Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NFL season. This team-by-team preview details why your favorite franchise might have to start looking forward to next year — and highlights at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: Let’s talk about how screwed the Giants are, so they can go 4-12 and still win the Super Bowl somehow.
Giants fans know their team has been maddeningly inconsistent during the Eli Manning years. Of course, most teams would take “maddeningly inconsistent” if it resulted in two Super Bowl wins, but there’s something to be said for the kind of anguish that comes from knowing your team is good enough to be elite… but instead plays like, for lack of a better term, a bunch of assholes.
One Giants game can sum up an entire season. You watch them go out in the first half and absolutely dominate a good team, with an unstoppable offense highlighted by big plays and a stout defense that forces three-and-outs almost every drive. Then the second half comes and the tables turn, with Hakeem Nicks dropping a sure-touchdown on second and five, or Andre Brown gaining half a yard on a third and two. Eli Manning somehow plays better in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against one of the best teams in history than he does in the third quarter of Week 4. Why?
No one knows, especially when they have known hard-ass Tom Coughlin running the show. A Tom Coughlin team shouldn’t make as many mental errors as the Giants do, and yet for every memorable playoff run there has been an equally memorable late-season meltdown.
So why are the Giants screwed this year? After faltering in 2012, shouldn’t they be expected to bounce back strong in 2013?
They’re screwed because while their competitors are getting better, the Giants are just turning their wheels.
The Seahawks and 49ers have gone from laughingstocks in juggernauts in a few short years. The Redskins have elevated their game with a devastating, young running back-quarterback combo. The Eagles are renewed with a coach who will be looking to average 98 points a game. The Saints are back to being the Saints, and the Packers are still the Packers.
Meanwhile, what have the Giants done this offseason? They cut Ahmad Bradshaw because he was too often injured, despite running for over 1,000 yards in just 14 games last year. They said goodbye to Osi Umenyiora, and will move Mathias Kiwanuka back down to defensive end to try to scare people into thinking the Giants still have a fearsome pass rush. They gave a lot (but not a ton) of money to Victor Cruz, and are banking on Nicks having a bounce back year. They have a running back who can run but can’t block (David Wilson) and a running back who can block but gets injured (Brown).
Basically, they’re the same team as last year, with a few new names here and there to give the appearance of having tried something different.
With the Giants, you know what you’re getting, and that’s that you don’t know what you’re getting.
They’ll either be one of the best teams in the NFC or a stepping stone actual elite teams use to vault themselves into contention. Eli will either control the clock and then turn it on when the team needs it most, or throw a bunch of high balls off his receivers fingertips into the waiting arms of the defensive backs standing behind them. (Side note: Even after two Super Bowl MVPs, it’s hard to believe a guy who looks like this is good at football.) Cruz will either destroy secondaries or get so loaded up with attention (because Nicks is out again with “scraped fingernail”) that he never sees daylight. Justin Tuck will either have 14 sacks or none.
And all this will vary from game to game — until they either make the playoffs, or they don’t. Either way, they’re not good enough to win it all, so consider them pretty much screwed.
Why they might not be screwed: See above. It’s not talent, or coaching, or motivation this team lacks: it’s execution. Perform at their best, and these guys trounce the 49ers, and Packers, and Redskins like they did last season. Plus, the NFC East is in flux and can be claimed by literally any of the four teams.
Actual season prediction: 10-6, lose in the first round of the playoffs. As inconsistent as the Giants are, the Cowboys are even more surprisingly hapless, the Eagles have quarterback issues and the shine is off the Redskins. But the rest of the league will eat them heartily and move on to better, more consistent things.