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Special Report

Sent: 07-02-18

E-GIANTS
Dave Klein was the Giants' beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books and he is one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls. Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: WHILE WE AWAIT THE START OF THE PRESEASON,
HERE'S A FRESH LOOK AT THE SCHEDULE (PART I)

By Aaron Klein

At this relaxed stage of the off-season - or is it the preseason? - the Giants have plenty to think about. Among the outstanding issues: cornerback depth, Odell Beckham Jr.'s contract situation, the ever-morphing offensive line, the rookies and roster overall, special teams, the new systems brought in by new coaches and, unfortunately, the infancy of what still could become an issue for cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Little of the aforementioned will be settled by the start of training camp, save for the possibility of a contract extension for OBJ, so let's look left, or right, away from the obvious and deeper into the inevitability of the 2018 regular season and the Giants' opponents.

In other words, now that the Giants are finished with free agency, the draft, the off-season workouts, the Organized Team Activities and two mini-camps - despite the behind-the-scenes work that remains ahead of the July-August training camp and preseason slate -- what will this particular Giants team face once the season starts in September?

One thing to remember: Most teams, if not all of them, break the 16-game season into quarters (yes, you've heard this before). Notching a 3-1 record per quarter would lead to a 12-4 record, a likely division title and a probable first-round bye.

This league is about setting goals.

So, let's take a look at the first half of the Giants' 2018 schedule, broken into quarters, identify the hot spots, the vicious patches and, maybe, we can come to some sort of understanding about what lies ahead. There isn't a single game that can be considered a definite loss, or a guaranteed win, yet while there are the usual rivalry games, if the Giants are in the right position by midseason, there are a few key early-season contests that would become that much more vital in retrospect.

FIRST QUARTER

Week 1: Jacksonville

For once, the Giants don't open the season in Dallas. Instead, the Giants host former head coach and Super Bowl leader Tom Coughlin and his Jacksonville Jaguars, for whom he is the Vice-President of Football Operations. Jacksonville boasts a beastly running back in Leonard Fournette and a defense that carried the team all the way to the AFC Championship round in last year's playoffs. This will mark the first time the Giants will face a Coughlin-flavored team since he was fired after the 2015 season.

However, the Giants won't focus on TC as much they will on this being the first game for the new regime and many the new players on the roster, with general manager Dave Gettleman, head coach Pat Shurmur and first-round pick Saquon Barkley all starkly lit by spotlight. Oh, and don't forget the one who got away: Jacksonville signed left guard Andrew Norwell during free agency despite all signs pointing to the Giants. It was a loss, though the signing of left tackle Nate Solder and drafting of Will Hernandez should soften the pain.

TAKEAWAY: Starting the season with a win is a good thing no matter what, but the Giants' new regime and budding star, along with an aging but still hungry Eli Manning, need to start strong, especially against Coughlin's crew. It's a winnable game, but the Jags' defense is powerful.

Week 2: at Dallas

Right, the Giants go to Dallas in Week 2 and will see a new and potential struggling Dallas team. Gone are wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. In fairness, Bryant wasn't much of a factor last year, but Witten was always a Giant-killer and is on his way to the Hall of Fame. Arguably, Dallas has not replaced either.

Running back Zeke Elliott remains and, assuming he has no more suspensions, should be a major factor in the offense and must be the focus of the Giants' new 3-4 defense. Dallas added linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and left guard Connor Williams in the first two rounds of the draft and both are expected to start.

TAKEAWAY: The Giants have a chance to get the upper hand in the division, let alone shake the Cowboys ghosts, by winning this one in Big D. With a reduced offense, the Giants could show off their new defense in a big way and force Elliott to win it on his own, despite the presence of quarterback Dak Prescott.

Week 3: at Houston

As a rookie, quarterback Deshaun Watson lit up the league until he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Talk is that he's back and better than ever, meaning that the Clemson product, now in his second season, should pick up where he left off. Still, the Texans struggled last year, though the loss of both Watson and defensive end J.J. Watts to injuries played a big role.

TAKEAWAY: Watson and top receiver DeAndre Hopkins could be the best tandem in the league, but even they can't win it on their own. With a depleted running game, Houston can rely on the Watson-Hopkins duo only so much and will instead have to hope that the defense, led by an aging Watts, linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus and free agent cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, can get after the Giants' offensive weapons. Despite this being their second AFC opponent, all the games still count as wins or losses and the Giants will get a chance to test those new defensive schemes against Watson.

Week 4: New Orleans

Everyone is worried about Giants' quarterback Manning's age (37), but the Saints still rely on Drew Brees (38) to get the job done. Last year, he did so, making it to the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. In fact, Brees re-signed in the off-season for two more years with $27 million guaranteed. Perhaps the Saints' second-biggest signing was of cornerback Patrick Robinson, who just won a ring with the Eagles. Watch for first-round pick Marcus Davenport to get some time at defensive end even this early in the year.

TAKEAWAY: Brees is still near the top of his game, despite his age, but his offensive weapons are one year older, too. Still, this is a key NFC conference game the Giants would like to win.

SECOND QUARTER

Week 5: at Carolina

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has a new target in wide receiver Torrey Smith, acquired via trade ... and he'll be backed up by first-round pick D.J. Moore. Also on offense, now that the Giants have signed Jonathan Stewart away from the Panthers, Carolina will hand the RB-1 job to Christian McCaffrey, an experiment to say the least as he is more of a shifty, outside runner and receiver instead of a bell-cow. Carolina also brought in some new veteran talent in defense, signing defensive lineman Dontari Poe from Atlanta and cornerback Ross Cockrell from the Giants.

TAKEAWAY: Is Carolina a team to reckoned with or a middle-of-the-road former Super Bowl loser? Another key NFC game that will have a bit of emotion as this was the team that fired Gettleman before the 2017 season began. McCaffrey is a major weapon, but no one has a pulse on Newton anymore.

Week 6: Philadelphia

No big deal, just the first of two games against their NFC East rivals and Super Bowl champions. The biggest question swirling around the Eagles, aside from those pondering the possibility of a repeat, focuses on the quarterback spot, where Nick Foles, who won the title for the Birds and notched the Super Bowl MVP.

However, Carson Wentz, who many believe is the future king of the NFL, is coming off a torn ACL suffered with about a month left in the regular season and while he's ahead of schedule, he must show that he can do everything before the team puts him back on the throne. Oh, and the rich got richer in the off-season, with the Eagles signing free agent receiver Mike Wallace and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as well as re-signing linebacker Nigel Bradham and running back Darren Sproles.

TAKEAWAY: By this time of the season, the expectation is that Wentz will be the starter already, though we can't know for sure right now. Foles played great in the Super Bowl with a great scheme from head coach Doug Pederson, a former quarterback. This will be the Giants biggest test of the first half of the season.

Week 7: at Atlanta

The Falcons, on paper, could be the best team in the league ... except they never really seem to go all the way. Quarterback Matt Ryan has a new contract and receiver Julio Jones wants one, though first-round pick Calvin Ridley should push for snaps early on. However, Atlanta made very few major changes to the roster and will instead focus on fighting off stiff competition in the NFC West. They lost Poe, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel in the off-season.

TAKEAWAY: High powered doesn't even begin to explain the Falcons' offense, though the defense could keep opponents in games. There could be some turnover on defense once the season starts, and the Falcons will be waiting for second-year defensive end Tak McKinley to turn the corner, especially with Poe and Clayborn gone.

Week 8: Washington

Sure, the Redskins waved goodbye to Kirk Cousins and traded for Alex Smith, arguably an upgrade, but they did little else to improve the roster, despite signing Seattle receiver Paul Richardson, Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick and Chicago linebacker Pernell McPhee. Perhaps their biggest addition was second-round pick Derrius Guice, who could push Rob Kelley for the starting running back spot.

TAKEAWAY: The third division rival is definitely a step below the others, yet Washington and Smith can't be taken for granted. Even with last year's roster, this would be a winnable game. The way the team looks now, the Giants might get a shot to really open up on both sides of the ball, except that Smith is an efficient and sometimes dangerous quarterback who could make stars out of receivers Richardson and Josh Doctson and find tight end Jordan Reed as his favorite target.

Questions? Comments? Something to say?
Send it all over to aklein22@verizon.net
and follow me on Twitter @-AaronKlein-
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- Team Giants

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