I love a contrarian point of view, and K.C. Joyner's got one here. While everybody is gushing over the Philadelphia Eagles as free-agent champs and NFC East favorites, K.C. has written an Insider piece listing eight reasons to think the New York Giants should be the favorites instead. Like I said, it's an Insider piece, so if you want to read it you can either buy the insider subscription or call my cell phone and I'll give you my password.
K.C.'s eight reasons are:
1. Michael Vick was lucky last season, as a high percentage of his potential interceptions weren't actually intercepted.
2. Eli Manning was unlucky last season on the opposite end of the same scale.
7. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty is the best in the NFL, and that should help the transition to the reworked alignment there.
8. Kenny Phillips is fully healthy.
K.C. has numbers to back up many of these points, and many of them are points with which I agree. I think Phillips will be a huge help, agree completely on Weatherford and can easily believe both that Manning will throw fewer interceptions than he did last season and that Vick won't be quite as awesome as he was last season. On the comparison of the two teams' wideouts, I have no reason to doubt K.C.'s numbers.
I have specific issues with points 4, 5 and 7, as follows:
4. I don't think it's as simple as "throw it to Nicks and Manningham more." Nicks and Manningham surely benefited from defenses having to pay attention to Smith, who'd caught 107 balls the season before, when he was on the field. He's gone and has not been replaced.
5. I like Pierre-Paul and Austin fine, but they're not being added to the mix. They're replacing people who have departed. Mathias Kiwanuka moved back from the line to linebacker, and Pierre-Paul will take his spot. Barry Cofield signed with the Redskins, and Austin replaces him. It's a big leap to believe that those two young players will approximate the production and performance of those two veterans and a bigger one to believe they'll improve on it.
7. Flaherty could be a wizard, but if William Beatty isn't ready for the starting left tackle job in his third season in the league, the Giants' line will struggle. And as of right now, we still don't know if he is.
So what do I think of K.C.'s basic thesis? I think the Giants have a very good team as far as the front-line starters go, and I don't think it'd be some huge upset if they won the division. I have all kinds of respect for the work K.C. does and the numbers on which he is basing his conclusions. He makes a strong case and a case worth making amid all the Eagles hype.
But the way I see it, the Giants' problem the past couple of seasons hasn't been one of measurables.
The Giants' defense over the past two seasons has been inconsistent and hasn't always played up to the level of the talent on the roster. The same can be said, in places, for the running game and for Manning. The Giants were good enough to make the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 but didn't, and the reason they didn't was because the good players they have in key spots like that didn't always perform the way the numbers would expect them to perform. Supposedly reliable parts of the roster let them down when it mattered most. Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled. Manning threw interceptions. Kareem McKenzie had an inexplicably bad game against the Titans. Half of the defense quit on its coordinator in 2009.
That's the kind of stuff that doesn't show up in preseason projections, when we're imagining everyone playing as well as they can possibly play and predicting outcomes based on that. If the Giants stay healthy and play 16 games that reflect the talent on their roster, sure, they can be division champs. But that was true last season and the season before, too. And those teams, which looked a lot like this team except maybe deeper, didn't do it.