NFL Preview 2014: New York Giants

Now 33 years old, can Eli Manning carry the Giants to a third championship title? (Seth Wenig/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the New York Giants.

Last year’s record: 7-9

Coach: Tom Coughlin

2014 is about… Getting off to a solid start. Over the last seven weeks of the 2013 season, the Giants went 7-3—one of the best records in the league over that stretch. Unfortunately, they started 0-6, and during that skid this team was a mess. The offensive line was in shambles, unable to run or pass block, Eli Manning threw 15 interceptions in those half-dozen contests and the defence was giving up almost 35 points a game. The Giants were one of the most active teams this off-season and have a much different look heading into the 2014 season.

Core players: Eli Manning (QB), Victor Cruz (WR), Rashad Jennings (RB), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE), Antrel Rolle (S), Walter Thurmond (CB)

But they lost… Justin Tuck (DE), a key part of the dominant Super Bowl champion defensive lines that still haunt Tom Brady’s nightmares. At his best, Tuck is one of the top all-around defensive linemen in the game. The Giants were active in free agency looking to patch up the hole left by Tuck, but it might not be that easy. After an up-and-down career in the Big Apple, Hakeem Nicks (WR) has also moved on in an attempt to get his game back on track in Indianapolis.

Yeah, but they got… Walter Thurmond (CB), maybe the most underrated signing this off-season. A member of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks last season, Thurmond is one of the best slot corners in the NFL. Along with Thurmond, the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB) makes the Giants secondary the most impressive in the NFC East. Robert Ayers (DE) is another undervalued signing. Ayers was an important piece in Denver and should put pressure on Damontre Moore to fill Tuck’s spot opposite Pierre-Paul. New York also brought back Super Bowl XLVI hero Mario Manningham (WR) to help shore up a receiving corps that was dreadful in 2013.

Growing from within: One of the most exciting prospects coming out of May’s draft, Odell Beckham, Jr. (WR) is a player to keep a keen eye on this season. The former LSU product has breakneck speed and will be banked on to stretch the field to open things up for Cruz and No. 2 Rueben Randle. But OBJ can do much more than that—his versatility allows him to line up anywhere on the field and he’s got a knack for creating big plays after the catch. Another rookie, Andre Williams (RB)—the top rusher in the NCAA last season (2,177 yards) with Boston College—is another youngster to watch out for, after emerging in training camp and a strong performance in the Hall of Fame game. Damontre Moore (DE) will be battling to play opposite of Pierre-Paul and if he can return to the form that allowed him to rack up 12.5 sacks at Texas A&M, Moore could make the transition without Tuck an easier one.

Why this team? Because in the face of adversity, Manning and Co. have always found a way to silence the critics. Twice in the last seven years, New York has used unlikely post-season runs to stun Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl. If the Giants can get back to what made them so dangerous—a ferocious pass rush and quality play at quarterback—anything is possible should they get into the playoffs.

Why not? Because it’s highly likely they won’t be able to get back to what made them two-time Super Bowl champions. Other than Pierre-Paul, that once dominant defensive line is a shadow of its former self—hell, JPP is a shadow of his former self. Manning has had an impressive career, but—as he knows as well as we do—he’s not Peyton. Now 33 years old, how much further can we expect Manning to carry the Giants? All the way to another title? Doubt it.

Perfect for fans of… The Detroit Red Wings. Both historic franchises have won a pair of championships since the turn of the millennium. Now, however, these teams face a lot of uncertainty going forward. Led by aging veterans and sitting on the cusp of the playoff bubble, the Giants and Red Wings need new and young players to step up in 2014.

How much hope? 6/10. The Giants ended last season with an impressive run and, other than its core, the team underwent a complete facelift in the off-season. Prospects of winning the division aren’t great, but if they can pull it off and reach the post-season, look out. In two of their last three playoff appearances, the Giants have won the Super Bowl.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Only for showing up late to the party. After winning two championships since 2007, the Giants, as mentioned above, simply lack the components that made them so successful during those title runs. Also, get ready for an unbearable number of Eli Manning jokes.

A Meme To Remember: Regardless of undying comparisons to big brother Peyton, only one stat matters to Eli Manning.

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