As the 2017 NFL season gets underway tonight (Thursday), the Giants, under head coach Ben McAdoo, now in his second year after replacing Tom Coughlin, are confident they have the makings of a Super Bowl team. Perhaps on Feb. 4, five months from now, they will be taking the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., site of Super Bowl LII.
First, the Giants, who were 11-5 last season, must make the playoffs, which will be a challenging objective coming out of the NFC East Division. And as NFL coaches segment their 16-game regular season into four, four-game intervals, they must focus on getting off to a strong start.
The Giants were the runner-up in the NFC East in 2016, second to the 13-3 Dallas Cowboys, who claimed the division title last season. And with the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington always difficult opponents, the division race will be a microcosm of the wide-open competition across the conference’s landscape.
With a temporary restraining order allowing the Cowboys’ second-year running back Ezekiel Elliot to play versus the Giants Sunday (8:30 p.m.) in Texas in the season opener for both teams, the prospects of the Giants starting 1-0 became much more arduous than if Elliot were sidelined. As a rookie a season ago, Elliot led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards.
However, he is still facing a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Additionally, Elliot will be up against a Giants defense that could be the best in football this season. They are equipped with playmakers at all positions of the unit led by safety Landon Collins, who was arguably the most effective defensive player in the league last season, and defensive linemen Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Jason Pierre-Paul. If defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s charges can avoid substantial injuries, which in football is always a qualifier, the Giants’ defense can be dominant.
Offensively, they will have to rely on the passing game to be the most productive aspect of their attack. The Giants were 29th in rushing last season and aren’t built to make a considerable jump in the rankings this season as the offensive line remains suspect after a shaky 2016 campaign.
Their superlative wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is still not fully recovered from an ankle injury sustained in a preseason game Aug. 21 versus the Cleveland Browns and his status for Sunday’s game is uncertain. Although quarterback Eli Manning is the Giants’ most important offensive player, Beckham is an explosive game-changer who is vital to their playoff and Super Bowl aspirations.
The defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers should all be in the playoff hunt again. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the rise, and the Carolina Panthers, the 2015 NFC champions who plummeted to 6-10 last season, and the Arizona Cardinals, who were an unexpectedly bad 7-8, could have bounce-back seasons.
The unpredictability of it all is part of what makes the NFL America’s favorite sports league and the best reality show on TV and digital platforms. And with a little good fortune, the Giants could wind up with the most prominent and successful role.