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Shutdown Countdown: Active New York Giants want to bounce back

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(Yahoo Sports)

(Yahoo Sports)

Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per day in reverse order or our initial 2014 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 2, the day before the preseason begins with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton.

The New York Giants saw enough glimmers of hope in the last 10 games last season to resist blowing things up and rebuilding.

The Giants started 0-6 last year, but went 7-3 the rest of the way. They caught some schedule breaks during that time, and after midseason the only two playoff teams the Giants faced beat them 60-14, but 7-3 is 7-3. With some renewed optimism the franchise went on a shopping spree in the offseason to fix some of the team's issues, hoping for a quick turnaround.

The Giants signed 15 veteran free agents this offseason. There wasn't one huge name on the list, but a lot of good, solid vets who can either contribute in a specific role or be upgrades as starters. Instead of a big-ticket player or two, the Giants built depth to go with their core. Like most things the Giants front office does, it was prudent and smart.

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Rueben Randle and Eli Manning (AP)

Rueben Randle and Eli Manning (AP)

Now the core has to play better. Injuries were a huge factor last year, and the defense did pretty well, but as a whole this was still not a very good team. Certainly nothing like what we're used to seeing from the Tom Coughlin-era Giants. When the running game suffered an astonishing amount of injuries, more pressure was on Eli Manning and he had his worst season, with a gruesome 27 interceptions and 69.4 rating. Then he finished the nightmare season by suffering an ankle injury that eventually required surgery. He'll be fine for training camp.

The Giants have to feel like Manning has to be better, there won't be so many injuries and the offseason additions make the team deeper and better. If it all clicks, the Giants might be right back in the playoff mix.

2013 review in less than 25 words: An 0-6 start ruined the season, especially back-to-back losses by a combined 69-7 score. They rallied to finish 7-9, however.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: It's clearly better. There were some losses (defensive end Justin Tuck, offensive lineman Kevin Boothe, tight end Brandon Myers, receiver Hakeem Nicks, defensive tackle Linval Joseph) but those 15 signees will fill most of the empty spots. It was an interesting approach. Guard Geoff Schwartz (four years, $16.8 million) or cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (five years, $35 million) were probably the two big additions, but this was mostly buying in bulk and hoping a high percentage hits. Maybe it's defensive end Robert Ayers or cornerback Walter Thurmond or safety Quintin Demps, but some of these players are going to help a lot in 2014.

Best offseason acquisition: When the Giants' running game really went bad last year, to the point where it couldn't be trusted in just about any circumstance, everything went south. Rashad Jennings should help the Giants avoid a repeat of that. Jennings had a breakout year with Oakland last year, running hard and effectively on a terrible team when Darren McFadden got hurt. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry, and with just 387 career carries he should have a couple of valuable years left for the Giants.

Achilles heel: The Giants were dealt a blow when inside linebacker Jon Beason suffered a foot injury that might keep him out for Week 1. It served as a reminder that the entire Giants linebacking corps is shaky. Beason rejuvenated his career last season, but the Panthers traded him for a seventh-round pick last year because his body seemed to be wearing down.

Former Raven Jameel McClain, signed to be a starter, has dealt with his own injury issues. There isn't a ton of proven depth in the group, either. 

Position in flux: Manning knows that Victor Cruz is his No. 1 target. After that? Well, if the Giants were totally sold on Rueben Randle having a big third season, they probably wouldn't have used the No. 12 overall pick on Odell Beckham. One of them will replace Hakeem Nicks as Manning's No. 2 target, but who will it be? And the Giants have gone from Martellus Bennett to Brandon Myers to who at tight end? Adrien Robinson will probably start, and all reports are the team likes him, but it's a lot to ask of a player who has played in three games with no catches in two years. 

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Adrien Robinson (USA Today Sports Images)

Adrien Robinson (USA Today Sports Images)

Ready to break out: Yeah, there's no track record, but we'll go ahead and take the leap of faith on Robinson. He was a freakish athlete coming out of Cincinnati. He wasn't invited to the combine, but at his pro day he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash and had a 39.5-inch vertical leap at 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds. The Giants took him in the fourth round and general manager Jerry Reese said he was the Jason Pierre-Paul of tight ends, a comparison to New York's gifted defensive end that sticks to this day.

Injuries and being stuck on the depth chart behind some veterans has limited Robinson's playing time. Reports coming out of New York say his first two years weren't wasted, that he became a mature pro who is now ready for a big responsibility.

The Giants seem comfortable going into the season with him as their top tight end, so we'll trust that they know something here.

Stat fact: How beat up were the Giants last year? In Football Outsiders' adjusted games lost to injury stat, New York lost the most games to injury of any offense in the NFL, and the second most defensive games due to injury. That's close to pulling off a depressing sweep. Running back and defensive back in particular were blown apart with injuries. There's no way the Giants have that type of bad injury luck two straight years. 

Schedule degree of difficulty: The Giants have an easy road, with a schedule tied for 26th toughest in the NFL based on last year's records. From Nov. 23-Dec. 21 the Giants have five games against teams that were .500 or worse in 2013 (Dallas, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis) before finishing at home against Philadelphia.

Burning question

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2014 season: The Giants won't have the same vast number of injuries. With just average health, the Giants will be better off. They'll also have more depth at most positions, the running game can't be worse, and the receivers might be better off without Nicks running like he's in a minefield as his contract worries weigh on his mind. The defense was good, so there's that foundation. If New York's 7-3 finish was legit and the injury luck evens out, maybe they'll surprise people and win the NFC East.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: A lot depends on Manning reversing some troubling trends. Since almost reaching 5,000 yards in 2011, Manning has had two-year slides in yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdowns. He improved from 16 interceptions in 2011 to 15 in 2012, only to nearly double that with 27 last year. The problem is, at 33 it's possible he's nearing the end.

If Manning has started his career decline a few years before he probably should, the Giants are in trouble. That includes for this season.  

The crystal ball says: The Giants will be a better team, but still not a playoff team. There's a lot to be worried about with Manning, who had a rating under 70 in three of four months last season and had four touchdowns and 10 interceptions in December. There are other NFC teams I like better, and I like the Eagles to win the East.

Previous previews:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
31. Oakland Raiders
30. Washington Redskins
29. Cleveland Browns
28. Minnesota Vikings
27. Buffalo Bills
26. Tennessee Titans
25. Houston Texans
24. Dallas Cowboys
23. New York Jets
22. Atlanta Falcons

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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