5 bold predictions for the Giants 2019 season, including Sterling Shepard's big stats jump

Ralph Vacchiano

Ralph Vacchiano | Facebook | Twitter | Archive

There are some who decided the Giants' 2019 season would be a disaster the moment they decided to bring Eli Manning back for one more year. Others became convinced they were tanking the moment they made quarterback Daniel Jones the sixth overall pick in the draft.

The truth, though, is nobody knows what the Giants really are and what will happen in 2019 until the games start for real -- and that's still about three months away.

But it's never too early to make some crazy guesses. So here are five bold predictions for what to expect from the Giants this year:

1. Eli Manning will start all 16 games

First, it's not even a mild prediction that he'll be healthy enough to play all 16 games because he never gets hurt. But this year he's also going to play well enough to hold onto his job, to keep the Giants close enough to the playoff race, and to hold off Jones.

That's what the Giants want, after all, and they've surrounded him with just enough talent to make sure that's what he'll do. Yes, Odell Beckham Jr. is gone, but Golden Tate is pretty good. And if he gets protection from a rebuilt offensive line -- which he will -- that'll make all the difference in the world. Manning completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for 4,299 yards last season while under siege from defense. Now if he has time, and Saquon Barkley has room to run?

Those numbers will go up and even Manning's biggest critics will finally have to admit the obvious -- that he's not "done." He has another good year left in his arm for the Giants. The only question will be whether it's his last.

2. Saquon Barkley will NOT lead the NFL in rushing

The odds are pretty good that any one running back doesn't win, but a lot of people think Barkley is on the verge of a rushing title for good reason. After all, he finished second in the NFL in rushing last season, gaining 1,307 yards behind a generally terrible offensive line. Now, with a much-improved offensive line and no Beckham, it only stands to reason that his numbers will go up, right?

Maybe not. Because as much as the Giants say they want to run their offense through Barkley, you can bet defenses know that, too. And with no Beckham, that likely means more eight-man fronts, especially at the start of the season.

Also, one more thing: The Giants' passing offense is going to work a lot better than it has in the past. That will include Barkley, who will be more dangerous through the air this year.

3. The Giants will not have a player who tops the team-leading seven sacks Olivier Vernon had last year

This may not seem like much of a limb, but a seven-sack bar is pretty low. Unfortunately, the Giants didn't take any obvious steps to improve their putrid pass rush from a year ago.

They think it's better, but they're basing that on the hope that Lorenzo Carter (four sacks) can take a big, second-year leap, that free agent Markus Golden can rediscover his pre-ACL tear form, and that with the inside presence of massive rookie Dexter Lawrence, maybe B.J. Hill (5 ½ sacks) can be more dangerous.

That's a lot to ask for and a lot to hope for. It's hard to see it all going right for a defense that couldn't find the opposing quarterback with a map last season.

4. Sterling Shepard will have more receiving yards than Odell Beckham Jr. this year

There's a couple of reasons why this might happen, but the most significant one for Giants fans is that Shepard is going to be Manning's go-to guy. And with defenses keying in on Barkley, there will be plenty of room for Shepard to get loose. Yes, Tate could take away some of Shepard's production, but he's likely to play a secondary role.

Now, Shepard had career highs in 66 catches for 872 yards last season, and that's like a good month for Beckham. But here's the thing: The over/under on games for the oft-injured Beckham is 12, which increases Shepard's chances. Also, the Browns have to keep receiver Jarvis Landry happy, too, and he's not going to be thrilled with a very secondary role.

So Shepard may just need a modest jump in stats, and he's good enough to approach 100 catches and 1,200 yards.

5. The Giants will still be alive in the NFC playoff chase when they take the field for their regular-season finale

That's not to say they'll make the playoffs. It's only to say that they won't be eliminated before the final game. They will be at least 8-7 heading into that game, with the playoffs still in reach. That will make the Eagles-Giants finale at the Meadowlands a raucous affair for a success-starved fan base. And it will go a long way towards validating GM Dave Gettleman's rebuilding plan.

Now, they probably will still need to beat the Eagles to get in, and they might even need some help from other NFC teams. The Giants are likely to hover around being a borderline playoff team, and their road won't be easy. It might not even work out.

But they'll be in it until the end, which will make ownership very happy and lead to a very difficult decision heading into 2020: Do they stick with Manning and try for one last run since they were so close? Or do they turn the page to the future and hand the ball to Jones?

That's a bold prediction that even I'm not crazy enough to try and make right now.