Good news, New York Giants' fans! Your Giants are going to the playoffs in 2014. At least they are if KC Joyner, known as 'The Football Scientist,' is correct. Joyner recently penned (typed?) an article for ESPN Insider detailing the six reasons he believes the Giants will be a playoff team in 2014.
Let's go through Joyner's reasoning.
1. Eli Manning can't be that bad again.
With the Giants it always starts -- and often ends -- right here. Manning had the worst season of his career in 2013 -- a ridiculous 27 interceptions, a 57.5 completion percentage, a 69.4 passer rating and a 36.5 QBR.
The good news? Joyner uses a stat he calls Bad Decision Rate (BDR) to show that Manning actually fewer poor decisions that led to turnover opportunities for the opposing team during 2013 (2.4 percent) than he had in 2012 (2.8 percent). He points to the miscommunications with receivers, wrong routes and bad luck and says that "to see a significant drop in his interceptions total would not be a surprise."
2. The Giants have to be healthier. Don't they?
Joyner uses Football Outsiders' Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) and shows that the Giants' 144.6 AGL is the highest recorded since Football Outsiders began tracking the data in 2006. Joyners says teams who have led the league in AGL one year have averaged placing 17th the next. Part of injuries, of course, is luck. The Giants, though, have spent much of the offseason trying to get younger and, theoretically, healthier.
3. The offensive line has to be better.
Well, I'm not sure how it could be worse than the sieve the Giants trotted out there in 2013. We know all of the moves the Giants have made already, adding Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, John Jerry and Charles Brown and re-signing Chris Snee. We know there is plenty of speculation the Giants will add more linemen in the draft like, oh, maybe Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame's Zack Martin. Here is quick set of numbers from Joyner showing how bad the line was in 2013, and why the changes are necessary:
... percentage of sacks that occurred with four or fewer pass rushers (65 percent, ranked tied for 25th) and number of rushing plays that gained zero or fewer yards (105, ranked 27th).
4. The running backs should be better.
I have to be honest. I'm not sure what Adrian Peterson could have accomplished in front of the Giants' offensive line in 2013. That said, Rashad Jennings should turn out to be a massive upgrade over Andre Brown. Joyner calls Jennings "one of the most significant free-agent signings in the NFL this offseason." He explains:
Last year he ranked 14th in yards per carry (4.5), second in yards per rush after contact (2.2) and tied for first in fumbles on rushing plays (zero), but his biggest impact may come in the passing game.
Jennings placed 18th among running backs in yards per reception (8.11), 11th in receiving yards after contact (94), tied for first in drop percentage (zero percent) and third in receiving percentage (85.7 percent). The Giants ranked next-to-last in receiving yards by running backs (370), so Jennings' addition should go a long way toward turning that weakness around.
5. Better 'sequential' offense.
Whew, now we're getting into heavy-duty analytical stuff -- the kind that makes my brain hurt. Basically, Joyner says the Giants were last in the league in 2013 in something called Down Set Conversion Rate (DSCR) at 60.6 percent. Basically, it's a fancy way of saying the Giants didn't string together first downs very often.
There's a reason why the Giants have basically an entirely new offensive coaching staff, and will implement a different scheme. Better blocking, better running and better quarterbacking should help that fancy DSCR number.
6. The pass coverage will be better.
Hmm, didn't need a fancy set of stats to tell me that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond are an upgrade over Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster at cornerback. There should not be any Antrel Rolle playing nickel cornerback sightings this season.
Joyner's bottom line is this:
That the Giants were able to win seven games last season despite horrible luck and a slew of injuries unprecedented in the past decade speaks to just how incredibly effective their coaching staff is at working around problems. Given the wide variety of upgrades listed above and the talent this team can bring home in the draft, Tom Coughlin and company likely won't have to perform any miracles in 2014. Barring another disaster, the Giants will have all of the tools necessary to record a double-digit win total and earn a spot in the NFC playoffs.
You have to play the games, of course, but the Giants have already put themselves in much better position to succeed in 2014 -- something we have discussed before. Getting Manning healthy, keeping him that way, and giving him a better chance to engineer a consistent offense should be a huge help.
I have said before that in retrospect it is a miracle the Giants won nine games a season ago. Their aggressive offseason shows they are determined not to need miracles this time around. Only time will tell if Joyner ends up being right, but the roster the Giants have today is far better than the one they ended 2013 with.