting cast. The Giants haven’t always spent their money in the best ways, but they have certainly been aggressive in building around Jones in the past two off-seasons, trying to maximize their window with a quarterback still on a cheap rookie deal. Even with Jones making significantly less than most quarterbacks, the Giants still rank 7th in the league in average annual value of the players they have signed to contracts and, while that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a strong supporting cast, there is a good amount of talent on this roster overall. 

The one big concern is the offensive line, which could derail this offense. The Giants may regret spending more resources on pass catchers and skill position players than offensive linemen, selecting a wide receiver in the first round and spending money that could have been spent on offensive line upgrades to pay Devontae Booker and Kyle Rudolph a combined 8.75 million annually. Still, I would expect this team to be better than most think and contend for a playoff spot in the NFC, even with the division being tougher than last year’s hapless group. They should be at least a capable team on both sides of the ball and have upside for more. I will have a final prediction for the Giants at the end of the off-season with the rest of the teams.

Prediction: TBD

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (6-9) at New York Giants (5-10)

It may not seem like it based off of their records, but the winner of this game will still be alive to win the NFC East and would go on to host a home playoff game next week if Washington loses to Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football. The Giants and Cowboys have both taken winding paths to get to this point, with the Giants being 0-5 and 1-7 at points this season and the Cowboys being 2-7 and 3-9 at points this season, but neither team is in terrible position right now.

The Giants’ 3-7 start wasn’t that bad when you consider that they played 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (9th), the 49ers (5th), the Bears (6th), and the Buccaneers (4th). As healthy as they had been in a while coming out of their week 11 bye, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward.

The Giants’ good health lasted about a half unfortunately, as quarterback Daniel Jones hurt his hamstring early in the third quarter of their first game after their bye, a game in Cincinnati in which the Giants likely would have covered a 6-point spread had Jones not gotten hurt. Backup Colt McCoy held on for the victory, but only barely, as he was a noticeable drop off from Jones. That continued into McCoy’s next start in Seattle, but the Giants pulled the massive upset as 11-point underdogs in an uncharacteristically dominant game for a Giants defense that ranks just 23rd in the NFL overall in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.06%.

Jones returned the following week against Arizona, but looked immobile due to his hamstring injury and struggled mightily, looking possibly even worse than McCoy had. That caused the Giants to go back to McCoy for their next game against the Browns and McCoy’s struggles led to them largely being uncompetitive in that game, managing just a 25.93% first down rate against the Browns’ mediocre defense and losing the first down rate battle by 12.17%. 

At this point, it became clear that a healthy Jones would be a significant upgrade over McCoy,  as he is better in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and yards per carry, despite facing some of the toughest defenses in the league before getting hurt and then playing at far less than 100% against the Cardinals, while McCoy got to face the Bengals (21st in first down rate allowed over expected) for a half, the Seahawks (19th), and the Browns (27th). The issue was how healthy Jones could be. After the Giants’ pathetic showing against the Browns, they decided to put Jones and his injured hamstring to the test against the Ravens.

The Giants lost to the Ravens by 14, but Jones looked a lot better than he did against the Cardinals and there were a lot of good things to take away from that game, most notably that the Giants actually won the first down rate battle in that game by 0.21% and picked up 24 first downs on just 63 plays against a capable Ravens defense. The Giants had trouble sustaining drives because they went just 1 for 10 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down, while the Ravens went 8 for 11 on third down and didn’t have to attempt a fourth down, but third and fourth down performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and it’s very encouraging to see that the Giants got 22 of their 24 first downs on first and second down, as performance on those downs tends to be more predictive. 

Jones might not be quite 100% and the Giants defense is an underwhelming unit that is not nearly as good as they looked against the Seahawks, but I think Jones is underrated by people who just look at his stats and don’t realize that he’s either been significantly hindered by injury and faced with a dominant defensive opponent in pretty much every game he’s played. His only full healthy game against an underwhelming defense came in week 5 in a 37-34 loss against these Cowboys. Now at least resembling full health, I would expect Jones and this offense to play well against a Dallas defense that has been better than their raw stats suggest, but still ranks just 17th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.50%. 

Dallas’ season has been up and down as well, in large part due to the massive blow this offense was dealt in their first matchup with the Giants, when Dak Prescott went down for the season with a broken ankle. The Cowboys still went on to win that game, but they were just 2-3 even with Prescott healthy through four and a half games and teams that lose their starting quarterback at 2-3 typically don’t go on to compete for playoff spots.

One big thing the Cowboys had in their favor though, aside from their weak division, was that much of their struggles early in the season were a result of the Cowboys losing the turnover consistently, something that usually doesn’t continue long-term. For the Cowboys, it continued for the next two games and then, making matters worse, backup quarterback Andy Dalton got hurt, leaving the Cowboys with practice squad caliber quarterbacks in Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert. 

However, their turnover issue went the other way after week 7, as the Cowboys were -13 through the first 7 games of the season before being +9 in turnovers in the 8 games since. That didn’t do them much good with DiNucci and Gilbert in the lineup in weeks 8 and 9, but Dalton returned after their week 10 bye and the Cowboys have won 4 of 6 games since, to keep themselves alive for a playoff spot.

Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I wouldn’t expect them to continue winning the turnover battle like they have in recent weeks, but I definitely wouldn’t expect them to go back to losing the turnover battle as badly as they were earlier in the season and, overall, the Cowboys rank 14th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.49%. Their offense hasn’t been as good at picking up first downs without Dak Prescott and without the offensive linemen that the Cowboys have lost as their season has gone on, but, if we assume they’ll play turnover neutral football, the Cowboys aren’t a bad team. My roster rankings have them ranked a respectable 21st, even with key players missing.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Cowboys in the wake of their big win over the Eagles last week, as this line has shifted from favoring the Giants by 3 to the Cowboys by 1.5. The general public sees that the Cowboys blew out the Eagles last week and that the Giants lost by 14 to the Ravens and don’t realize the Cowboys were aided by a +2 turnover margin against an underwhelming Eagles team that lost its best defensive player in the first half, while the Giants were much more effective on first and second down than third and fourth. My calculated line is Giants -1, so we’re not getting much line value with the Giants either, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and the money line at +110 isn’t a bad bet as the Giants should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

New York Giants 24 Dallas Cowboys 23 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +1.5

Confidence: Low

New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

New York Giants (5-9) at Baltimore Ravens (9-5)

The Giants are a tough team to predict. Coming out of their week 11 bye, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward. They were just 3-7, but they had faced a tough schedule to start their season, including 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (10th), the 49ers (6th), the Bears (7th), and the Buccaneers (4th). The Giants were also healthier coming out of the bye than they’ve been most of the season. 

That lasted about a half unfortunately, as the Giants were up 13-10 with the ball in Cincinnati’s red zone early in the 3rd quarter (with the Bengals’ only touchdown coming on a return touchdown), but then quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury and, while they held on to win that game, backup Colt McCoy struggled mightily and nearly blew the game, as the lowly Bengals were a field goal away from winning the game on a late drive in which they ended up fumbling at midfield.

Based off McCoy’s struggles in that game, I stayed away from the Giants when they went to Seattle the following week, but they shocked everyone, winning straight up as 11-point underdogs by final score of 17-12, in a game in which their defense shockingly had a dominant performance to cover for an underwhelming McCoy. The following game against the Cardinals, with Jones back, I bet on the Giants, but Jones looked far from 100% and was arguably a downgrade even from McCoy. Seeing that Jones clearly needed more time to get healthy, the Giants went back to McCoy last week against the Browns, but McCoy struggled mightily in a game in which the Giants had just a 25.93% first down rate against the Browns’ mediocre defense and lost the first down rate battle by 12.17%. 

At this point, it’s clear that a healthy Daniel Jones would be a significant upgrade from McCoy, as he has higher completion percentage, a higher YPA, and better rushing production, despite facing some of the toughest defenses in the league before getting hurt and then playing at far less than 100% against the Cardinals, while McCoy has gotten to face the Bengals (15th in first down rate allowed over expected) for a half, the Seahawks (23rd), and the Browns (29th). The question is how much of an upgrade Jones is at less than 100% or how close to 100% he will be this week. Jones is very reliant on his athleticism as a quarterback, so, while he should be healthier than the last time we saw him, he could easily still be an ineffective quarterback this week.

The Giants’ dominant defensive performance against the Seahawks is a significant outlier when you look at the rest of their season, as they rank 16th in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.42%, so if Jones isn’t healthy, the Giants are one of the worst teams in the league overall. This line is pretty high at Baltimore -10.5, which would give us line value with the Giants if Jones is healthy, but it’s hard to bet them with any confidence without confidence in Jones’ health. I’m still taking the Giants for pick ‘em purposes, especially since the Ravens are in a choke spot, in a must win game to stay in the playoff race (teams with a 50%-65% winning percentage cover at just a 40.9% rate in weeks 16 and 17 against a team with a sub-.500 record), but I wouldn’t recommend betting on it.

Baltimore Ravens 24 New York Giants 16

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +10.5

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at New York Giants: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (9-4) at New York Giants (5-8)

Coming out of their bye week a couple weeks ago, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward. They were just 3-7, but they had faced a tough schedule to start their season, including 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (9th), the 49ers (8th), the Bears (6th), and the Buccaneers (5th). The Giants were also healthier coming out of the bye than they’ve been most of the season. 

That lasted about a half unfortunately, as the Giants were up 13-10 with the ball in Cincinnati’s red zone early in the 3rd quarter (with the Bengals’ only touchdown coming on a return touchdown), but then quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury and, while they held on to win that game, backup Colt McCoy struggled mightily and nearly blew the game, as the lowly Bengals were a field goal away from winning the game on a late drive in which they ended up fumbling at midfield.

Based off McCoy’s struggles in that game, I stayed away from the Giants when they went to Seattle two weeks ago, but they shocked everyone, winning straight up as 11-point underdogs by final score of 17-12, in a game in which their defense shockingly had a dominant performance to cover for an underwhelming McCoy. Last week, with Jones back, I bet on the Giants, but Jones looked far from 100% and was arguably a downgrade even from McCoy. Seeing that Jones clearly needed more time to get healthy, the Giants will go back to McCoy this week.

With that in mind, the Browns are a very intriguing bet this week as 6-point road favorites. Some may think McCoy isn’t a big downgrade from a healthy Jones because he was the quarterback when the Giants beat the Seahawks and because his statistics aren’t a huge drop off from Jones, but they don’t realize that Jones has faced tough competition in almost every healthy start he’s made this season, while McCoy has gotten to play the Bengals and Seahawks, two below average defenses. 

Even with much easier competition, McCoy has led a noticeably less effective offense, as their win over the Seahawks was almost entirely because of their dominant defensive performance. Defensive performance is highly inconsistent week-to-week and the Giants rank just 15th in first down rate allowed over expected on the season at +0.20%, so I wouldn’t expect that again. Unless they can get a similar performance from their defense as they had against the Seahawks, I have a hard time seeing the Giants keeping it close with the Browns with McCoy under center. I think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Browns as a result of McCoy being under center when the Giants beat the Seahawks, as my calculated line is Cleveland -7.5.

The Browns haven’t been as good as their 9-4 record, playing a relatively weak schedule and needing to go 6-1 in one score games to get to 9-4. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns rank 25th at -2.14%. However, their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.16%, which is the best side of the ball to have issues on, because defensive performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

On offense, which is the much more consistent side of the ball, the Browns rank 12th in first down rate over expected at 1.02%. The Browns aren’t a great defense, but they’re more talented than they’ve played thus far and they’ll have their top-2 defensive players Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward in the lineup together for the first time since week 10 this week, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them be a more serviceable unit going forward, which would allow the Browns to get more big wins. I expect this to be one of those big wins, so the Browns are worth a bet as 6-point road favorites.

Cleveland Browns 27 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -6

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (6-6) at New York Giants (5-7)

Coming out of their bye week a couple weeks ago, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward. They were just 3-7, but they had faced a tough schedule to start their season, including 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (9th), the 49ers (10th), the Bears (7th), and the Buccaneers (5th). The Giants were also healthier coming out of the bye than they’ve been most of the season. 

That lasted about a half unfortunately, as the Giants were up 13-10 with the ball in Cincinnati’s red zone early in the 3rd quarter (with the Bengals’ only touchdown coming on a return touchdown), but then quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury and, while they held on to win that game, backup Colt McCoy struggled mightily and nearly blew the game, as the lowly Bengals were a field goal away from winning the game on a late drive in which they ended up fumbling at midfield.

Based off McCoy’s struggles in that game, I stayed away from the Giants when they went to Seattle last week, but they shocked everyone, winning straight up as 11-point underdogs by final score of 17-12, in a game in which their defense shockingly had a dominant performance to cover for an underwhelming McCoy. Even with that game included, the Giants rank just 18th in first down rate over expected at +0.92% and defensive play is very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway, but with Daniel Jones back under center this week, the Giants are a decent team, ranking 17th in my roster rankings, as Jones has performed significantly better than his production this season, when you take into account the caliber of defenses he has faced.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting as much line value with the Giants as we would have, if they had not pulled the huge upset last week. My calculated line is even, as the Cardinals are only marginally better than the Giants, given that their defense is one of the worst in the league and that Kyler Murray has not played as well in recent weeks, likely in part due to a shoulder injury, but there isn’t enough for the Giants to be worth taking at +2.5. I may reconsider if this line moves up to a full field goal before gametime though and the money line is a good value as well at +125, as this game is close to a toss up.

Update: Some +3s briefly popped up on Sunday morning. If you were lucky enough to get one, it’s worth a play, even paying extra vig.

New York Giants 31 Arizona Cardinals 30 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

New York Giants (4-7) at Seattle Seahawks (8-3)

Coming out of their bye week last week, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward. They were just 3-7, but they had faced a tough schedule to start their season, including 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, and they were healthier coming out of the bye than they’ve been most of the season. That lasted about a half, as the Giants were up 13-10 with the ball in Cincinnati’s red zone early in the 3rd quarter (with the Bengals’ only touchdown coming on a return touchdown), but then quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury that has him week-to-week and will cause him to miss at least this game in Seattle. 

Jones’ numbers haven’t been that impressive this season, but they’re a lot more impressive when you consider the quality of the defensives he’s been facing and their offense immediately became noticeably more stagnant when he went down, with underwhelming backup quarterback Colt McCoy unable to do much of anything against a mediocre Bengals defense in what ended up being a 19-17 win that could have easily turned to a Giants loss had the Bengals not fumbled at midfield at the end of the game on what could have been a game winning field goal drive. 

McCoy will have a full week of practice with the first team this week, but he figures to continue struggling, as he’s a 34-year-old journeyman with a career 78.2 QB rating, who recently threw more interceptions than touchdowns in a brief stint as the Washington Redskins starting quarterback from 2018-2019. With him under center, the Giants rank 29th in my roster rankings (or 28th depending on who is eligible to play this week for Baltimore), only ahead of the Jets, Bengals, and Jaguars. There’s a huge gap between them and the Seahawks.

The Seahawks have not played as well as their 8-3 record would suggest this season, going 6-2 in one score games, with a +37 point differential and a 12th ranked +0.77% first down rate differential, but I expect them to play better than that going forward. There are a few reasons for that, including simply that they’re typically much better in the second half of the season than the first half in the Russell Wilson era, going 43-21-3 ATS in games 9-16 since Wilson’s first season in 2012, as opposed to just 34-34-4 ATS in games 1-8.

On top of that, the Seahawks are an offensive led team and offensive led teams tend to fare better going forward because offensive performance is much more consistent and predictive week-to-week than defensive performance. The Seahawks rank 5th in first down rate over expected at +2.54%, but are dragged down by a defense that ranks just 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.77%. If they can get even middling play from their defense going forward, they should keep winning games, including some by larger margins than most of their wins thus far this season.

Aside from the inherent randomness of defensive play, the Seahawks are also getting more talented on defense, in large part due to players returning from injury. A few weeks ago, the Seahawks got talented safety Jamal Adams back from a 4-game absence and last week they got Shaq Griffin back also from a 4-game absence. They also added defensive end Carlos Dunlap a few weeks ago in a trade with Cincinnati that gave the Seahawks much needed help on their defensive line, though he is questionable for this game after not practicing all week. Their offense is also healthier than it’s been in recent weeks, with top running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde returning from absences of 4 games and 3 games respectively. My roster rankings have them ranked 4th and they shouldn’t have much trouble with the Colt McCoy led Giants.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting line value with the Seahawks, who have ballooned to 11-point home favorites, despite not having any real homefield advantage without fans. My calculated line is Seattle -11.5, so I think they still have a good chance to cover, especially with without any upcoming distractions on the schedule, with the Jets coming to town next week (home favorites of 10+ are 52-31 ATS since 2002 before being home favorites of 10+ again the following week), but there isn’t enough here for the Seahawks to be worth betting, even if Dunlap is ultimately able to suit up.

Seattle Seahawks 30 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: Seattle -11

Confidence: Low

New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

New York Giants (3-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-7-1)

Coming out of their week 11 bye, the Giants are an underrated team, especially on offense. The Giants are generally considered to be a weak offense and in terms of first down rate they rank just 28th at 31.76%, but they’ve also faced a brutal schedule, somehow facing top-10 defenses in terms of first down rate allowed over expected in nine of their ten games, facing Pittsburgh (1st), Tampa Bay (2nd), the LA Rams (4th), Washington twice (5th), Chicago (6th), San Francisco (9th), and Philadelphia twice (10th). The Giants first down rate is 2.22% below average, but their schedule suggests they should be 2.96% below average right now, so the Giants actually rank 15th in first down rate over expected at +0.74%. 

That’s despite the fact that the Giants have had some absences on offense and are now mostly healthy, most importantly top wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who they have been noticeably better with on the field this season. The Giants haven’t been as good on defense, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.09%, but defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense, so their defensive concerns aren’t as much of a problem as you’d think, especially since my roster rankings suggest they’re more talented on that side of the ball than they’ve played.

Given that they’re underrated compared to their 3-7 record, I was expecting to bet the Giants frequently over the rest of the season, but we’re not getting quite the line value I was expecting with them in their first game out of their bye, as they have ballooned to 6-point favorites in Cincinnati in the wake of Joe Burrow’s season ending injury, a massive swing from being 2.5-point underdogs on the early line last week. The Bengals have one of the worst backup quarterback situations in the league with Ryan Finley and presumed starter Brandon Allen both being borderline NFL quarterbacks, but an 8.5-point swing like that is normally reserved for an MVP caliber quarterback getting hurt, so this line isn’t that attractive.

That’s not to say I’m going to be taking the Bengals though, as not only are the Giants underrated, but the Bengals are truly dreadful without Burrow. Even with Burrow in the lineup for most of the season, the Bengals rank just 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.82%, including a defense that ranks 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.64%. Without Burrow, the Bengals rank on the same level as the Jaguars and Jets in my roster rankings, so, even if I disagree with a 8.5 point swing, I actually think this line is about right, as the Bengals would have been very overvalued as 2.5-point favorites with Burrow. 

The Giants are also in a great spot as big road favorites off of a bye, as teams are 61-33 ATS as road favorites of 3.5 or more off of a bye since 1989, including an 8-4 ATS record by teams with a sub-.500 record like the Giants. There’s not enough here for the Giants to be worth betting, but I would probably bet on them if this line drops back down to 5.5. Either way, the Giants should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as they should win this game pretty easily.

Update: This line has dropped to 5.5 in some places, so this is worth a play.

New York Giants 26 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1) at New York Giants (2-7)

The Eagles had their bye last week and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Eagles will come out of their bye as healthy as they’ve been all season. Defensive tackles Malik Jackson (1 game missed) and Javon Hargrave (1 game), linebacker TJ Edwards (3 games), left tackle Jason Peters (4 games), wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (8 games) and Jalen Raegor (5 games), right tackle Lane Johnson (3 games), running back Miles Sanders (3 games), tight end Dallas Goedert (4 games), and possibly left guard Isaac Seumalo (6 games) are all suiting up this week. 

The Eagles haven’t been terrible all things considered this season and, now as healthy as they’ve been, they rank 16th in my roster rankings and have a good chance to be at least competitive going forward if they can stay healthy. On top of that, even injuries aside, the bye week will be beneficial for this team just for rest purposes. Teams typically do pretty well as significant road favorites out of a bye, going 76-41-1 ATS since 1989 as road favorites of 3+ after a bye week, and the Eagles fit the trend as 4-point favorites in New York against the Giants this week.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting any line value with the Eagles at -4 because the Giants are an underrated team, particularly on offense, where they rank 14th in first down rate over expected at +0.72%. That may seem surprising, but it makes sense when you take a deeper look, as the Giants actually only rank 27th in first down rate at 2.50% below average, but have faced a brutal schedule that suggests they should have been 3.22% below average, so the Giants are actually beating expectations. Of their 9 games, 7 have come against top-10 defenses, the WFT twice (1st), the Buccaneers (2nd), the Steelers (3rd), the Rams (4th), the Bears (7th), and the 49ers (10th). 

The Giants might not be quite as good as the 14th best offense in the league and they aren’t on paper in my roster rankings, but it’s very possible they’re a capable offense that has been made to look bad by a brutal defensive schedule. They’ve also been better in recent weeks since getting wide receiver Sterling Shepard back from injury. In my roster rankings, I have them just 2.5 points behind the Eagles overall, which gives us a calculated line of Philadelphia -2 (half point for the Giants being at home with no fans) rather than -4. I’m still taking the Eagles for pick ‘em purposes out of their bye week, but this is a no confidence pick.

Philadelphia Eagles 25 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -4

Confidence: None

New York Giants at Washington Football Team: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

New York Giants (1-7) at Washington Football Team (2-5)

With Washington still somehow unable to figure out how to get a real name, it seems that the Washington Football Team moniker is here to stay, with reports recently that they are keeping the name through 2021, so I will have to call them by their non-name officially going forward, but it’s still a stupid name and they should pick any other name as soon as possible. With that out of the way, when analyzing this game, something stood out in my numbers as very surprising, which was that the Giants rank 14th in the NFL in first down rate over expected at +0.62%. 

Whenever something is unusual like that, I look to see what is going on and in this case, what is happening is simple. The Giants rank just 27th in first down rate at 31.92%, but they have also faced a brutal schedule of defenses, including the Buccaneers (1st in first down rate allowed over expected), the Steelers (3rd), the Rams (5th), the Bears (9th), the 49ers (10th) and the nonames (2nd), who they previously played back in week 6. 

Is it possible the Giants are a secretly capable offense that has been made to look bad by its strength of schedule? It might not be the case that they’re the 14th best offense in the league, but it’s definitely possible they’re closer to middling than we expect, especially with wide receiver Sterling Shepard back from injury and quarterback Daniel Jones playing better in recent weeks. 

The Giants strength of schedule doesn’t get much easier this week in this rematch in Washington, but defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and the injuries are also starting to pile up for Washington, with defensive end Matt Ioannidis and safety Landon Collins now both done for the year, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them regress defensively going forward, in which case they would be in a lot of trouble, because their offense ranks just 31st in first down rate over expected. 

The Giants might not be the 14th best offense in the league, but they have a significant advantage on the side of the ball that matters more for projection purposes. Unfortunately, it seems like the public and the sharp bettors have kind of picked up on this, shifting the Giants from 3.5 point underdogs on the early line last week to 2.5 this week, in the wake of the Giants’ near victory over the Buccaneers last week. If we can get a good +3, I might consider a bet on the Giants, but this is a low confidence pick at 2.5.

Update: +3s have popped up Sunday morning. The Giants will be without wide receiver Golden Tate for disciplinary reasons, but he hasn’t done much this season and is far less important to this team with Shepard back. +3 is worth a bet.

New York Giants 17 Washington Football Team 16 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2) at New York Giants (1-6)

I have had the Buccaneers as underrated for a while and, as a result, I have bet on them every week since week 2. It has worked out, as the Buccaneers have gone 5-1 ATS over that stretch. Everyone knew about Tom Brady and the weapons coming into the season, but their young defense was also dominant down the stretch last season, which didn’t get a lot of attention and, after the Buccaneers lost in New Orleans in week 1 in a game they would have likely won if not for an uncharacteristic -3 turnover margin (+8.11% first down rate margin), the Buccaneers became a smart bet going forward. 

The Buccaneers lost stud defensive tackle Vita Vea for the season with a broken ankle in week 5, but that was right around when the Buccaneers got their dominant wide receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both healthy for the first time all season, which cancelled out Vea’s absence. Overall, the Buccaneers rank first in the league in scheduled adjusted first down rate differential at +6.71%, a wide margin over the #2 ranked Rams (+3.27%), and have not missed a beat without Vea because of other players stepping up and/or getting healthy.

However, there are a couple reasons why the Buccaneers aren’t a good bet this week. For one, the lines seem to have caught up with how good this team is, as they are favored by 13 points over the Giants, after being favored by just 8.5 points on the early line last season. That is despite the fact that the Buccaneers have lost Chris Godwin to injury again, which is a big blow for this team. Now with Godwin, Vea, and tight end OJ Howard, the key injuries are starting to stack up for a Buccaneers team that falls slightly out of the top spot in my roster rankings this week. I’m still taking the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no confidence in them at this number.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 New York Giants 10

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -13

Confidence: None