Originally Published: September 1, 2013

Eli ManningJim O'Connor/US PresswireJOHN CLAYTON QB RANKING (6): Eli Manning continued his hot-and-cold ways in 2012. He threw for 3,948 yards, but averaged only 177 from Week 8 to Week 10.

Experts' Picks (Consensus: second)

Intelligence Report

Five things you need to know about the Giants:

1. Eli Manning is still the quarterback: And Tom Coughlin is still the coach. And these two facts, more than anything else, are what convince the Giants that things will be OK. As long as Manning is the steadying voice in the huddle and the steady-and-potentially-brilliant orchestrator of the offense, and Coughlin is the steadying presence on the sideline and in the meeting rooms, the Giants' floor remains the highest of any NFC East team. Questions remain about the height of the Giants' ceiling after consecutive nine-win regular seasons, but Manning and the passing game keep them in every game they play. From that base, they hope they can move out of the nine-win pattern in a positive direction, with the belief that moving backward is unlikely.

2. They beefed up the middle of the defensive line: After a 2012 season in which they allowed more total yards than any team outside of New Orleans and surrendered 4.6 yards per opponents' rushing attempt, the Giants worked to get bigger and stronger at defensive tackle. They drafted Johnathan Hankins in the second round, brought back veteran Shaun Rogers, and signed free agents Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. That gives them a lot more options to go along with reliable Linval Joseph in the defensive tackle rotation. If they can keep those guys healthy and productive, the Giants should be much tougher this year against the run. The Giants need to get better at controlling games, and fixing a leaky run defense is a good place to start.

3. They have some incentive: Super Bowl champion stars such as Justin Tuck, David Diehl and Hakeem Nicks are entering contract years. Corey Webster and Antrel Rolle need big years to avoid being cut next offseason for cap reasons. If the contract-year-incentive phenomenon is a real factor, the Giants could benefit from a lot of it. In particular, Tuck, Diehl and Webster seem motivated to rebound from down years they had as individuals in 2012, and they all occupy critical positions from which the Giants desperately need to see improvement.

4. They believe what they believe: You might say the secondary was the big problem on defense last year, but, when you ask Giants GM Jerry Reese what the Giants need to do to play better on the back end, his answer is that they need to rush the passer better on the front end. This is a long-held Giants organizational philosophy -- that the defense's foundation is in the pass rush. So, the focus of the team's decision-makers is on whether Jason Pierre-Paul will be recovered from back surgery in time to start the season, whether Tuck can once again be the fearsome rusher he used to be, whether third-round pick Damontre Moore can be a factor in the rotation as a rookie and who from the backup corps of defensive ends can take the next developmental step.

5. The schedule should treat them well: After they get back from Chicago early in the morning of Oct. 11, the Giants don't have to get on another airplane until they fly to San Diego on Dec. 7. That's 57 days, right in the heart of the season, without having to drag their battered bodies on and off airplanes, as their only two road games in that time are in Philadelphia and Washington. After their Week 8 game in Philadelphia, they don't have another road game at all until Dec. 1 in Washington, so that's 34 days without having to sleep in a hotel bed. At the time of year when the Giants generally hit a lull, things will be shockingly easy on them from a physical standpoint. That should put them in position to be at their very best when December starts and the NFC East traditionally is at its most nitty-gritty competitive.

-- Dan Graziano, ESPN.com

Inside The Numbers

When the Giants sent four or fewer pass-rushers in 2011, the defense averaged a sack every 13.6 drop-backs, the third-best rate in the league. In the playoffs that year, the Giants sacked or put opposing quarterbacks under duress 43 times with that pressure, six fewer times than the Broncos had the entire regular season that year.

Last season, the Giants' standard pass rush was nowhere near as effective, averaging a sack every 20.5 drop-backs, 19th in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks posted a 71.6 Total QBR when the Giants sent four or fewer rushers, fourth worst in the NFC. In addition, no team surrendered more pass plays of at least 30 yards with standard pressure than the Giants (18).

To make matters worse, Osi Umenyiora, whose 75 sacks rank fourth in Giants history, left in free agency. The Giants still have Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, who will both have to stay healthy for the Giants' pass rush to return to form.

David Wilson averaged 5.4 yards on rushes between the tackles last season, tied for second best in the league among players with at least 50 such rushes.

Victor Cruz caught an NFL-high eight touchdowns out of the slot last year, one more than he did in 2011. However, Cruz had fewer targets, receptions, yards and first downs as a slot receiver in 2012 than he did in 2011.

-- ESPN Stats & Information

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