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Entering 2009, Eli Manning(notes) was a fantasy enigma. Though ocassional glimpses of dependability surfaced, mental lapses and the Giants’ pound-opponents-into-oblivion philosophy often times restricted his value.

However, in an otherwise forgettable season for the G-Men, the once painfully mediocre quarterback finally transformed into a rock of stability. Back-foot throws rarely occurred. “Golly gee wilikers!” expressions were few and far between. Numbers poured in. Over 16 starts, he established new career benchmarks in yards (4,021), touchdowns (27) and completion percentage (62.3). His 19.7 points per game output finished No. 12 at his position, tied with Kurt Warner(notes).

Owners convinced the former Super Bowl MVP is a trustworthy QB1 this year, however, better hope the injury imp is again well fed.

Decimated by numerous physical ailments, the Giants defense was incredibly gracious in ’09. Its demise combined with an underachieving ground game launched Manning into previously uncharted territory.

Naturally, the long offseason has allowed bodies to heal. Key components of the offense and defense look healthy and confident. Even a trimmed down Brandon Jacobs(notes), more Fievel than Frankenstein a year ago, has looked faster and shiftier. Weight loss and flexibility training during the offseason has helped the bruising rusher regain speed and swagger lost. If Jacobs’ vitality is truly renewed, he and Ahmad Bradshaw(notes), whose role within the offense might significantly expand, could again form a lethal tandem – a possible downside for Eli. From Adam Schefter:

Last season, Manning threw because the Giants struggled to run. He threw because he had to -- after winning their first five games, the Giants lost eight of their last 11, often playing from behind. Now, even though he is poised to play better than he ever has, Manning's numbers might not reflect it for a simple reason.

"Coaches said we're going to get back to running the ball this year, and the backs are really excited about it," Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "The running game will be good."

On paper, Manning’s production should continue on its northward path. New York’s battery of receivers is dynamic. Possession target Steve Smith is coming off a spectacular 107-catch campaign. Buzzy Hakeem Nicks(notes), the Giants’ first-round pick from a season ago, appears poised to take a major step forward. Mario Manningham(notes) is expected to build on last year’s breakthrough effort. And second-year product Ramses Barden(notes), who's had a standout camp, could pay dividends in the red zone. Unquestionably, Eli has plenty of suitable weapons.

But Tom Coughlin’s desire to be more conservative inhibits the veteran’s scoring potential. Ultimately, if all working parts are functioning properly, offensive balance will be emphasized. In the end, an Eli regression back to 2008 – a season in which he finished No. 19 among QBs – is very possible. Drafted on average around pick No. 94 (QB12), he is a suspect QB1 in 12-teamers and yet another reason why the position is loaded with questions after Tom Brady(notes). Rolling the dice with Matthew Stafford(notes), Chad Henne(notes) or Alex Smith much later is a wiser gamble.

Despite his upward trend, the younger Manning could have his owners singing the blues.

Fearless Forecast (16 games): 61.7 cmp%, 213.9 ypg, 22 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 43 rushing yards


Image courtesy of US Presswire

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