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Sent: 07-26-17

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.

(E-GIANTS Game Tape Analyst Scott Landstrom, on the eve of training camp, surveys the NFC East and comes up with his suggested order of finish. Or does he? Did he pick the Giants ahead of the Cowboys? We know he did that when discussing the Eagles and Redskins, so the assumption is that you'll have to read on and get his drift in the following paragraphs. But it should be an exciting season - are you ready?)

By Scott Landstrom

Well, Giants Nation, training camp opens up Friday, and expectations for this team have not been this high entering the summer sessions in at least five years, going back to 2012 (when New York was the defending world champion), so there is a lot to be excited about in East Rutherford.

After all, the team finished 11-5 last season, a record that was only exceeded by one solitary team in the NFC. Unfortunately, that team happened to be in our division (Cowboys) which meant a trip to Lambeau Field on Wild Card Weekend to play the Packers in January, always a challenging proposition. And we all know how that ended up after a promising first quarter - a 38-13 demolition that ended the Giants season.

But 11-5 is the best record they have had in nine years, and on top of that, their formerly moribund defense went from second to last in the NFL in 2015, to second best scoring defense in football (17.8 points per game), only behind the Patriots (16.7 pts/game). Free agent additions Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon ALL made either first or second team All-Pro, something never done before in league history (signing three big name free agents, and having all three be selected All-Pro) - so kudos were definitely in line for Jerry Reese relative to his "shoring up" of the defensive side of the ball.

Moreover, this off-season saw the addition of several key pieces that could substantially improve the team, even from last year's high overall standard. The (somewhat plodding) offense added the fastest, most productive tight end in the draft in 4.42 speedster Evan Engram, as well as future Hall of Famer Brandon Marshall, a 6-3, 230-pound "power" receiver.

Both of these additions open up route-trees that the Giants simply didn't have the personnel to run last season, and rookie Paul Perkins ended up averaging 4.5 yards per carry in his final four games, over a yard better than former starter Rashad Jennings (3.4 AGR) had done during the rest of the season, so installing Perkins at RB instantly makes the running game more productive and explosive.

Alas, it does all come down to that offensive line, and Eli Manning's form, to see if these additions can vault the offense back to a "top 10" unit. Lots of room for improvement in both those areas (O-line and QB play) based on 2015 form, so that is the good news. The bad news is both the offensive line (20th ranked in the league by PFF) and Manning (24th ranked by PFF among QBs with at least 500 snaps) were rated "bottom third" in the league by Pro Football Focus, so the standard of excellence was clearly not very good.

Oh, and in a column published by NFL.com, a very reputable site, they wrote a column entitled "50 Headlines You Could see in 2017-2018 season", and wait until you get a look at their 50th and final possible headline: 50) After third Super Bowl loss to Eli's Giants, is Tom Brady really the G.O.A.T.?

The trilogy reaches its fateful conclusion. Surrounded by his most prolific offense and another stalwart defense, Manning out-duels Brady, who was sacked six times in a 23-20 defeat. The postgame hysteria proclaims Eli a surefire Hall of Famer, and Brady, well ... Lets just say Joe Montana never lost a Super Bowl. (Source: NFL.com).

So given that "upbeat" state of affairs for the Giants, going into camp this Friday, what does the rest of the NFC East look like in terms of their changes and levels of play going into the 2017 season? I mean, this is the division that had the best record (13 games over .500) in the entire eight-division NFL, and had every team in the division end up with more points scored than given up, something I have never seen before, so clearly these teams were playing some capable football last season. What does it look like for the coming season? Glad you asked. Here is one man's view:

DALLAS COWBOYS: The "good news" - Dallas finished with a 13-3 record, two games better than any team in the NFL except the 14-2 world champion Patriots. While the Giants were achieving something never before done in terms of free agent additions all making All-Pro, Dallas was busy doing something equally unprecedented. They had both the first place and second place vote getters for "NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year" in winner QB Dak Prescott and runner-up RB Ezekiel Elliott - and moreover, these two combined to garner 49 of the 50 total votes, so another way to say this is only one voter cast a vote for any other rookie in the NFL besides Prescott or Elliott.

Their offense finished fifth in the NFL, and their defense slightly above average (14th), which resulted in a points differential (scored vs allowed) of 115 points - a level only exceeded by both Super Bowl teams (Falcons, Patriots). And, of course, their offensive line is unparalleled in recent memory in the NFL, with them placing three of their five linemen on the NFL's "Top-100" players of 2016 list.

Overall, their line was rated second best in the NFL, behind only the Tennessee Titans. Add a lock-certain Hall of Famer at tight end (Jason Witten), and you end up with the most balanced offense in the NFC of any team in terms of running game and passing game.

DALLAS COWBOYS: The "bad news": Well, let's start with the fact that the Cowboys lost ALL FOUR of their starting defensive backs to free agency. Starting CBs Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, and starting safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are ALL gone from the roster. In fact, the Cowboys lost a total of 11 free agents, including Tony Romo and starting RT Doug Free to retirement, so that was not only the most defections from any team in the NFL in the off-season, but it represents over 1/5th of their total roster from their division winning team from 2016.

Add to this all the off-season problems Elliott has had between domestic violence claims by his girlfriend, getting busted driving 110 MPH in his sports car and allegedly beating a man up in a night club last week, and we are likely talking a few games suspension for their star running back, including opening day in Dallas against your New York Giants.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: The "good news": Well, we can start with the fact that their rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz, the overall second selection in last year's draft, started every game, got all that experience, and set a rookie completions record at 379 completions on the season.

He is big (6-5, 237) strong-armed and athletic with many people forecasting he will be better than Prescott this coming season, and possibly even make the Pro Bowl. Then you add the fact that the Eagles' offensive line was rated seventh in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, so some serious capability "up front." Then you augment these two with free agent signings Alshon Jefferey and Torrey Smith, both wide receivers who have been to the Pro Bowl. Then they added NFL touchdowns leader, power back LeGarrette Blount (18 TDs in 2016.) Finally they added two stud defensive linemen in Tim Jernigan and Chris Long, so the Eagles were by far the most active in the division on the free-agent market this past off-season, particularly on offense.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: The "bad news": Well, there was a bunch of defections on defense. Connor Barwin, who had a four-sack game against the Giants two seasons ago, is thankfully gone at defensive end. The same is true for DT Benny Logan, CB Nolan Carroll, and CB Leodis McKelvin. We are also talking about a 2016 team that started out the season 3-0, and then finished 4-9 from there, with one of those wins being sort of "artificial" (last game of the season against Cowboys who had clinched, and played reserves).

So that makes 3-9 against "first units" in their last 13 games not a very auspicious finish to the season, en route to finishing in the cellar of the NFC East, so much room for overall improvement needed to compete with Dallas and New York for the NFC East title.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: The "good news": Well, let's start with the fact that they had the best QB in the division last year in Kirk Cousins, who threw for almost 500 more yards than Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, and was only exceeded in passing yardage by Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. They also had the eighth-ranked offensive line, led by stud tackle Trent Williams, so that makes ALL THREE NFC East competitors ranking in the top eight offensive lines in the 32-team league.

Between fellow tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, they had over 1,200 yards receiving from the tight end position, over double what the Giants got out of the Will Tye, Larry (fumble machine) Donnell and Jerrell Adams. Oh, and they drafted the best defensive tackle in the draft, Jonathan Allen from Alabama (where he played next to Giants second-round pick, Dalvin Tomlinson), who should be a "stud" in short order.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: The "bad news": Well, they had not one, but two 1,000 yard receivers on that 2016 squad - Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Unfortunately, both are gone via free agency. Replacing those guys with Terrell Pryor seems like a bit of a stretch, but Pryor did have (barely) 1,000 yards last year (1,007), on a terrible passing team in the Browns, so maybe he can be a more able replacement than I am suggesting.

The Dan Snyder merry group of management incompetents managed to BUTCHER the negotiations with their most valuable player, Cousins, making him appear petulant and selfish in their portrayal to the media and public. Great idea, guys - alienate your best player in the name of preserving front office ego. The defensive side of the ball, newcomer Allen aside, has a lot of work to do, finishing 28th last season, so better than only four teams in the NFL, and their run defense was particularly bad, giving up an average of 4.5 yards per attempt, which the addition of Allen and a few journeymen run-oriented free agents should help, but they have a long way to go.

Finally, they will be utilizing brand new coordinators on both offense and defense this season, which brings with it new systems, terminology, and schemes for them to learn and attempt to master.

So there you have it, listed in the order I think they represent in terms of the challenge level to the Giants this upcoming season: Dallas first, the Eagles jumping over the Redskins to second, and the Redskins last. Only time (and game results) will tell if I am right, and also where the Giants end up slotted among this rank order.

Comments or questions are encouraged, and can be sent to: egiantswest@gmail.com

Check out Dave's website at E-GIANTS where you can subscribe to his newsletters which run much more frequently than what is available here.
- Team Giants

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