Why the Giants are playoff-bound in '05

The Giant Insider's trusty crystal ball is as cloudy as ever. Last year we predicted the Giants to finish 6-10 and they did. The year before that, we had a strong feeling that Jim Fassel's final season was going to get ugly – and we were proven correct then as well. This year? Who the heck knows? All the pieces are in place for a pretty good team, one certainly good enough to make the playoffs.

On the other hand, some of the trouble spots still remain, such as the always-dangerous injury factor. We know every team deals with injuries, but it sure seems like the Giants get hit harder than most on an annual basis.

That said, let's take a look at the top five reasons the Giants are going to make the playoffs in 2005.

Eli Manning's speedy maturation – Everyone says not to expect too much out of Manning this season, that it's still way too early for him to come in and dominate. Our question is why not? Ben Roethlisberger was dominant as a rookie, and Manning has more talent around him now than Big Ben did last season. Who's to say that young Eli won't mature more quickly than his brother did and lead the Giants a long way in '05?

Picking up where they left off – The Giants and their lack of interceptions have been a trouble spot for years – except, as everyone's so quick to forget, early last season. The Giants defense was a turnover machine in the early going, especially when they forced the Redskins to cough it up seven times in week two. Are we the only ones to notice the correlation between Michael Strahan going down, and the TOs stopping? Strahan is back now, better than ever, and he's going to be the reason the Giants return to being one of the best plus-minus teams in the league.

The Coughlin factor – No, the players aren't going to be going over coach Coughlin's house for dinner any time soon. But there's no doubt there's a better rapport between Coughlin and his troops, especially the key guys. When Coughlin took over in Jacksonville, he made a huge jump from year one (four wins) to year two, when he led the nine-win Jags all the way to the AFC Championship Game. It's safe to say this Giants team is much better than that second-year expansion club.

Firing line – Yes, we're all concerned about left tackle, especially after Luke Petitgout was felled against the Jets and Bob Whitfield looked lost. But the Giants have a much better line this year. I know we've beaten the depth thing to death, but it certainly counts for something. When you have former starters in reserve, it not only provides options, it pushes the starters harder to keep their job. This is the best two-deep OL they've had since 2000.

Getting their kicks – We've said it from the get-go and we're going to say it again: Jay Feely is gong to be a huge factor this season. The Jets game was a prime example – five-for-five on FGs, including two bombs, more than half his kickoffs reached the end zone – and he posted a kickoff coverage tackle. It's amazing how much the game changes when you have a legitimate kicker. After Ernie Accorsi's self-proclaimed kicking carousel, the Giants finally do.

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