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Team to Watch - N.Y. Giants

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Editor's Note: Don't miss out on Bruce Marshall's NFL selections on VegasInsider.com this season. Click to win!

Teams to Watch: Philadelphia · Baltimore

We've seen a similar scenario unfold twice with the New York Giants (2013 SUR 7-9, ATS 7-9, O/U 7-9) in recent memory. Overlooked entering the season, while the media fawns over more flashy contenders in the NFC East. Back-and-forth efforts throughout the first half of the campaign. Then, the gears begin to mesh in December, quarterback Eli Manning begins to play with confidence, and the Giants peak at just the right time to storm down the stretch and win the Super Bowl.

The above transpired in both the 2007 and 2001 seasons under head coach Tom Coughlin, and, in truth, we don't really expect lightning to strike the same way for a third time in 2014. But history suggests to us that this is the sort of situation in which Coughlin and Manning are often their most dangerous. And since we have reservations (in some cases severe reservations) about the other entries in the NFC East, we think this is the time to be on the lookout for another Giants revival this fall.

We know the many questions surrounding the G-Men, who were far from contention a year ago and do not have the look of a serious contender entering the preseason. There is also considerable discussion about the future of Coughlin, now 67 and likely to consider retirement at some point in the near future. Moreover, there are legitimate questions about Eli, whose recent performances suggest he has begun on the downside of his career, now entering its 11th season. The 2013 version of Manning hardly suggested a repeat of the 2007 or 2011 Super Bowl runs would occur anytime soon.

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Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese, however, hardly stood still after the disappointment of 2013, and were quick to authorize changes in the offseason.
Reese proceeded to overhaul much of the roster with a $114 million face lift. Coughlin also made important changes in his staff, namely recruiting a bright, new, and young offensive coordinator, 37-year-old Ben McAdoo, who most recently served as the QB coach on Mike McCarthy's Green Bay staff.

McAdoo has made sweeping changes on the offensive side of the ball, introducing a West Coast offense that many believe is a better fit for Eli. In theory, the Giants should no longer be as one-dimensional and predictable, with an improved infantry and emphasis on a short and intermediate passing game and a faster pace that Eli should be able to master. He'd better, because there is no room for a repeat of his subpar 2013 performance in which he tossed a league-high 27 picks, contributing the Giants' ghastly 44 turnovers, which ranked worst in the league and a main factor in an 0-6 start that had the G-Men scrambling for answers a few weeks before Halloween.

Much of Reese's offseason maneuvering involved getting upgraded pieces for the new McAdoo offense. The line was targeted in free agency, with projected starters J.D. Walton (via Redskins) at center and Geoff Schwartz (via Chiefs) at left guard among the recruits. Another key addition was ex-Raider RB Rashad Jennings, who gained 733 YR and caught 36 passes last year in Oakland and appears well suited for a feature-back role. Although former first-round pick David Wilson has been forced to retire due to recurring neck issues, NFC East sources believe backfield depth is still fine with promising Boston College rookie Andre Williams (who gained 2,177 YR last year with the Eagles) and well-traveled Peyton Hillis, a perfect addition for short-yardage situations.

Even after the FA departure of Hakeem Nicks, Eli will have plenty of receiving targets at the ready, led by big-play Victor Cruz (another 73 catches LY) and emerging ex-LSU star Rueben Randle, whose progress made it easier to let Nicks walk after the season. A hero of the Super Bowl XVLI win over the Patriots, Mario Manningham, also returns to the fold and will provide Eli with another familiar weapon, while the Giants' first-round draft pick, LSU WR Odell Beckham, Jr., adds another potential fear factor to the offense. Ex-Bronco Trindon Holliday, a lethal special teams threat who burned the G-Men for a punt return TD at Met Life Stadium last September, has also been inked to upgrade the return game.

Meanwhile, Perry Fewell's defense mostly performed in a playoff-quality manner last season, but Reese was still busy at upgrades in the offseason, with CB Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie moving from Denver and the single biggest-ticket (five years at $35 million) FA addition by the G-Men. He fills a glaring need for a shutdown corner, while ex-Seahawk Walter Thurmond, who was the prime nickel back in Pete Carroll's defense, now likely to slip into a the starting role on the right corner, opposite Rodgers-Cromartie. These secondary upgrades were critical in a division with as many big receiving targets as the NFC East.

Reese also made sure to re-sign MLB Jon Beason, who emerged as the team's defensive MVP after an October trade with the Panthers. A key development in the front four will be a return to form of DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who as recently as 2011 recorded a whopping 16 1/2 sacks but was reduced to just two last season in his comeback year from back surgery. Coughlin, Fewell and Reese expect Pierre-Paul back to top form, however, which was one of the reasons they were willing to let fellow DE Justin Tuck walk (to the Raiders) in free agency.

We don't expect to see the Giants picked to win the East by too many others in the media, who often base such projections on results from last season...period. But history also tells us this is just the sort of situation where the Coughlin G-Men have to be feared.

  
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