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Were the Giants lucky in 2022?

And does it mean anything for 2023?

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New York Giants v Tennessee Titans Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

New York Giants fans are understandably excited about the upcoming 2023 NFL season, with their team having come off its first playoff win in a decade, led by the 2022 Coach of the Year, and with potential upgrades at several positions of weakness through free agency, trades, and the draft.

The rest of the NFL community is not so excited about the Giants, though. Many predict that they will regress in 2023. In part this is due to a presumed tougher schedule, but there is also a current of thinking that the Giants were very lucky last year rather than being better than the teams they defeated. The Giants showed their true colors when they got “smoked” by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the playoffs.’s Cynthia Frelund’s model has the Giants at 7.9 projected wins for 2023. Mike Clay of ESPN projects 8.5 wins, as does DraftKings. Pro Football Focus’ model has the Giants at 7.73 wins (I really appreciate that two decimal point accuracy), which they project to give them the No. 7 draft pick in 2024. Bill Barnwell of ESPN specifically cites all the close games they won and the games they won in the fourth quarter as “coin flips” that usually do not go the team’s way the following season. Experts also cite the Giants’ easy 2022 schedule (which turned out to be slightly more difficult than average once the season was played) and their seemingly more difficult schedule this year.

All of these may be true statistically. One season is a small sample, though, and when applied to one specific team rather than league-wide, it may or may not be reliable. We can’t predict the future with any level of confidence, but there is one question we can address in retrospect: Were the Giants just lucky in 2022?

A “Luck Index”

Let’s (mostly unscientifically) go through the Giants’ 2022 schedule and assess how lucky or unlucky they were in each game. We’ll assign a number from -5 to +5 to the Giants’ fortunes in each game, where a negative (positive) number indicates a game in which they were unlucky (lucky) and 0 means they got exactly the result their play deserved. To make it at least a bit scientific, we’ll establish the following rules:

  • Injuries do not enter into our assessment. Goodness knows that the Giants had more than their share last season. Maybe it was the MetLife turf, or conditioning protocols, or just bad luck. It’s hard to attribute individual wins and losses to injuries, though. Daniel Jones’ neck injury in 2021 torpedoed any hopes for the rest of that season, but Phil Simms’ injury late in the 1990 season did not prevent that team from going on to win the Super Bowl. The difference was the quality of the backups. The Giants’ mid-season slump in 2022 may have been in part due to mounting injuries, but teams with good depth make the best of things. The 2022 Giants were not deep in talent.
  • Fourth quarter comebacks have little to do with luck. Here are the top 20 quarterbacks in career fourth quarter comebacks, per Pro Football Reference:
Data from Pro Football Reference

That list has eight Hall of Famers, four others who are pretty sure to make it to Canton, and four others who at least have a chance. Daniel Jones tied for third in the NFL in fourth quarter comebacks in 2022. Make of that what you will, but we will not call it luck.

  • Wins in close games are not in and of themselves the product of luck. There are some good teams that blow out opponents, and other good teams that do well in close games. The Giants won three of their four Super Bowls against offensive juggernauts by keeping the game close.
  • Individual great plays are not the product of luck if they are reasonably repeatable. The helmet catch? A great play by David Tyree, but nine times out of 10 he doesn’t hang on to that ball going to the ground. A once-in-a-lifetime play and a large dose of luck (not to mention Eli not being whistled prematurely for being in the grasp). Manning-to-Manningham? A great pass and great catch. It might not be completed every time, but the play went as planned. It would be a disservice to classify that as luck.
  • Plays that go for or against a team because of unfathomable mistakes, or terrible calls by the officials, or literal bounces of the ball, are luck. For example, Jerry Rice’s unforced fumble while sprinting to a touchdown in a 1986 playoff game against the Giants was pure luck for them:

If that had been the deciding play in a one score game that would be a Luck Index of +5 for the Giants, especially if it happened late. The Giants won in a blowout that day, though, and that play happened early, so probably it had only a little effect on the outcome - a positive but small Luck Index for the Giants. Scott Norwood’s “wide right” 47-yard field goal miss that preserved the Giants’ 1990 season Super Bowl victory over Buffalo on the other hand could be scored as a Luck Index of +4 (since a field goal that long is never a gimme), although a number even that high is debatable because Norwood was considered to be beyond his maximum distance on grass.

Games in which luck played no role

The Giants played 12 games in the 2022 season in which luck probably played no role whatsoever in the final outcome. We’ll score these games as Luck Index = 0:

Week 4 - Giants 20, Chicago 12

The Giants had bad injury luck this day, with Daniel Jones going down midway through the game and then Tyrod Taylor shortly thereafter, but injuries don’t enter our assessment. The players on the field got the job done against a bad opponent.

Week 5 - Giants 28, Green Bay 22

The Giants stirringly came from behind in the second half, making long time-consuming scoring drives and holding the Packers at bay with practice squad-level players on both sides of the ball. At the end they stopped Aaron Rodgers short of the end zone by twice deflecting attempted passes, and then Oshane Ximines knocked the ball out of Rodgers’ hand to prevent a final Hail Mary throw. Those count as good defense, not luck.

Week 6 - Giants 24, Baltimore 20

Another come from behind win against a good opponent. The Ravens were decimated at wide receiver, but again injuries don’t count as luck (and didn’t matter when the Giants’ roster was decimated the previous week). The Ravens lost due to a series of poor plays late, with Tyler Linderbaum snapping on the wrong count on third down, Lamar Jackson then being intercepted playing hero ball instead of re-grouping for fourth down, and Jackson later getting stripped by Kayvon Thibodeaux because he held the ball away from his body. Any luck associated with the Giants recovering the fumble is negated by Jackson’s poor ball security.

Week 7 - Giants 23, Jacksonville 17

You can say that the Giants were lucky to stop the Jaguars’ Christian Kirk a yard short of the goal line on the game’s final play to preserve the win. You can also say that the play call should have had Kirk run the route into the end zone before Trevor Lawrence, who had good protection, threw the ball. Either way, the Giants’ defenders gang-tackled Kirk to make sure he didn’t advance. If anything, the Giants were unlucky at the 0:42 mark when an interception by Fabian Moreau was negated by a phantom hands-to-the-face penalty away from the ball by Dane Belton.

Week 8 - Seattle 27, Giants 13

The Giants played poorly while Seattle dominated in the first three quarters and put the game away after the Giants tied it in the fourth quarter. They deserved this loss.

Week 10 - Giants 24, Houston 16

A workmanlike, uninspired performance against one of the NFL’s worst teams, with little remarkable happening on either side of the ball. The Giants deserved the victory.

Week 11 - Detroit 31, Giants 18

The Lions’ subpar defense took it to the Giants’ offense all day, and the Giants’ defense mostly didn’t show up. Detroit made its own luck and the Giants didn’t.

Week 14 - Philadelphia 48, Giants 22

For the first of two times last season, the Eagles totally outclassed the Giants. Yes, Jamie Gillan had the ball slip out of his hands on a punt that put the Eagles at the Giants’ 10-yard line, but without that piece of bad luck, the final score would probably have been 41-22.

Week 17 - Giants 38, Indianapolis 10

For the only time all season, the Giants routed an inferior opponent to clinch a playoff berth. Maybe this game convinced Bobby Okereke and Parris Cambell to sign with the Giants as free agents. If they work out well, we’ll add one in the luck column.

Week 18 - Philadelphia 22, Giants 16

With Jalen Hurts nursing his injured shoulder and the Eagles playing vanilla against the Giants’ backups, this game was never really in doubt. Give the Giants credit for making a game of it at the end, but the result was as it should have been.

Wild Card Round - Giants 31, Minnesota 24

The Giants played their best overall game of the season when it counted. They drove downfield to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, and they stopped the Vikings on fourth down due to great plays by Dexter Lawrence (who forced Kirk Cousins to get rid of the ball prematurely) and Xavier McKinney (who drove T.J. Hockenson out of bounds short of the first down) to seal the victory.

Divisional Round - Philadelphia 38, Giants 7

For the second time last season, the Eagles totally outclassed the Giants, ending their season by halftime. Just about every Giant played poorly.

Games the Giants won with some good luck

Week 1 - Giants 21, Tennessee 20 (Luck Index = +4)

Let’s face it, the Giants should have lost their opening game. Titans’ kicker Randy Bullock made six of his other seven field goal attempts from 40-49 yards in 2022, but his kick from 47 yards out to win the game as time expired went wide left. (He had made one from 46 in the second quarter.) The Giants get credit for making a 2-point conversion (due to a great play by Saquon Barkley) and forcing Tennessee to win it, but their defense let the Titans drive into field goal position in one minute.

Week 2 - Giants 19, Carolina 16 (Luck Index = +1)

Graham Gano made a 52-yard field goal with 12:31 remaining to tie the game and then a 56-yard field goal with 3:34 left to provide the winning points. The odds of making those kicks from those distances were 64% and 46%, respectively, according to Ben Baldwin’s fourth down decision calculator:

The odds of making both were .64 x .46 = .29, less than one in three. By that standard, the Giants won with a big helping of luck.

It’s not that simple, though. Gano was once again one of the NFL’s best kickers in 2022, making 8 of 9 field goals from 50+ yards. That success rate (89%) translates into 79% odds of making them both, much less the result of luck. Furthermore, unlike the Tennessee game that came down to the final play, these field goals occurred with plenty of time left for the Panthers to come back. The Giants’ defense prevented that with good play to stop Carolina with two minutes left, and the offense then ran out the clock.

Week 15 - Giants 20, Washington 12 (Luck Index = +2)

This was the Giants’ strongest performance in some time after their mid-season “wilderness weeks.” Victory was in doubt in the last two minutes, though, as the Commanders marched down the field against the Giants’ leaky pass defense. The gods (i.e., the refs) smiled on the Giants, though, on two plays as Washington was knocking on the door:

First, Brian Robinson’s 1-yard TD was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on wide receiver Terry McLaurin. McLaurin asked the official if he was lined up properly, was told otherwise, moved up a bit, looked back at the official for confirmation, thought he was OK, and got flagged when the play began:

Two plays later on fourth down in the end zone at 0:56, Darnay Holmes put a bear hug on Curtis Samuel that could get him a WWE contract but was not called for a penalty:

Kayvon Thibodeaux was poked in the eye by an offensive lineman on that last play and by rights the call should have been offsetting penalties and repeat down, but Washington had two legitimate chances to either get a call or not be called and got neither. Even if they had scored, though, they would have needed a two-point conversion just to tie. Two-point conversion attempts are only successful about half the time, and the Giants would have had a little less than a minute to get into range for a winning field goal attempt in any case.

Games the Giants lost with some bad luck

Week 3 - Dallas 23, Giants 16 (Luck Index = -0.5)

The Giants fought valiantly, especially Daniel Jones, but were overwhelmed by the Cowboys’ pass rush and deserved to lose the game. They had one final chance to drive for the tying score, but David Sills slipped on his route, allowing Trevon Diggs to intercept Jones to seal the game. That’s bad luck, but it happened at the Giants’ 36 yard line, so even with a completion it was far from likely that the Giants would have tied or won the game. Giants’ receivers had several egregious drops that evening. We classify that as poor performance rather than bad luck.

Week 12 - Dallas 28, Giants 20 (Luck Index = -1)

The Giants went toe-to-toe with the Cowboys during the first half, but a bogus illegal man downfield call on tackle Tyre Phillips on an apparent TD pass to Isaiah Hodgins forced the Giants to settle for a field goal. The Giants were greatly outplayed in the second half, though, and deserved the loss that was hung on them by Dallas.

Week 13 - Giants 20, Washington 20 (Luck Index = -0.5)

The Giants did not play well, surrendering a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter. They had a chance to get two scores ahead when Jones completed a 12-yard pass to Darius Slayton to the Washington 35 with 6:22 to go, but Jon Feliciano flexed his muscles and was called for taunting, killing the drive. Stupid thing for him to do, but a ticky-tack penalty at a crucial time. In overtime the Giants could only drive to the Washington 40, and Gano badly missed a 58-yard field goal, because of the unusually strong winds that day.

Week 16 - Minnesota 27, Giants 24 (Luck index = -2)

The Giants played the Vikings pretty evenly, tying the score with just over two minutes to play. Minnesota then drove 33 yards and Greg Joseph kicked a 61-yard field goal as time expired for the win. Joseph had never kicked a field goal that long, and he was only two of eight on 50+ yard field goal attempts going into the game. On the other hand, the Giants allowed Justin Jefferson to get 17 yards on third-and-11 to set up the kick. Even if Joseph’s field goal hadn’t been made, though, it would have only gotten the game to overtime, with the eventual victor a toss-up.

So were the Giants lucky in 2022?

Mostly, no. They had 12 games in which luck played no role whatsoever, going 7-5 in those games. They were lucky in three of their wins, and unlucky in three of their losses and their tie. Adding up all of my subjective “Luck Index” values, the total for the season is +3, i.e., on balance they were a bit lucky.

The one obvious thing that stands out from their season is the very first game. They deserved to lose to Tennessee despite their valiant comeback and gutsy two-point conversion, because the defense allowed the Titans to march right downfield into favorable field goal position for a good kicker.

If they’d lost, would it have had a ripple effect on the rest of their schedule? There’s no way to know. The most likely consequence would have been having to play their starters in Philadelphia in Week 18, which would have forced the Eagles into a more aggressive game plan. Most likely, the Giants would have lost that game anyway and finished 8-8-1, missing the playoffs as the 9-8 Lions replaced them.

In that sense they were very lucky. The other side of that coin is that the Giants were stuck at No. 25 in the 2023 draft until trading up one slot because Randy Bullock missed that kick and they made the Divisional Round of the playoffs. If they had missed the playoffs they would have drafted no lower than No. 18, where Detroit drafted. At that position, wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Quentin Johnston, Zay Flowers, and Jordan Addison were all still available. Would Joe Schoen have still taken Deonte Banks, but without giving up two draft picks? Would he have taken one of the wide receivers? A butterfly flaps its wings...

Beyond that, though, only the outcomes of the second Washington game and the regular season Minnesota game were influenced to any extent by luck. One of those went the Giants’ way, the other did not, and in neither game would the outcome definitely have been different if the coin had landed on the other side.

What does it all mean for 2023?

Nothing, really. The team will be different, the opponents will be different. The Giants’ 2022 experience that only one of their games was obviously decided by luck suggests that coin flips not going their way are unlikely to have much to say about their 2023 record. Each season is too small a sample to predict that.

The big thing about 2023 is that the Giants’ coaches will be mostly the same, and that coaching staff, more than good luck, is the biggest reason the Giants won so many close games and thrived in the fourth quarter. Barnwell points out in his article that successful new coaches often don’t duplicate that success in their second year, suggesting that there is luck involved in being successful your first time out with a new team. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Brian Daboll is not the second coming of Ben McAdoo, though.