What’s in store for New York this year? Here’s our 2023 season preview...
Storylines to monitor
What does Daniel Jones have for an encore?
The Giants wrote off Jones. That’s why they didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. Joe Schoen saw enough his first three years to believe he wasn’t the guy. He readied to pick his in the 2023 draft. Jones responded with his most efficient season of his career, got the Giants to the postseason, then beat the Vikings in the first round. So, the Giants rewarded him with a new four-year, $160 million deal.
What’s unique about the Giants' re-signing of Jones, though, is that they’re banking on him taking another step forward this season. He wasn’t a top-10 quarterback last year. He was good, but his numbers were indicative of a player without much around him (3,205 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, 708 rushing yards, seven touchdowns). The Giants have since improved his supporting cast in hopes he’ll ascend in to the top-10 at his position.
Now it’s on Jones to do so.
Will last year’s first rounders step up?
The Giants had two selections in the first round of last year’s draft. They selected pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and right tackle Evan Neal. The early return on both was … underwhelming. Thibodeaux had just four sacks while Neal finished with a ProFootballFocus grade of 55.9.
The Giants had high expectations for both entering this summer, but the review of both has been lukewarm to this point. Schoen classified both of their performances as “Good. Yeah, good” at his preseason news conference. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The Giants are counting on Thibodeaux to lead their pass rush and Neal to anchor the right side of their line. They need both to do so if they’re going to return to the postseason. Will they?
Can the big plays return?
The Giants had high-powered offenses during their two most recent Super Bowl runs. Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Steve Smith led the first. Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz the second. Those prolific passing attacks waned over the years. Last year, the Giants were last in the NFL in explosive passing plays.
Schoen made it a point to address that this offseason. He drafted the speedy Jalin Hyatt in the third round. He signed Parris Campbell and traded for Darren Waller. They join the now-healthy Sterling Shepard and Wan'Dale Robinson, along with Isaiah Hodgins and Darius Slayton. Is that enough to help the Giants return to the level of play they once had? They certainly hope so.
3 non-QBs to keep an eye on
Saquon Barkley, running back
The Giants made Barkley a long-term contract extension offer at the bye. They made him another after the season. They made him a third just before the deadline to extend him. Barkley turned all of them down, so now he’ll play the season on the franchise tag. There’s no denying Barkley is unhappy with how this all turned out — especially because this was likely the last chance he had at a mega-money contract extension. Running back is an interesting position. Another productive year means an awful lot of mileage on Barkley’s tires — decreasing his value. That’s why it’s hard to imagine it’s the Giants who hand him the deal he wants next offseason. This could very well be his last season in blue.
Darren Waller, tight end
Brian Daboll needed a No. 1 receiver. Schoen made it a priority to get one. The problem: That player wasn’t available in free agency or where the Giants were picking in the draft. So, Schoen got creative. He traded the pick he got for Kadarius Toney (Chiefs) to the Raiders for Waller. The 30-year-old isn’t a wideout, but will be the focal point of New York’s passing attack. The key for Waller is simple: Stay healthy. He showed throughout training camp he is still a dominant, near un-guardable player when on the field. He just has to stay on the field. He looks to be in store for a mammoth year if he does.
Deonte Banks, cornerback
The Giants handed Banks the starting corner job opposite Adoree' Jackson the moment they drafted him in the first round this year. It was a little rough to start, but the Maryland product got it going and parlayed his strong practices with an impressive preseason. In two games, quarterbacks targeted Banks four times. He didn’t allow a single completion. It’s one thing to do that in the preseason. Now Banks must continue it in the regular season. Wink Martindale’s exotic blitz packages usually leave his corners on an island. Banks must be up for the challenge.
The must-watch games
Giants vs. Cowboys, Sept. 10
The Giants talked openly throughout the offseason about the need to close the gap between themselves and the rest of the NFC East. While New York finished last year 9-7-1, and beat the Vikings in the first round, they went just 1-4-1 against their division. That doesn’t include the ugly thumping they took at the hands of the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Giants can show how far they’ve come against the Cowboys in the opener. Dallas finished 12-5 last season, including two victories over the Giants.
Giants vs. Jets, Oct. 29
As much as the two sides try to downplay it, any Jets - Giants game tends to carry a bit more weight. This year that will certainly be the case after the war that’s broken out between Rodgers and Giants linebacker Jihad Ward stemming from a Randall Cobb block in the preseason finale. Rodgers told Ward he didn’t know who he was. Ward accused the Jets and Rodgers of laughing off Cobb’s dirty block. Rodgers accused Ward of making stuff up. This will be a good one.
Giants vs. Eagles, Dec. 25
The Eagles didn’t just beat the Giants in the playoffs — they embarrassed them. The 38-7 final somehow doesn’t even illustrate how lopsided the game was. There was talk after that game about not wanting to forget what happened at the Linc. This will be the Giants' first chance at a little payback, and opportunity to flip a rivalry that’s been awfully one-sided in recent years. The Giants have lost their last four games against the Eagles, and 16 of their last 19 battles.
The toughest stretch: Weeks 16-18 at Eagles, vs. Rams, vs. Eagles
The NFC East figures to be tight once again. That means, in all likelihood, it will come down to the final month of the season to decide not only who wins the division, but also who makes the playoffs. Facing the Eagles, who somehow managed to get better on paper from the squad that won 14 games a year ago, twice in three weeks is a challenge. Sandwiching the Rams in the middle? That’s brutal.
A return to the postseason
The Giants exceeded all expectations last year. While most teams that win a playoff game are expected to go even further the ensuing year, just getting back to the postseason will be an accomplishment for New York. They face a much more challenging schedule (AFC East, NFC West), and are still the third-most talented team in their division. Schoen and Daboll have New York headed in the right direction, but they’re likely still one year away.
Regression from Jones
The Giants invested in Jones. They believe he’ll ascend into a bonafide franchise quarterback now that they’ve surrounded him with more talent. There’s no worse situation this season than having it end questioning whether Jones’ contract was money well spent. The Giants can handle a step back in the record department as long as Jones continues to improve.
The Giants are a more talented team than they were a year ago. They just have a brutal schedule and play in an incredibly tough division. The Giants will look better this year. They just might not win as many games. Schoen needs one more offseason to acquire talent. Their window for legitimate title contention opens in 2024.