Is the fantasy over for the New York Giants?
The 2022 iteration of the team was widely expected to be among the league’s worst. Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll took the reins and promptly declined Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option, demonstrating their own lack of belief in their quarterback. With a roster seemingly devoid of talent and hamstrung by contract albatrosses, it seemed like a clear rebuild year.
However, led by the creative genius of Daboll and Mike Kafka, the all-or-nothing defense of Wink Martindale, and an astonishing breakout from Jones, the Giants eked out a 9-7-1 record and the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs. A fortuitous first-round matchup with the Minnesota Vikings even allowed them to rack up a playoff win before being blown out of the water by the mighty Philadelphia Eagles.
A team with a surprising playoff run often tries to build off that the following season. It’s very difficult, though, with increases in pay, a more challenging schedule, and whatever other confluence of circumstances that led to their rise usually no longer being present.
Can the 2023 Giants avoid the trap, or are they destined for a significant fall?
At DraftKings, the Giants’ win total over/under is 8.5 games. That’s a really difficult one to bet, as the team’s expected wins based on their points scored and allowed in 2022 was 8.3 wins.
This does give a baseline for preseason expectations for the Giants, at least prior to the draft: eight to nine victories.
There were 10 teams who won eight or nine games in 2022. 8.5 is a pretty safe over/under choice for Vegas, but it doesn’t tell us much about the 2023 Giants.
One way to assess how well a team performed in any given season is Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which really means opponent-adjusted value over average to account for both offense and defense). DVOA takes into account matchups and game situations to provide a team’s and player’s true value without all the smoke of meaningless yards and fantasy points.
The 2022 Giants finished 21st in the NFL with a team DVOA of -4.5 percent. One other 2022 playoff team, the Vikings at -13.6 percent (27th), was ranked lower, hence the Giants’ good fortune of facing them in Round 1 of the playoffs.
For reference, over the past five seasons, only four other teams made the playoffs with a worse DVOA than the 2022 Giants. All of those came since 2020 when the playoff field expanded to seven teams per conference.
Football Outsiders provides a metric called Estimated Wins (EW). EW is based on performance in key situations and assumes average luck. The Giants’ EW was 7.2, meaning that they won significantly more games than they should have (especially if a tie is considered half a win).
This would indicate that the Giants cannot view 2022 as a building block toward greater heights. They were lucky to be where they were and must play significantly better to achieve the same or better results.
The Giants actually managed to post the 10th-ranked offensive DVOA in the NFL at 7.1 percent. They faced the 12th-toughest defensive slate in the NFL but ranked 10th in pass DVOA and seventh in rush DVOA.
The question is whether or not the Giants can replicate their offensive success. Daniel Jones took a big step forward in 2022 primarily by avoiding turnovers. He threw just five interceptions and fumbled six times. However, he also had a number of turnover-worthy plays that were not converted into actual picks: his 1.1 percent interception rate vs. 3.1 percent turnover-worthy play rate show that he was not as careful with the ball as his raw interception numbers may appear. That 3.1 percent mark was 12th in the league among 22 qualifying quarterbacks graded by Pro Football Focus.
For the Giants to be competitive in 2023, they will likely need Jones to make more big plays in the passing game. Jones’ big-time throw rate in 2022 was a minuscule 1.4 percent, per Pro Football Focus, the second-lowest among 38 qualified quarterbacks (minimum 175 drop backs). On third down, Jones’ average throw traveled 1.2 yards short of the sticks, the second-worst mark among qualified QBs.
That kind of conservative play cannot continue in 2023 for the Giants to be successful. Certainly, there’s reason to believe that Jones will at least be more aggressive on third down with the trade for Darren Waller and the pickups of Parris Campbell and Jamison Crowder (as tight ends and slot receivers are often third down safety blankets).
Meanwhile, there’s a question if the 2023 iteration of Saquon Barkley will be more like the first or second half of 2022. The Giants were wise to place the franchise tag on Barkley after he showed a noticeable decline in the second half of the season. The return of Matt Breida was a low-key but important signing to keep the team’s running game strong.
The Giants will need their offensive line to step it up in a big way. Minus second-team All-Pro Andrew Thomas, their rock on the left side, the rest of the line is still shaky. Per PFF, the Giants’ line tied for 26th in the NFL with an 82.8 pass-blocking efficiency rating. Per Football Outsiders, they tied for 24th in Adjusted Line Yards at 4.24, meaning that their line did not generate a lot of push in the run game, either.
Although most experts expect the Giants to pick a receiver with the 25th overall pick, don’t be surprised if they go offensive line, specifically center. John Michael Schmitz can step in from Week 1 and is projected to be a late first-round pick. (You can bet on that at DraftKings, too; the Giants’ odds to take an offensive lineman in the first round are +600, an underrated value.)
The Giants’ defense did not play well as a unit in 2022, ranking 29th in DVOA, including 22nd in pass DVOA and dead-last in rush DVOA. This output was particularly ugly when considering that they faced the eighth-easiest opponent offensive slate.
The futility of the Giants’ run defense was particularly remarkable when considering that they featured one of the game’s most dominant run stuffers. Dexter Lawrence’s selection as a second-team All-Pro undersells his defensive value.
Lawrence’s 8.3 percent stop rate (defined as tackling the ball carrier for less than 40% of the required yardage on first down, 60 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down) ranked 20th out of 70 qualified defensive tackles, but considering that he is a two-gapping nose tackle whose job was to clog holes rather than to make tackles, that number is remarkable. He was a monster in the middle, but the rest of the defense did not do its job in the run game.
Across the board, no matter what traditional or analytical run stat measured, the Giants’ run defense was horrific in 2022.
Bringing in Bobby Okereke should theoretically help in the run game. His 7.7 percent run stuff rate ranked 24th out of 65 qualified linebackers, while his 9.8 percent missed-tackle rate in the run game was roughly average at 34th. Still, if he’s replacing Jaylon Smith, that’s a statistical net wash and possibly a slight loss. Smith had a 7.2 percent stuff rate while ranking eighth among linebackers at just a 4.8 percent missed tackle rate.
Meanwhile, running with Jarrad Davis as the other off-ball linebacker is dangerous. The last time Davis qualified as a linebacker in 2019, he ranked 20th with an 8.4 percent run stuff rate. That number decreased to 7 percent on 165 run defense snaps in 2020, then plummeted to 4.2 percent on 97 snaps in 2021. He played just 106 total defensive snaps in 2022. The Giants cannot rely on him as a starting linebacker.
Losing Julian Love will also likely have a detrimental effect on Big Blue’s run defense. Love ranked 18th out of 64 qualified safeties (min. 250 run defense snaps) with a 3.4 percent run stop rate and 14th with an 8.2 percent missed tackle rate. He was a very impactful run defender.
If Bobby McCain is indeed a Love replacement, that’s quite a precipitous fall-off: McCain ranked 47th with just a 1.4 percent stop rate and was second-to-last with an appalling 27 percent missed tackle rate.
Meanwhile, in pass defense, the Giants also struggled. Losing Adoree’ Jackson for the latter part of the season did not help matters; Jackson ranked 33rd out of 86 cornerbacks (min. 300 cover snaps) with an 85.3 passer rating allowed and 18th with both a 15 percent forced incompletion rate and 6.25 yards per target allowed.
Jackson’s seven missed games contributed to the Giants’ struggles against opponents’ No. 1 receivers. Per Football Outsiders, New York ranked 22nd vs. teams’ top wide receiver targets compared to third and sixth, respectively, against the No. 2 and 3.
The Giants were also terrible in covering opponents’ tight ends, ranking 31st in DVOA vs. TEs. Having Okereke in coverage should help minimizing the damage in that mid-range, as he ranked 24th among 70 linebackers (min. 200 cover snaps) with 7.00 yards per target allowed. Still, he gave up 1.226 yards per cover snap, which ranked 57th, and was targeted once every 5.4 snaps, the fifth-worst among linebackerss.
Overall, the Giants have holes all along their defense: they need help on the defensive line despite the strength of Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and Kayvon Thibodeaux; their linebacking corps needs work; behind Jackson, their cornerback room is razor-thin; and Xavier McKinney, Bobby McCain, and Jason Pinnock are a potentially strong but shaky safety group.
The Giants went 0-4 against the Eagles and Cowboys in the regular season and 2-6 total against 2022 playoff teams. In 2023, they are slated to play eight playoff teams from last season, with the Bills, Dolphins, 49ers, and Seahawks joining their divisional foes.
However, there are some other dangerous opponents on the schedule. The Jets cannot be overlooked once Aaron Rodgers (presumably) joins the fold. The Patriots and their suffocating defense are always a tough out. The Saints look like a playoff contender with Derek Carr under center.
It never does to underestimate other opponents, either, as the Jordan Love-led Packers, Commanders with whoever their quarterback will be, Jimmy Garoppolo-outfitted Raiders, and the Matthew Stafford-returning Rams can always sneak up. The Arizona Cardinals are the only real question mark, as without Kyler Murray and with a leaky roster, it’s difficult to imagine how they can win games in 2023.
Overall, 12 of the Giants’ 17 opponents in 2023 finished last season with a DVOA greater than theirs. That’s a daunting slate for a team that is still shaky talent-wise.
It comes down to the quarterback
Despite all the other holes on the Giants’ team, their success in 2023 will likely be reliant on Daniel Jones. If he can take the next step and generate more offense for the Giants, this team can likely hit the over for their win total and make a run at the playoffs.
If, however, Jones plays at the same level or worse than he did last season, the competition is likely too stiff to engineer a repeat playoff spot. The Giants would not have given Jones two fully guaranteed years at $41 million per year if they did not think he can make that step.
Daboll and Kafka have shown that they can scheme receivers open. Despite a continued lack at the top of the receiver depth chart, the Giants do have some nice pieces there in Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, Wan’Dale Robinson, Campbell, Sterling Shepard, and Crowder. Jones was showing some nice chemistry with Daniel Bellinger before the latter’s freak eye injury, which bodes well for a possible strong connection with Waller.
However, 2017 serves as a warning for the Giants about what can happen when a team overachieves. With expectations high, the team bottomed out at 3-13. The Giants don’t expect that, but it’s not a possibility to be completely discounted. If Jones regresses, injuries continue to mount, and the holes on the roster are exposed, a bottom finish could happen.
Still, on the whole, the Vegas over/under is likely an accurate baseline expectation for these Giants. They won nine games last year, added some talent, and still have their top coaches intact. Hitting the over, even by a game, can be enough to make the playoffs once more.