Giants coach Pat Shurmur

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Keidel: Hopes Are High As Giants Look To Rebound From 3-13 Season

Jason Keidel
August 21, 2018 - 2:22 pm
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Amazing what a few months, a fired coach and one splashy draft pick will do to a forlorn fan base. 

The Giants were 3-13 last year, an abject form of a football team and galaxies away from the fundamental image of an old-school football club with four sparkling Lombardi Trophies in its hallway. 

Now, with the addition of fledgling head coach Pat Shurmur, the drafting of Saquon Barkley and the return of Odell Beckham Jr., Giants devotees have a spiked sense of identity. If feelings of fans were translated into graphs, then everything points upward. 

We can debate Barkley's bona fides as the second overall pick in the NFL draft, but there's no doubt he lifts Big Blue's sagging offense. They say a quarterback's best friend is a robust running game, and Barkley's presence alone makes life better for Eli Manning. The 37-year-old quarterback can hand Barkley the ball 20 times and toss it to him in the flat five times, equaling 25 plays in which Eli need not worry about being hit, sacked or even scratched.

Then add Evan Engram, the seductive tight-end talent who showed us just enough as a rookie to leave fans frothing at the prospect of his sophomore season. 

The offensive line has been shored up with the additions of former Patriots tackle Nate Solder and second-round draft pick Will Hernandez. They haven't plugged all their holes and woes on the line of scrimmage, but the Giants will block better by default. Yet even with all the additions -- and none may be bigger than Shurmur, who last year led Case Keenum to within 60 minutes of the Super Bowl -- and healthy subtractions (Ben McAdoo), the Giants, like every NFL club, pivot on the play of their quarterback.

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Some say Manning is finished. Some say he's got three years left in his legs. This year could be his last shot to prove his right arm and Southern charm still make him a perfect fit for New York and the Giants. 

On defense, the Giants have to return to a reasonable resemblance of the squad that got them to the playoffs two years ago, and not the unit that imploded last year. Between injury, insolence and incompetence, the Giants hemorrhaged yards and points in 2017.

Usually you can't import a host of players and yield solid returns. But the 2016 additions of Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins -- along with homegrown stud Landon Collins -- remade Big Blue's defense a force. Then it all fell apart. Rolling the dice once again, the Giants traded for tackling machine Alec Ogletree, the former Los Angeles Rams linebacker.

Cornerbacker Eli Apple has to play like a first-round draft pick. Jenkins has to overcome his brother's arrest on a manslaughter charge after the Giants DB's friend was found dead in his New Jersey home. And someone has to fill the presence and production left by Jason Pierre-Paul, who was traded to Tampa Bay. 

So when you consider the gridiron math, the mutating parts and the Giants' history over most of the last 32 years -- which includes a 4-1 record in the Super Bowl -- what can you, the Giants fan, expect of the 2018 team? 

Surely you will (and should) expect more than the 3-13 Big Blue whale that ran ashore on 2017, dead long before the carcass was discovered. Just adding Barkley and Beckham's healed ankle instantly make the team better. Eli has inherited the Teflon Manning DNA. There's no chance he will be benched for Geno Smith, as he was last year, in one of the most apocalyptic personnel moves in NFL history. But no line or halfback or wideout can protect a QB from Father Time. So we must wait until September to see if Manning looks like a Super Bowl MVP or a man in the shadow of his 40th birthday. 

As the shades are drawn on August and baseball loses its singular summer grip on the sports world, what do you want from your G-Men? Unlike MLB, in which half the teams have no shot at a World Series, and most unlike the NBA, in which everyone is gasping in a race to catch the Golden State Warriors, the NFL is a true place of parity. Except for the Browns, Buccaneers and a handful of woeful franchises, everyone has hope. Even the San Francisco 49ers, who were 0-10 at one point last year, have rallied behind Jimmy Garoppolo, the handsome, porn-star-dating messiah who learned his craft from Professor Brady and won every game he started for the Niners last year. 

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The Giants have too many variables to candidly call them a Super Bowl team. But surely you have every right to demand much more than you got last year. Can you see 10-6? Do your dreams include a playoff run? Or would 9-7, and legitimacy deep into December, be enough after that eyesore last season? 

The last 20 years have seen Tampa Bay host a Super Bowl party. Likewise with the Rams, Saints and Seahawks. Even the Falcons would have a ring had they not blown that 28-3 second-half Super Bowl lead. Look 90 miles down I-95, where the Philadelphia Eagles, a club without an NFL title since they beat Vince Lombardi's Packers in 1960, are now defending Super Bowl champs. 

None of these teams have the old-world authority of the Giants, the NFL's version of an Original Six squad. Some say the Giants are too sterile and stuffy, wearing leather coats in a PETA world, run with puritanical pride while trying to process the modern, pyrotechnic players like Beckham -- a science-fiction talent and colorful personality trying to fit into that Mayberry in the Meadowlands. 

The Giants are trying to keep their Tom Coughlin toughness and old-school ethos while being pliable enough to relate to the new-world athlete. It's Shurmur's job to take this mix of age and wage and remold it into a serious football team. The great thing about pro football is that while the game has changed, the goal hasn't. As the NFL's patriarch -- Lombardi -- said, winning is the thing. The question is: How many games must the Football Giants win to make you happy? 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​