Here’s a look at the Super Bowl prospects of the New York Giants, who finished the season 11-5 before losing in the wild-card round:
Giants Super Bowl barometer: Should contend, but there are question marks
Assessing the foundation: The Giants have key components in place to make them serious threats for at least the next couple of years. Their coach, Ben McAdoo, had an impressive rookie year. He handled whatever came his way with poise and confidence and commanded the locker room almost flawlessly. The players respect McAdoo and bought into his program. If he can pinpoint what went wrong with his offense during the self-evaluation phase of the offseason, the Giants will be in good shape with their coach.
Their front office, led by general manager Jerry Reese, also knows what it takes to win a Super Bowl. They’ve done it before, and after hitting the jackpot last year in free agency and some strong recent draft classes, there is hope they can do it again.
The Giants also have several other factors working in their favor. Eli Manning has proved in the past that you can win the Super Bowl with him at quarterback. He also has one of the league’s best playmakers at his disposal in Odell Beckham Jr., who is the kind of player who strikes fear into the opposition. The foundation to the Giants’ Super Bowl potential, however, doesn't rest on the offense.
The short-term success of this organization is based on the strength of its defense, which appears on the verge of being a dominant group. The Giants have difference-makers on several levels with defensive tackle Damon Harrison, defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins. With the right supplemental pieces around them, they could be the league’s best defensive unit. They should only get better after allowing the second-fewest points in the NFL (17.8 ppg) this past season. There may be a rather slim two- or three-year window, but they're on the verge of being a Super Bowl defense.
Judging the quarterback: Manning’s done it before. That is what the Giants can hang their hat on despite Manning's subpar 2016 season with 27 touchdowns and 23 turnovers. He won the Super Bowl during the 2007 and '11 seasons.
Manning’s arm and physical skills have held steady. He’s still able to make all the throws at 36 years old. He’s also experienced success in McAdoo’s system and his command of the offense is an asset. Manning threw 65 touchdown passes in 2014 and ’15 combined while working in the same Giants scheme that sputtered most of this past season.
The concerns with Manning are his age and lack of mobility. As a result, it’s quite possible that Manning is on the decline. He’s undoubtedly in the twilight of his career and may not be the same quarterback he was when he won Super Bowls at 27 and 31 years old.
The Giants are admittedly on the lookout for Manning’s successor. But they’re also hopeful that there are at least a few more seasons (he has three years remaining on his current contract) left in his arm and at least one more Super Bowl run. The Giants might be best served by asking less of Manning in order to get more from the team.
Realistic ways the Giants can improve their chances to contend for a Super Bowl:
Draft a running back or tight end in the first round: The Giants have difference-makers all over their defense. They only have one (Beckham) on offense. Another young playmaker at the running back or tight end position would take pressure off Beckham and Manning, and add a dimension that they currently lack.
Sign a veteran left tackle: The offensive line is in need of serious upgrades, especially on the edges. A veteran left tackle (such as impending free agent Andrew Whitworth) would help stabilize the unit immediately rather than a draft choice which might take time. It would also help establish some semblance of a run game, which is mandatory in order for the offense to become a more competent unit.
Bring back JPP and DRC: The defense was onto something this past season. Re-signing free-agent defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and keeping cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- despite his expensive price tag for a third cornerback -- would maintain continuity and give the Giants rare depth at two vital positions. The Giants defense would be stacked and primed for success.