Today's absurd prediction:
The Giants tank and Tom Coughlin is fired before the season ends.
The Giants are in a tough situation. On a good day, they have the talent to be one of the conference's elite. But they are an emotionally weak team. In my opinion, this season rests not on the shoulders of Eli Manning or Brandon Jacobs. Sure, they both have a lot to prove, and if they play miserably, the Giants are shot. But the real burden of this season falls on Jeremy Shockey and Michael Strahan. These two are basically the only people on the team capable of being the heart of the offense and defense, respectively. They are the emotional leaders. The problem is, both have spent considerable time criticizing coach Tom Coughlin over the past two years, and a team can't afford to have its leaders doing that.
Here's the breakdown for the New York Giants:
Coaching Changes: C+
The only change is the addition of Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, a move I like. The former linebackers coach of the Eagles, he is familiar with the division, which will help a lot. Expect him to focus on improving the Giants' tackling, which cost them a few big plays last year. However, his specialty is linebacker blitzes, which means with Strahan and Osi Umenyiora on the ends, this defense will have too much pass rush, and the likes of Clinton Portis, Brian Westbrook, and Marion Barber will break some big runs. Spagnuolo is a B hiring, but the grade drops for a move that wasn't made: firing the head coach who has completely lost his locker room.
Player Movement: D+
No one in the Giants' organization wants to hear about the loss of Tiki Barber, and how the emotional drain will hurt the team. I compare this situation to the Jerome Bettis situation a year ago in Pittsburgh. First, it appeared that when Barber announced his impending retirement, he was trying to do what Bettis did and inform the team: "This is it - last chance to get me a ring." It worked beautifully for Bettis, not so much for Barber, which tells us something about the will to succeed of the Giants in comparison to that of the Steelers. And last year, no one wanted to talk about how much the loss of Bettis' leadership would hurt the Steelers. The result: 8-8. The Giants are coming off of an 8-8 season; so they have even farther to fall. In addition to Barber, the Giants lost Luke Petitgout, a rock on the offensive line as well as a leader. Barber is replaced by Reuben Droughns, who I like a lot, just not in New York. Barber and Jacobs were a great 1-2 punch; the speedy small back and the steamrolling big guy. Droughns is a tweener, not huge but not small, not speedy but fast enough. Droughns should be a #1 back on a team that doesn't feature a top-notch running game. Don't expect a lot of huge runs from the Giants this year. Kawika Mitchell is a nice addition at linebacker, and the other moves are fairly inconsequential: Jay Feely is replaced by Lawrence Tynes at kicker, Anthony Wright is brought in as a backup QB, Tim Carter is gone at WR.
They should have picked a lineman to replace Petitgout long before the 6th round. David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie can hold down the fort for a little while, but they need to groom someone better than Adam Koets and last year's 4th rounder, Guy Whimper (what kind of name is that for a 300-lb man?). I like the 1st round pick of Aaron Ross at cornerback decently enough; he'll get to start as a dime/nickel guy and work his way up. I don't see how they needed to spend a 2nd rounder on WR Steve Smith when he'll be buried at #4 on the depth chart. Didn't they just spend a high pick on Sinorice Moss last year? This tells me that Plaxico Burress might not be in the long-term plans. But they would have been much better served using that pick on a lineman like James Marten, who instead is playing in Dallas.
Like their division-mates, they get to play the NFC North, but may struggle against the up-and-comers in the AFC East. Atlanta and San Francisco are winnable battles, but they will be battles. So why do they get a B- when the Eagles and Redskins got B's? They don't get to play themselves, let alone twice.
The long and short of it is, the pressure is on this season for Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, and neither has shown the mental fortitude to handle that kind of pressure. Jacobs and Droughns are enough to keep them in a game, but aren't capable of busting a game wide open. Burress doesn't show up every week, Amani Toomer missed half the season last year, and the O-line is missing its star. This offense will not be nearly as potent as it used to be, and the new defensive scheme may take some getting used to. They have three difficult divisional matchups in the first four weeks: at Dallas, at Washington, and vs. Philadelphia. If they're 1-3 at that point, panic will set in, and the Giants aren't mentally stable enough to handle it, and it's unraveling time.
The Record: 5-11
If Coughlin is fired before the bye (week 9), his replacement will probably be Kevin Gilbride, who may pull off a couple quick wins, but even that emotional jolt will fade going into the difficult late-season schedule. This team should be shaken up plenty next offseason, and they'll probably draft a QB in round 2, just to be safe.