Big Blue Morning: Giants a playoff team?

April, 14, 2014
4/14/14
9:30
AM ET
People always ask for predictions -- yes, even this early and sometimes earlier. I don't do NFL season predictions in April. Or May or June or even July. I wait until August, when a) it's asked of me by my employer, and b) we know who's made the teams. My August predictions tend to stink anyway, so it constantly mystifies me that people continue to ask for my April ones.

But others are more secure in themselves, and among those others is the esteemed KC Joyner, who opined last week that the New York Giants of 2014 are improved enough over the 2013 edition to win at least 10 games and make the playoffs in this upcoming season:
That the Giants were able to win seven games last season despite horrible luck and a slew of injuries unprecedented in the past decade speaks to just how incredibly effective their coaching staff is at working around problems. Given the wide variety of upgrades listed above and the talent this team can bring home in the draft, Tom Coughlin and company likely won't have to perform any miracles in 2014.

That conclusion comes at the end of a detailed statistics-based analysis that discusses everything from the offensive line upgrades to the factors that led to Eli Manning's huge interception total to something as nitty-gritty as "down set conversion rate," a measure of sequential offense in which the Giants ranked last in the NFL in 2013. It's good stuff, though it's Insider, so we'll ask you to pay to read the rest.

But I want to make two points on this, and the first is about K.C.'s bona fides on Giants predictions. Two years ago, when everyone was all excited about what the Eagles were doing in free agency and a lot of us (myself definitely included) were writing that the Giants hadn't done enough to improve their roster in the offseason, K.C. predicted a 2011 NFC East title for the Giants. That prediction came true, albeit with a 9-7 record that was only two games better than the one they turned in last year, and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl. So K.C. has a good recent history of figuring out how good the Giants are, even from a few months out.

The second point, however, is about the premise for his conclusion. I think it's true that the Giants' 7-3 finish in 2013 after their 0-6 start is a testament to the strength of an outstanding coaching staff and Coughlin's leadership. But I also think that, in spite of all of the bad luck K.C. references, that 7-3 stretch came with plenty of good luck as well. The only game in which the Vikings started a woefully unprepared Josh Freeman at quarterback was against the Giants. The only game after September in which Nick Foles wasn't able to play quarterback for the Eagles (and in which Matt Barkley had to take the bulk of the snaps) was against the Giants. One of the two games in which the Packers had to start Scott Tolzien at quarterback was against the Giants. One of the three games in which the Redskins started Kirk Cousins at quarterback was against the Giants.

My point is that, yes, the Giants should be commended for continuing to play hard and finding a way to win games in situations that see other teams (including some against which they played in December) roll over and quit. But I think one of the results of that effort was a 7-9 record that was considerably better than the quality of team the 2013 Giants actually were. I think the extent of the roster overhaul they've undertaken this offseason indicates the front office's agreement with this theory, and so the idea that they had a 7-9 team that only needs to get three games better to reach the playoffs may be a bit inaccurate.

I think this could go either way. The number of changes the Giants made this offseason is huge, and it's hard to imagine every single one of them (or even, really, half of them) working out in accordance with their best-case dreams. I can certainly posit that they've made their team better, but I think there's still plenty of debate to be had about (a) how much better and (b) how far they really need to go to reach the playoffs. Anyone who reads me knows that I'm a big believer in Coughlin and the Giants' institutional leadership, but in the end, the quality of the roster matters more. There are still a lot of questions to be answered on that front by these Giants.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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