Brian Daboll won over the Big Apple in his first year as New York Giants head coach. It all started the first week of the season with a critical decision in the final minutes. The first-year head coach passed up the chance to tie for a two-point conversion with 1:06 remaining. His gamble on his players in the dramatic 21-20 win over the Tennessee Titans set the tone for a season that would eventually earn him Coach of the Year.
Daboll turned that momentum into a 6-1 start and quickly made headlines as the surprise of the NFL. It was clear he was pushing all the right buttons with New York’s biggest stars. Saquon Barkley rushed for over 103 yards per game in the first seven weeks, and Daniel Jones was showing improvement despite his limited weapons in the passing game. As many expected, regression hit in the second half, and the Giants dropped all but three of their final eight games. Their 9-7-1 record was still good enough to secure a date in Minnesota in the wild-card round of the playoffs, where Daboll delivered the Giants their first postseason win since 2011.
The Giants took a huge leap under their new head coach, but taking that second step can be an even bigger challenge for rebuilding teams. I think it’s very telling that the Giants' projected win total is 7.5, just a small increase over last season’s (7). Here are a few factors that have me betting that life is a little different in Year 2 for Daboll.
New York Giants under 7.5 wins (-105)
You can believe a team is heading in the right direction, but still take a step back. That’s where I’m at with New York. The addition of Darren Waller gives the Giants a proven pass-catcher at tight end, and rookie WR Jalin Hyatt has the game-breaking speed to possibly develop into a future No.1 receiver. However, the high-upside flashes will be mixed in with typical bouts of inconsistency that rookies deal with in their first seasons. The Giants modestly improved the offensive roster, but it still lacks playmakers on the outside. Jones' pass-catching weapons (WR/TE) enter the season projected as the third-lowest rated group in the NFL. Overall, it’s an offense that will go as far as Barkley can carry it. Here’s why that might not be as far as you might expect.
Once the Giants jumped all over the NFC with their 6-1 start, teams adjusted to force Jones to beat them with someone besides Barkley. The former No. 2 overall pick was bottled up for only 58 rushing yards per game over the final 10 weeks, resulting in a 3-6-1 record. If the offense doesn’t improve, it can’t depend on the other side of the ball to bail it out. The Giants' defense ranked 28th in EPA per play and allowed 5.7 yards per play (tied for 24th). I have little doubt Daboll will make the most out of what he has to work with, but I think the roster limitations on both sides of the ball will be more noticeable in his second season.
The road to rebuilding is paved by peaks and valleys. The schedule plays a major role in the challenges teams like the Giants face after a major jump in the standings. It’s a critical piece of information for evaluating win totals, and it’s a big part in why I’m betting against the Giants. So much of their success came from the momentum they established early in the season. You will hear coaches discuss this all the time, and it’s something I definitely look for when targeting teams that may overachieve. It makes sense that teams who start the season 3-0 end up in the playoffs roughly 75% of the time. Winning builds confidence, and that can have a dramatic impact on a young team. While the Giants enjoyed a fast start last season, the tables have turned in 2023. Outside of a Week 2 trip to Arizona, the Giants are projected underdogs in five of their first six games:
• vs. Dallas
• at Arizona
• at San Francisco
• vs. Seattle
• at Miami
• at Buffalo
It’s an absolutely brutal start to the season for a team that showed stark splits last year against the league’s better teams. Daboll’s Giants were only 2-7 against teams that qualified for the postseason in 2022, while compiling a 7-0-1 against non-playoff teams. If the Giants start the season 2-4 or worse, it will be compelling to see how Daboll and his star players handle the pressure. It was a tense offseason highlighted by the decision to place the franchise tag on Barkley after committing $104 million in guaranteed money to Jones. If Jones doesn’t deliver on expectations early, and the team isn’t winning games, the leadership in the locker room will be pivotal in preventing the season from going south.
If you are a believer in the Giants, my best advice is to use the schedule to your advantage. Both the Eagles and Cowboys have very manageable schedules early, so the odds should widen between those teams and the Giants after the first four-to-six games. Bets on the Giants to win the division or make the playoffs will come at a much more advantageous price at that point. The Giants were one of the most profitable teams ATS last year (14-5), so we have a history of Daboll being able to beat the market.
When I look at the landscape of the division, the Giants' roster is more of a work in progress than Dallas and Philadelphia. That talent gap was pretty noticeable in the Eagles' 38-7 playoff win in the divisional round, and I don't think New York did enough in the offseason to get to that next level. The Giants still have multiple position groups (WR, OL, LB, DB) that rank outside of the top 25 in the league. Daboll did a masterful job in his first year, but repeating it will be an even greater task. For a team that finished the season winning only four of its last 11 games, I see it as more likely it takes a step back than another step forward. I have the Giants closer to a six- or seven-win team, making the under a valuable bet at -105 odds.
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