Paul Schwartz: Even a fool (don't take that personally, Ken) can see from just a few days of training camp that the Giants are getting coached much differently than they were in the past. Attention to detail is keen. Under Tom Coughlin, it's highly unlikely the Giants will lose a game because their kicker can't keep the ball in bounds (see Cowboys game last year for details) or because the ball is punted directly to a dangerous returner (hello, Brian Westbrook of the Eagles). The Giants will be more disciplined and because of that they'll steal the few games they need to make a strong playoff run.
Ken Palmer: There's no doubt that this team is going to be much better coached, more disciplined and all that good stuff. The only problem is even if they win four more games than they did last season, they're still going to be home come January. I'm admitting improvements are and will continue to be obvious. But let's be realistic here. This team is probably going to finish last in the NFC East, hardly allowing for a playoff push as a viable option. The Giants wouldn't even make the playoffs if this were the NHL, where everybody – but the Rangers, of course – makes the postseason annually.
PS: No one can accuse the Giants of mailing in the season the way Ken's beloved Phillies have mailed in theirs. Not after the Giants signed Kurt Warner to serve as Eli Manning's tutor for one year. Warner needs to resuscitate his career and the Giants are providing the oxygen he needs. No one knows if Warner can reach the heights he did while guiding the Greatest Show on Turf and leading the Rams to two Super Bowls. Most likely, he can't. But Warner should be the veteran presence able to calm the entire offense and give Manning the time he needs to learn from the wings. Who knows? If Warner plays well and the Giants are more than competitive, making the switch to Manning could come much later than expected, or not at all. Don't scoff at that. Situations often don't follow a certain script or formula. Warner gives the Giants a chance to excel. Manning at the moment does not. That's why the Giants got Warner. He was a huge winner with the Rams. Don't discount that quality.
KP: Paul, I'll scoff all I want. The best thing the Giants could do, and no less authorities than Mike Ditka and Terry Bradshaw agree, is throw the team into Eli Manning's capable mitts. It's not like his learning on the job is going to cost this club a postseason appearance. They're not going to make it, even if they had Y.A Tittle or Phil Simms in their prime at the helm. There are too many injury question marks – Shockey, Emmons, Seubert to name a few – and still not enough depth in key areas, like the offensive line and secondary. Kurt Warner was and can still be a great QB – just not great enough to lift this team to the next level.
PS: I'll admit this is not a great offensive line. But it is a line that can play in the NFL, unlike last year's sorry group, which was decimated by injuries and exposed as a paper-thin unit incapable of impeding the progress of any defensive line. The Giants gambled and lost last year, forced to put inexperienced and inferior players in key positions. That is not the case with this year's group. At the very least, the Giants will have five linemen who at least know what they're doing and have enough physical ability and strength to form a serviceable pocket. So much of what the Giants last year were capable of doing on offense was wrecked by the basic inability to block and protect. That's not the case any more.
KP: True, but this unit, which includes two former Browns that Cleveland brass couldn't wait to let walk, isn't exactly the Cowboys front walls of the ‘90s. They're going to be better, no doubt about it. But how much better can they be? There are a lot of ifs and questions marks. David Diehl played pretty well as a rookie, but it sounds like they're counting on him as a key cog in the line, still uncertain whether he'll play tackle or guard. How good can Chris Snee be from the get-go? Will Luke Petitgout's back hold up? Where in the world is the depth should someone go down? These and other questions will leave Big Blue on the outside looking in at the playoff party.
PS: One of the real unfortunate losses stemming from Coughlin's rule that assistants can't talk to the media is that Tim Lewis has been silenced. The new defensive coordinator has an open, engaging personality and would be a great resource if only his boss would lift the gag order. That won't happen, so we're left to watch Lewis' defense without benefit of his comments. Figure Lewis will turn last year's confused unit into an opportunistic and cohesive group strong enough to keep the Giants in most games.
KP: Agree there too, Paul. You really just don't get it though, do you? Of course the entire team, the offense, defense and special teams are going to be better. Could you realistically fathom them any worse than last year? And, no, the Giants won't quit on Coughlin if the going gets rough like they did down the stretch last season. There's no doubt this club, and Tim Lewis' aggressive, attacking defense, is headed in the right direction. But they're just going to have to follow your Mets' mantra and "wait till next year."
Can the Giants make the playoffs in 2004?
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