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The surprising thing about the 2012 New York Giants wasn't that they hit a slump late in the season. They've done that before. The shocking part is they couldn't get themselves out of it in time to make the playoffs.
A 2-5 stretch finished the Giants last year. But the wins were a 38-10 thrashing of the NFC North champion Packers and a 52-27 demolition of the Saints. So, obviously, this wasn't a bad Giants team. They just turned it on too late (of course, they beat the Eagles 42-7 in Week 17, just to remind everyone how lucky they were to not have to deal with the Giants in the playoffs).
There was some minor tinkering on the roster but it appears it's pretty much the same old, same old for the Giants. Which probably means a weird losing streak at some point of the season. We'll all be waiting to see if they can turn it around in time for the playoffs this year.
Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: The roster is about the same. The Giants lost defensive linemen Chris Canty and Osi Umenyiora, but replaced them with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson in free agency and Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore in the draft. They lost tight end Martellus Bennett but added Brandon Myers. Ahmad Bradshaw is gone, but last year's first-round pick David Wilson and Andre Brown should be able to replace him.
Best offseason acquisition: It was actually a series of additions, during the draft. The team wanted to bolster its lines and did so with its first three picks. The team's pick of offensive tackle Justin Pugh from Syracuse in the first round fills a need. The offensive line was in need of a new young star, and Pugh could come in and make an immediate impact at right tackle. Hankins and Moore were outstanding college players, and it wouldn't be a surprise if both helped the defensive front this year.
Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks (USA Today Sports Images)
Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks (USA Today Sports Images)
Position in flux: Chase Blackburn is gone, so there will be a competition to replace him at middle linebacker. The team signed former Panther and Cowboy Dan Connor, but it appears Mark Herzlich goes into camp as the favorite to win the job. Herzlich was a great player at Boston College who had a well-documented battle with cancer. It would be a great story if Herzlich, who has started four games in his two NFL seasons, won the job.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but will soon: The Giants have typically gotten good production out of their third receiver in recent years, and there's no reason Rueben Randle can't be the next one to have a solid season. Domenik Hixon had 567 yards in that role last year, but he's gone. Randle was a second-round pick last year and had just 298 yards, but he did have two touchdowns in the season finale. His development also could affect what the Giants decide to do with Hakeem Nicks, who will be a free agent after the season.
Stat fact: Eli Manning had a 985-yard dip in his passing total last year, a surprising drop considering he threw only 53 fewer passes. He went from nearly reaching 5,000 yards to being below 4,000. His touchdown, interception and completion rates were a bit worse but not much. The biggest difference was he didn't throw downfield nearly as much in 2012. Perhaps if Nicks can stay healthy, the Giants will have more of a vertical passing game.
This team’s best-case scenario for the 2013 season: This team is still very talented. The Giants may have won just three times in the final half of the season, but they were all blowouts, and the Packers game in particular showed that at their best, the Giants can compete with anyone. It shouldn't surprise anyone if the Giants win the NFC East and make another playoff run.
And here’s the nightmare scenario: It was troubling to see the offense struggle during some games last year, including four games with 16 or fewer points during the second-half swoon. A shutout against Atlanta, which wasn't known for its defense, was startling. If the offense can't find consistency – which probably means the line slips a bit, Wilson and Brown make mistakes in the running game and Nicks doesn't stay healthy – then the NFC East is tough enough to once again push the Giants out of the playoffs.
The player who could swing this team’s season one way or another: Nicks is an interesting player. When he's healthy, he's one of the best receivers in the game. Last year he hurt his knee in Week 2 and missed three games, but told the New York Daily News he would have been better off sitting for six-to-eight weeks. He never looked right in 2012, but says he feels good coming into this year. If he is 100 percent then he, Victor Cruz and Randle (not to mention Myers, who had a fine season in Oakland last year) should again make the Giants one of the best passing offenses in the NFL. Nicks is in a contract year, so motivation won't be a problem.
The Shutdown Countdown previews you might have missed
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New Orleans Saints
13. Chicago Bears
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