It is often tempting to try to forecast a season based on the first week or two. In 2015 the results of the very first game set the tone for the entire season. An already-injured New York Giants team missing two of its top stars in Jason Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz beat a healthy Dallas Cowboys team ... At least until the final two minutes. A poor defensive pass interference call on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a missed holding call on Daniel Fells and then a complete defensive collapse all conspired to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory for the Giants.
It was a scene that replayed itself over and over last year: The Giants would be competitive, often winning as the game clock ticked down to the final minutes. Then the team would somehow find new and novel ways to lose a game. It even applied to the season as a whole. For all their problems, the Giants were in control of the NFC East, able to punch their own ticket to the postseason. But as the season reached its final quarter, the team bungled away its best shot at a playoff berth since 2012.
Of course, the previous year — 2011— proved that how you finish a season is far more important than how you start. That year, the Giants opened the season by losing 28-14 to a Washington Redskins team that finished 5-11 and was quarterbacked by Rex Grossman. The Giants, on the other hand, went “All In” and embraced the mantra of “Finish!” to launch a historic Super Bowl run.
However, with the ending to the 2016 season anything but known, and the team coming off three straight losing seasons, they might just need the fast start to set a positive tone for the year.
The Giants are a very young team, with a large number of new players relying on a first-time head coach to lead them. They don’t have the luxury of a “Been there, done that” attitude if the team gets off to a rough start. Not many of the Giants’ core players have the experience of weathering a bad stretch only to come out the other side and win. After five years of roster turnover, only Eli Manning, Victor Cruz (if he’s healthy) and Jason Pierre-Paul can say they have that experience. Getting off to a fast start might be the difference between the team taking a step forward or another disappointing season.
But can they do it? Can the 2016 Giants come out of the gate hot?
The Giants haven’t won a season opener since 2010, but in 2016 they have a chance to avenge the opening loss of 2015. Once again the Giants will open the season facing the Cowboys in Dallas, which they follow up by hosting the New Orleans Saints in New York. Both of these games are set up to be shootouts, with potent offenses and defenses with more questions than answers. These games might come down to which offense has the ball last, or which defense can get one more stop — or even just one. The Giants are counting on their significant off-season defensive investment, both in Free agency and in the draft, to help rebuild their defense into something that is recognizable as a “New York Giants” defense. If the unit can gel into a cohesive unit, they stand a good chance of tipping those shootouts to the Giants’ favor.
A fast start with a pair of wins to open the season might be necessary, as the next three games will be a stiffer test. Over weeks three through five, the Giants will face the NFC East champion Washington Redskins, NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings, and the ever-formidable Green Bay Packers.
While the Giants would doubtless like to win every game — if they didn’t, they shouldn’t be playing in the NFL — finishing the first four or five games with a record of .500 or better would have to be seen as a great start to the season. Winning three of their first five games would certainly help to give the Giants confidence and momentum going into the meat of their schedule, but the question remains: Can they get that fast start?
We’ll just have to wait and find out.