Can someone possibly project which teams will, or won’t, win the Super Bowl? Sure, by using a process commonly referred to as “guessing.”
The New York Giants themselves have proven the folly of ruling a team out of contention in August or September. In 2007, they were perceived as a mediocre team with a head coach who should be fired. In 2011 they were perceived as a mediocre team with a franchise quarterback who caused belly laughs among the punditry when he said that he thought he was in Tom Brady’s class of quarterback.
It might be slightly more accurate to assess which teams the chance a team has of making a run at the Super Bowl.
That’s what Bill Barnwell did for ESPN, assessing how likely each of the 32 teams were to play in the Super Bowl, and how they could win it. He lists the Giants as one of the least-likely teams to play in, and win, the last game of the season, ranking them at 26th with a miniscule 0.3 percent chance at the Super Bowl.
What path does Barnwell lay down for the Giants to win the Super Bowl? Well, it’s fairly obvious: They could surprise us all and be good if their best players — Odell Beckham Jr., Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison — and their second tier of players — Evan Engram, Eli Apple, Will Hernandez, Nate Solder — play well. As well, he says that they’ll need Olivier Vernon and Alec Ogletree to fix the problems at linebacker, and for Eli Manning to play like a franchise quarterback.
If the majority of the Giants’ starting offense and defense plays well, according to Barnwell, they might just have a chance. If not? Well...
It’s interesting that Barnwell doesn’t mention players like WRs Sterling Shepard and Cody Latimer, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, LB B.J. Goodson, EDGE Lorenzo Carter, or FS Curtis Riley as players who could be major role players in a Giants run, despite the importance of their roles.
The Giants should reasonably expect their best players to play their best. Any team will miss the play-offs, or have an early exit, if their best players don’t perform up to expectations. The difference between the teams that make it and the ones who fall short are often the players nobody knows who step up and provide answers where none were expected.
- Sterling Shepard, or Latimer, could be the offense’s X-factor as teams concentrate on dealing with Beckham, Engram, and Barkley.
- Tomlinson will likely play more snaps, in more situations, than Harrison. He might not (yet) be the dominant player that Harrison is, but stout defensive tackle play is needed on every defensive snap.
- Goodson is a force against the run, and looks surprisingly comfortable playing in space. He might not be a “big name” but the more the Giants can do from their base packages, the better for the defense.
- I have lost count of the number of times I have said this over the years, but good free safety play is transformative for a defense — especially a blitz-heavy defense. The defense absolutely needs a reliable last line of defense for a DC to feel comfortable sending pressure. If Riley is able to convert from corner to free safety, that is a tremendous advantage.
The Giants have the talent at the top of their depth chart to compete with any team in the NFL. Beckham, Janoris Jenkins, Harrison, and Collins are each among the best in the league at their positions when healthy. Sterling Shepard was a top-5 slot receiver in 2017 despite playing just 11 games and playing through injury when he was on the field. And in the ultra-small sample size that was the first half of the third preseason game, Eli Manning looked better — more crisp, confident, and aggressive — than he has in years.
And that is all well and good, but why wouldn’t the Giants’ make the post-season (let alone the Super Bowl)?
For a team that went 3-13, got a new general manager, head coach (and coaching staff), and had so much roster turnover that even veterans of multiple teams describe it as “wild,” that certainly isn’t easy.
The biggest pitfall for the 2018 Giants is their depth chart. It is simply riddled with question marks. Much of their secondary was brought on after final cuts, which raises questions for a blitz-heavy defense which relies on players to go from disguising coverage to being in position and keeping the ball in the quarterback’s hand.
There is also the issue of the offensive line, particularly the interior. Eli Manning, and pretty much every other “pocket passer” (read: “quarterbacks who can’t run good”), depend more on a stout interior line than stout offensive tackles. While athletic quarterbacks can escape interior pressure by scrambling — which is facilitated by good tackle play to help them break contain — pocket passers need a pocket which they can climb to avoid pressure off the edge.
The Giants have upgraded their tackle positions with Nate Solder pushing Ereck Flowers to the right side, but the interior of their line is a question mark. Will Hernandez is a highly drafted and talented rookie, but he is a rookie — he will have “rookie moments” as he adjusts to the speed, power, and gamesmenship of the NFL. Jon Halapio has only recently moved to center, and Patrick Omameh has had his struggles at right guard.
Pat Shurmur said that the Giants will only go as far as the offensive line blocks for them, and it’s fair to wonder if the revamped offensive line is actually an improvement over the 2017 line, or just different. If it is the latter, the Giants will have a tough time making it to Atlanta on Feb. 3, 2019 unless they buy tickets.
Which will it be? There is a much greater chance that any team will not play in the Super Bowl (let alone win it) than there is that they will. Winning the Super Bowl is HARD and even great teams will fall short and miss it. If the Giants get what they need from their best players, and get some surprise contributions from their depth, they should surprise those who are dismissing them in September.