NFC East: Tom Coughlin
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
DETROIT -- The worst part for the New York Giants was that they didn't have anything they could feel good about. Week 1 is supposed to be about optimism and looking forward with hope. But after a 35-14 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Monday night, the Giants couldn't come up with anything positive to say about their performance.
"No excuses. We played very poorly," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We don't have a lot to be proud of here. It was a nightmare performance."
Coughlin wasn't happy about the pass protection, as the Lions registered two sacks and nine hits of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He was unhappy about a running game that gained 53 yards on 22 carries. He was upset about the breakdowns in pass coverage that allowed Calvin Johnson to perform like the video-game version of himself to the tune of seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns, and that allowed Golden Tate to gain 44 yards on a key third-and-11. He was unhappy about Manning's two interceptions and the inability of receivers Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle to make plays.
Everybody was unhappy. We even asked defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who had a good game stopping the run, whether he felt good about that at least. He did not.
"Right now, I don't feel like I did a good job of anything," Jenkins said. "I feel like we could have made it a lot easier on our secondary if we'd played better up front."
Safety Antrel Rolle said "there definitely wasn't enough fight" in his team in its first game of the season. And after the mess they made of last season, all of the changes they made in the offseason and the grief they took from outside critics in the preseason, you would have thought that wouldn't be a problem.
Instead, those who endured last year's 0-6 start seemed to be experiencing a sick and familiar feeling as they dressed and packed and headed for the plane.
"We shouldn't be talking right now about comparing the way we lost to last year," Jenkins said. "We should be talking about what we learned from last year, and how that made us better."
But they weren't, and the reason was the familiarity of the overmatched feeling they felt on the field. The Lions came at them with star players at wide receiver, running back, defensive line and, of course, quarterback. The Giants looked like a patchwork science project of a team whose pieces aren't good enough on their own to scare anyone and don't yet fit together in any kind of productive way.
"How are guys that you don't know going to respond to adversity now?" linebacker and newly minted team captain Jon Beason asked. "We have a new group of guys here. Owning up to what you did wrong is the first step, and it's an important one."
Tuesday and Wednesday aren't going to be fun days for the Giants as they review what went on in their first game of the season. To make sure the feeling doesn't repeat itself, they must correct the mistakes and start playing better. The long-term problem is that they may not have enough quality players on this roster to allow them to do that. The short-term problem is that Monday night's opener didn't offer any evidence to the contrary.
- Giants coach Tom Coughlin doesn't sugarcoat. "No excuses," he said. "We played very poorly. We don't have a lot to be proud of here. It was a nightmare performance." Coughlin cited the pass protection and the lack of productivity by the run game as his top two concerns and told his team it was in for a tough, short week of preparation for Sunday's game against the Cardinals.
- Punter Steve Weatherford had a walking boot on his left foot and said he would have an MRI on his injured ankle Tuesday. Weatherford was hit on a punt early in the game and stayed in to continue punting, but he said he "had to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to punt when I couldn't accelerate through the ball." Obviously, the Giants will have to bring in someone else if Weatherford's injury is serious.
- The Giants' defensive game plan called for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to shadow Lions top wideout Calvin Johnson all game. Johnson had seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. "He got behind the defense and made a play," Rodgers-Cromartie said of the 67-yard play that began the night's scoring. "I can't really speak on that." My sense was that Rodgers-Cromartie thought he had help on the play and didn't want to burn a teammate by saying it.
"I think, from a personal standpoint, I definitely want to go out there and play well," Manning said after Giants practice Thursday. "I don't like losing football games. I don't like having bad games. That's tough on me and it's tough on the team."
Manning threw 27 interceptions last season, a career-high and league-leading total. He's struggled this preseason for a number of reasons, including the new offense the Giants are installing, his still-shaky pass protection and questionable depth at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Through it all, he's maintained his faith that the Giants will get things figured out. And now that the games will count, he's ready to play one.
"I'm anxious to get playing," Manning said. "I'm anxious to start the season and I'm excited to get back into a season where you're competing and things are real."
The Giants open the 2014 regular season Monday Night in Detroit against the Lions. While the offense may not be all the way in place around him, Manning appears to those around him to be driven to make it work.
"He's focused, he's focused, he's focused. It's serious business for him," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "To come back and have a good, solid year is his goal and all of our goals."
Coughlin said he could see the focus and determination in Manning's face this summer. But in typical Manning fashion, the quarterback shrugged off the notion that anything was different from past summers.
"Same focus as ever," Manning said. "I would hope he'd think I'd be focused right now."
"I even played some tight end for a time," the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Snyder joked after Giants practice Thursday, likely unaware of how such a comment might be received by the Giants-watching public.
"Sure, why not? He's a veteran," Coughlin said. "He's a good, solid offensive lineman -- a veteran offensive lineman that's played in a lot of big games. He has versatility. We'll have to work some things out as to where, but he'll probably play more than one position, to be honest with you."
Snyder is 32 years old and sports a magnificent, full, light brown beard. He played seven seasons for the 49ers, one for the Cardinals and then one more for the 49ers last year before being cut late last week.
"It's a little bit nerve-wracking, so much new all at once, but I'm up for the challenge," Snyder said. "The guys here know the offense and they can help me. Absolutely, I'd like to show them what I can do."
The Giants are likely to start rookie Weston Richburg at left guard in Schwartz's place and John Jerry at right guard Monday night. But should they have issues there, there is no reason to think Snyder couldn't play his way into some snaps or even a starting role.
Brandon Mosley, who was the starting right guard all through training camp until he injured his back, returned to practice Thursday. But the sense I get is that the Giants like what they saw from John Jerry after he took over the position from Mosley late in the preseason and that Jerry is the likely starter at right guard in the opener. Rookie Weston Richburg looks sure to start at left guard. And veteran Adam Snyder, a former 49ers guard who signed with the Giants Wednesday, could work his way into the playing-time mix in short order, according to Coughlin.
Not working in the early portion of practice were defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (shoulder), offensive lineman James Brewer (back) and, of course, rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), who jogged some laps around a separate field and worked on the side with a team trainer. There's no chance Beckham plays Monday, and the continued absence of Kuhn from practice could leave the Giants' defensive tackle rotation thin. That could mean some playing time for rookie third-rounder Jay Bromley at the position. Johnathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins are the starters, with Mike Patterson and Bromley on the bench. On passing downs, defensive ends Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are able to move inside and rush from the defensive tackle position.
"He's definitely more intense than I've seen him in a while," longtime Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said Monday. "He's back to the '07 Tom, who was just 100 percent focused on details and not willing to let anything slide. He's holding everybody accountable."
Kiwanuka was quick to ask that he not be misinterpreted. He wasn't saying Coughlin lacked intensity or failed to demand accountability over the past six seasons -- just that this training camp has brought with it a reinforcement of the old Coughlin style. Post-practice speeches on the field have been more pointed, with fewer light moments. Coughlin has involved himself more directly in meetings and drills. After the Giants had a punt blocked in their first preseason game, it was Coughlin himself -- not the special teams coaches -- who oversaw the punt-protection drill in the next practice.
The easy outside interpretation of these comments will focus on Coughlin's age (he turned 68 on Sunday and is the NFL's oldest head coach) and on the pressure presumably brought on by missing the playoffs four of the past five years. But it's a mistake to assume Coughlin feels time advancing on him or that he fears for his job. He has made it clear that he does not. If he's more driven to win this year, as Kiwanuka says it seems he is, then it's not because of anything as petty as self-interest.
We get so caught up in the week-to-week, day-to-day, win-now obsessiveness of NFL culture that we too often miss the big picture. And in this case, it's important to step back and think about Coughlin's place in New York Giants history. He may well be the best coach they've ever had, and if he's not he's second behind no less towering a figure than Bill Parcells. Coughlin has won two Super Bowl titles, shepherded the career of Eli Manning and ensured himself a place in the team's Ring of Honor. He matters to the Giants in a way that stretches well beyond the confines of this one season.
And the Giants matter to Coughlin, which is why he's not coaching for his job but rather for the health of the franchise of which he's such a vital part. This is a crucial time in Giants history. The team is attempting the delicate task of reshaping a championship roster that got too old and transitioning into an immediate future that has a chance to be just as successful. It's not easy, and most teams can't do it. It says something about Coughlin that he could have walked away but stayed to oversee that transition. It says a lot about Coughlin that he's taking such a hands-on role in shaping it.
This is still one of the absolute best coaches in the league, regardless of age. We laud Rex Ryan for last year's 8-8 Jets season, but Coughlin's 7-9 with a hollowed-out Giants roster that lost its first six games was just as impressive a coaching accomplishment. Coughlin is a leader at the peak of his powers, and his leadership will determine the success of the 2014 Giants -- as a present-day team and a building block -- as much as anything or anyone else does.
Tom Coughlin is not coaching for his job, nor is he worried about when he'll retire. He's locked in on making the current Giants team the best addition to the franchise's history it can be. And if he recognizes the importance of his own role in that task, he's just being responsible.
We had 64 people here at ESPN issue preseason predictions -- all 32 of our NFL Nation team reporters plus 32 national NFL writers/personalities. Of those 64, only five picked the Giants to reach the playoffs.
Four of those people picked the Giants to win the NFC East. Only ESPN Insider K.C. Joyner (who picked the Giants to win the division in 2011 when the Eagles were the popular pick) picked them to win an NFC wild card spot.
The four who picked the Giants to win their division are Bears reporter Michael C. Wright, Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas, 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez and Neil Payne of FiveThirtyEight.com.
Of the 64 ESPN experts issuing predictions, 53 picked the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East. Seven picked Washington, and I was one of them. I think the Eagles are the division's best team on paper and a worthy favorite, but I just couldn't bring myself to pick a repeat champion in this wacky division. So I picked Washington because I think it is loaded at the offensive skill positions, and I think Robert Griffin III can bounce back. Not that I don't think Eli Manning can bounce back, but I think the group around Griffin looks better on paper than the group around Manning does.
Also, all 64 experts were asked to pick Coach of the Year, MVP and Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year. No one picked Tom Coughlin or any Giants player. As I said, expectations for this team are low.
Personally, I went with the Saints over the Patriots in the Super Bowl, picked Sean Payton for Coach of the Year, Drew Brees for MVP and Brandin Cooks for Offensive Rookie of the Year, so I'm kind of all-in on the Saints this year. I picked Baltimore's C.J. Mosley for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Saints are not an unpopular pick. Of our 64 experts, 13 of us picked New Orleans to win the Super Bowl. The only team that got more votes was the Denver Broncos, with 18.
The other Super Bowl picks are the 49ers (12 votes), the defending champion Seahawks (9), the Patriots (6), the Eagles (3) and the Packers (3).
If you'd like to check out all of the predictions, here are some links:
Other ESPN Personalities
So as the Giants begin their official preparations for their "Monday Night Football" opener in Detroit, Manning is focusing on the things the Giants' offense did well in the preseason, and choosing to build on those.
Manning has, throughout the summer, painted a picture of an offense that is almost there. He also said last week that he expected this new offense, under first-year coordinator Ben McAdoo, to remain a work in progress throughout at least part of the season. The trick will be finding ways to win games while everyone is still getting fully up to speed.
"The big thing happening in the preseason, the reason we won a couple of games, is because we didn't beat ourselves," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "If you look at the numbers, you can see that. So that is something we can hang our hat on, regardless of what the statistics are."
You can start to imagine a plan in which the Giants get things started this season with a run-heavy offensive game plan whose emphasis is on limiting turnovers, then build a passing game off of that as the season goes along. Not that they would admit to something like that, but it might make sense since they feel good about their defense and the ability of their offensive line to at least block the run.
"I have been practicing and I know exactly what we are capable of," wide receiver Victor Cruz said, when asked his reasons for optimism. "I know all of the things we've implemented that are beneficial to us and can benefit us on game day, and I'm excited to put that to the test come Monday Night."
That is when we will start finding out just what the Giants believe they're able to do with their offense right now, and maybe what they might have to wait until later in the season to try.
Coughlin said the plan for Beason is to practice a set number of plays in the three practices the Giants have later this week -- Thursday, Friday and Saturday -- and then to determine based on that how much he will be able to play Monday Night. Beason's hope is to start at middle linebacker, but the Giants are comfortable if they have to use Jameel McClain in that spot and rookie Devon Kennard on the strong side, as they did during training camp and the preseason.
"We have great personalities, guys who can do a little bit of everything," Beason said of his fellow Giants linebackers. "I think it's a great room. I have tremendous confidence in everybody we have."
But having Beason on the field makes a difference, as players who were on the team in 2013 were quick to point out. The Giants were without an answer at middle linebacker until they traded for Beason early in the 2013 season, and they credit him for much of the turnaround their defense made following the team's 0-6 start.
"It's good to see him back," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "He's a hell of a player. He came out last year when we needed him and did a great job, and it was tough to see him go down with an injury. Having him back makes our defense better."
The fact that Beason was cleared to come off the PUP list and resume practicing this week indicates that he will be at full strength sooner rather than later. Even if he's not able to handle a full starter's workload in Week 1, he will be able to make some sort of contribution, and it shouldn't be long before he is back doing what he did for the Giants last season.
At this point, with only three more practices left before next Monday night's regular-season opener in Detroit, it's hard to imagine Beckham playing in Week 1. It's not impossible to think he could practice in full Thursday, Friday and Saturday and be cleared to play, but it's not likely Tom Coughlin and the Giants' coaching staff would deem three practices enough to put a rookie wide receiver on the field for a game that counts.
Beason has been hoping since he injured his foot in OTAs to play in Week 1, and barring a setback this week it appears he will. The Giants likely will evaluate Beason as the week goes on and determine how much he'll be able to play in the opener. If he has to take a reduced workload, they are confident with Jameel McClain filling in for him at middle linebacker and Devon Kennard starting on the strong side in McClain's place.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin) and offensive linemen James Brewer (back) and Charles Brown (shoulder) all appeared to be back and practicing in full. Guard Brandon Mosley (back) was working on the side with trainers, which means John Jerry is likely to start at right guard in the opener.
Coughlin said it's possible they could or should have stressed the passing game more in the preseason, and he said he expects things will look better "once we zoom in on an all-encompassing game plan."
Other notes from Coughlin's day-after conference call:
- He said the timetable on guard Geoff Schwartz's recovery from toe injury is likely to be a bit longer than 3-to-4 weeks. He didn't rule out placing Schwartz on short-term injured reserve, which would keep him out for the first eight weeks of the season, but it sounds as though they hope they don't have to do that.
- Coughlin said middle linebacker Jon Beason should be cleared to practice Monday. That likely makes Beason available for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 in Detroit, though it remains to be seen how much he'll be able to play after missing all of training camp with a foot injury.
- Fullback Henry Hynoski has a "contusion" of his shoulder and felt better Friday than he did after leaving the game Thursday. Sounds as though they have avoided a major problem with Hynoski.
- Wide receiver Mario Manningham has a strained calf. This likely means the end for Manningham with the Giants, though Coughlin wasn't giving anything away about final decisions on that or any other aspect of the final roster cuts due Saturday.
"If they wanted to play more," the head coach of the New York Giants said, "they should have made some first downs."
After an offseason that brought a new offensive coordinator, a new system and at least six new starters on the offensive side of the ball, the preseason ended with a creepy feeling that very little has been solved. Coughlin locked in Thursday night on a first-quarter Manning incomplete pass intended for Rueben Randle.
"Again, the missed connection between Rueben Randle and Eli," Coughlin said. "'I thought this, he thought that...' Everybody in this room is tired of hearing that stuff. There's no place for that."
That was supposed to be last-year stuff. And the source of Coughlin's frustration is that these five preseason games -- as well as the practices that surrounded them -- did little to convince anyone that the last-year stuff had been left in 2013. The pass protection is still a question mark, Manning's not on the same page as his receivers, and now there are no more exhibition games left and only 10 days until the first game that counts.
"There are things we've got to improve on," Manning shrugged. "But that's why we have another week of practice."
The Giants don't sound worried, and maybe that's because worry isn't going to do them any good at this point. The season's going to start whether they're ready or not, and it's going to start without anyone convinced the offense is going to click right away. Just because they haven't proven anything on the field that would give them confidence doesn't mean they can afford to go into the season without it.
"You have to have confidence," Coughlin said. "We've had preseasons before where we haven't had a lot of numbers with our first offense. Hopefully, we can carry over."
There's a lot of hope around these parts. A lot of relatively blind faith in the ability of these players to perform better in the real games than they did in the fake ones. The one encouraging thing is that the Giants' belief in themselves seems sincere. They do not appear discouraged.
"It was the right route. It just wasn't timed right," Randle said of the play that angered his coach. "I guess he was expecting me to run it quicker since it was press. I'm pretty sure, with something simple like that, we can get it fixed. Not that big of a deal."
The regular season will offer the Giants a chance to prove that their brave preseason talk has been accurate. And it'll do that soon. Rookie offensive lineman Weston Richburg, pressed into duty this week as the starting left guard in place of the injured Geoff Schwartz, might have summed it all up when asked if he was ready to handle that job.
"I don't have a choice," Richburg said.
Ready or not, here the season comes. The Giants believe they're ready, even if they haven't proven it.
The Giants used Manningham a fair bit with their first-team offense in Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, and they're likely to give him a good look in Thursday's preseason finale against the Patriots. First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury and is unlikely to be ready for the Sept. 8 season opener, camp star Marcus Harris was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and there remain some open spots on the roster at wide receiver.
"Any of the guys who are left know it goes from 75 to 53," Coughlin said. "You're ending up in a numbers game, and it is competitive."
Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Beckham are sure things to make the roster at wide receiver. Jerrel Jernigan, who's been running with the first team in Beckham's place all summer, looks like a strong bet as well, especially since he's Cruz's primary backup at the slot receiver position. Undrafted rookie Corey Washington has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Giants' first four preseason games and has obviously helped his cause. Preston Parker, who caught 40 passes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011 but was out of football last season, appears to be the primary punt returner right now with Beckham and Trindon Holliday hurt, and that could help him earn a spot as a wide receiver as well. Julian Talley also survived Tuesday's cuts and therefore remains a candidate to be kept.
The Giants are likely to keep four tight ends when they cut the roster to 53 on Saturday, which might make it tough to keep six wide receivers, but if they need Parker for punt returns (or as a reserve wideout) while Beckham gets healthy, they may not have a choice.
Regardless, the numbers game doesn't seem to favor Manningham unless he blows the Giants away with a strong showing Thursday night. Maybe the fact the opponent is the Patriots, the team against which Manningham's career highlight came, will inspire him before it's too late.
"He's up and moving, so obviously that's a good sign," Coughlin said of Mosley, who's been the first-team right guard since Chris Snee retired on the eve of training camp.
The Giants got good news Tuesday when they learned Schwartz would not need surgery, but it remains unclear how much time they can expect him to miss.
"He's very optimistic, and hopefully that's going to mean the recovery will be as fast as possible," Coughlin said of Schwartz. "Obviously, we can't rush him back. It certainly would be good to get him back as soon as possible, but it's not going to be easy."
In other Giants injury news:
- First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. and kick returner Trindon Holliday missed practice again with hamstring injuries. Tackle Charles Brown and tackle/guard James Brewer sat out with shoulder and back injuries, respectively.
- Cornerback Prince Amukamara is making good progress in his return from a groin injury, but he won't play Thursday night.
- Running back Peyton Hillis appeared to be practicing in full. Hillis missed a few weeks of camp with an ankle injury but has returned to practice this week. He made a nice juggling catch on a wheel route with Jacquian Williams covering him in practice Tuesday.