The New York Giants essentially backed into the 2006 NFL playoffs, winning only two of their last eight regular-season games. What began as a promising season went up in smoke as head coach Tom Coughlin feuded with veteran leadership and almost lost control of his team. Nonetheless, Giants ownership elected to bring Coughlin back to coach the 2007 version of the G-Men. While Coughlin critic Tiki Barber has since retired, you have to wonder how that decision rests with other outspoken critics and team leaders, especially Michael Strahan and Jeremy Shockey. There will be intense pressure on Coughlin to succeed this year, and he's already promised to be a more understanding coach. Will that translate into a new philosophy or more success? It's unlikely considering the difficulty of the Giants' 2007 schedule.
Probable Starting Lineup
Key Backups/Position Battles
Anthony Wright was brought in to compete with Jared Lorenzen for the right to back up Manning. Wright is a journeyman's journeyman, while Lorenzen is better known as the "Hefty Lefty" due to his oversized frame. Wright enters his ninth NFL season and will continue his steak of never entering a season as a starter. Wright can move the chains and displays the ability to escape pressure in the pocket, but his subpar decision-making will yield limited fantasy value if Manning gets injured. Lorenzen, a third-year player from Kentucky, is better known for his David Wells physique than his play. He has the potential to develop into a solid, though unspectacular, quarterback, but is off the fantasy radar until he does.
The battle for the No. 2 spot here likely will be determined by the situation in which the Giants find themselves if they need to call on their backup. Wright is better suited for spot duty if Manning were to miss only a small period of time. If the Giants find themselves without Manning for a prolonged period of time, look for Coughlin's staff to want to get an extended look at Lorenzen to find out what they really have.
Brandon Jacobs will be given every opportunity to take the starting job and make it his own. In his first two seasons, Jacobs has displayed flashes of greatness, running over defenders and even carrying them several yards on his back. While some Giants fans are ready to predict a 1,400-yard and 10-touchdown season for Jacobs based on his unusual size and speed, there is cause for concern. In 2006, Jacobs' monthly yard-per-carry averages were: September, 7.0; October, 4.3; November, 3.9; December, 3.5. This decline lined up with the Giants' overall offensive decline last season and should be used as a decision-making factor when trying to justify when to select Jacobs.
Reuben Droughns will enter the season as the backup, but he will hold that position only until the Giants figure out that they pulled off one of the biggest draft-day steals in recent history with their selection of Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round. Bradshaw doesn't have exceptional distance speed, but he finds holes and cut-back lanes efficiently. Those of you in dynasty leagues would be well-served to acquire him.
Amani Toomer returns from a knee injury as the No. 2 wide receiver, but know that former USC wideout Steve Smith was drafted this year to take that spot from him. Smith is a versatile possession receiver without blazing speed, so essentially he's a smaller version of Toomer, circa 2000. Sinorice Moss' speed makes him a logical choice to be the third receiver, and if he can stay healthy, he has 600-yard and five-touchdown upside.
Yes, I'm serious. Lawrence Tynes is the obvious choice to break out of camp as the place-kicker; however, keep an eye on Josh Huston, a rookie from Ohio State University. Huston was a solid kicker in college who has shown the ability to kick in not-so-nice weather. If Tynes starts missing easy field goals in camp, Huston will win this job, and he would become as big a sleeper as a kicker could be. Remember, Jay Feely was among the highest-scoring kickers in fantasy while playing under Coughlin as a Giant.
Week 1 - @ Dallas Cowboys
Week 3 - @ Washington Redskins
Week 4 - Philadelphia Eagles
Week 5 - New York Jets
Week 8 - @ Miami Dolphins (in London, England)
Week 9 - Bye
Week 10 - Dallas Cowboys
Week 13 - @ Chicago Bears
Week 14 - @ Philadelphia Eagles
Week 15 - Washington Redskins
Week 16 - @ Buffalo Bills
Week 17 - New England Patriots
What to Expect
This is Manning's make-or-break season. The Giants have attempted to upgrade his receiving options, most notably with the selection of Smith in the draft. The biggest critique of Manning has been his inaccuracy on short passes. With Barber gone, Manning likely will throw fewer passes in that range, which should improve his overall productivity.
Jacobs will likely be good, not great. He is better than an average as a runner, but the loss of both Petitgout and Whitfield will impact the running game. Yes, Petitgout was injured for a prolonged portion of last season, but the G-Men didn't provide an adequate replacement for him, which means the depth they had last season is gone. One injury to an offensive lineman could be devastating to the running game, especially since lead blocker Jim Finn will miss the entire season after being placed on injured reserve.
Burress should remain a solid No. 2 fantasy wideout, but continue to expect inconsistency in his performance. Burress is the type of player you want if your fantasy team is good, not great. His monster games will help you win games you otherwise wouldn't have, but he can also cost you games when he disappears.
Toomer will be the No. 2 receiver until Smith shows that he can be a solid possession receiver and is willing to block downfield. Look for Smith to earn a starting role no later than Week 5.
Shockey has all the tools to be an elite tight end, but don't let that be your decision factor when deciding whether to select him. He is usually taken as one of the first second-tier tight ends because of that talent. Fantasy-wise, though, you are better off waiting to select the last player in that tier -- this year, that likely will be Kellen Winslow -- and since you can likely secure Winslow two rounds later than Shockey, the latter's value is overrated.
The Bottom Line
The combination of a difficult schedule and a coach who is less than well-liked presents a mixed situation for fantasy footballers. The Giants' success will be determined by the play of Manning, which bodes well for both Burress and Shockey. Manning has two paths before him this season. He can become the superstar the Giants expected when they traded for him or he can continue to dwell in mediocrity. The second path is much more likely to occur, which leaves him as a borderline starting fantasy quarterback.
Other than probable fourth-round selection Burress, the Giants' wide receiving corps is waiver-wire fodder this season. Don't waste a pick on any of the others because the upside isn't there to justify a flier.
In the end, the Giants' schedule likely will be too much for them to overcome to offer consistent fantasy production. NFC East divisional games are usually defensive struggles, and the Giants draw games against the AFC East and at Chicago to make their schedule even more difficult. Factor in an intercontinental flight for their game against the Miami Dolphins in London, and it's hard to imagine that a team that was this close to fracturing last year will be able to put it all together this year.
Ken Daube is a senior columnist for TalentedMrRoto.com and a fantasy football expert for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at KenDaube@TalentedMrRoto.com.