Fearless Forcast

Here's how TGI columnist Paul Schwartz sizes up the 2007 season.

1) How will the Giants finish in 2007?

The Giants will finish with an identical or near-identical record as they had last season, which is in the 7-9 or 8-8 range, but this time they will fail to squeeze into the playoffs. Unlike last year, though, there won't be a dramatic downturn in the second half of the season, when a 6-2 start deteriorated into a 2-6 finish. Instead, the Giants will flirt with .500 for most of the year, remaining on the edge of post-season contention until the bitter end, and down the stretch they won't quit on Tom Coughlin.

2) Most important factor in Giants' success?

The key to the season is defense as a whole and the secondary in particular. The Giants will find ways to score enough points on most Sundays but their Big Blue defense can't be as soft-looking as powder blue. Sometimes a defensive unit is better than the sum of its parts based on extreme hustle, smart schemes, some good old-fashioned luck and a sudden rash of forced turnovers. There are some playmakers here but not enough and the rapid development of rookie Aaron Ross and the drastic improvement of Corey Webster are essential in order to strengthen the back line.

3) Who will win the NFC East?

It's strange to be so high on the Cowboys the year after Bill Parcells retires but the Tuna did not exactly leave the cupboard bare for incoming Wade Phillips. If Tony Romo doesn't botch a hold on a field-goal attempt, Dallas advances deeper into last year's playoffs. Like the old days, Big D is alive and well in Dallas (Irving, actually) as the Cowboys easily possess the division's top defense. As long as nut-job Terrell Owens doesn't completely unravel, this should be the team to beat.

4) Will Eli Manning improve this season?

Of course he will improve. He's taken steps forward every season and he looks as if he's more comfortable in his body and ready to take a step forward (hello, Tiki) in the leadership department. There is no reason why he can't get his completions up to 60 percent and, although it's possible he may never be as accurate as the Giants want him to be, Eli has the arm to get things done. He's been around long enough to witness just about everything and that experience will serve him well.

5) Will Brandon Jacobs get the job done?

That depends on how you define "get the job done.'' The main number for Jacobs at the end of the season is going to be the digits under the "Games Played'' category. If it's anything less than 14, that's no good. Jacobs must prove he's not only destructive but also durable. This beast is going to pile up yards, but he hasn't been a workhorse in a long time. He'll be a solid running back for the Giants.

6) What is best case/worst case scenario for Giants?

The best-case scenario is that Michael Strahan drinks from the fountain of youth and he and Osi Umenyiora form a deadly defensive end duo, triggering a deadly pass rush. That would spark the entire team and as long as Manning stays healthy, could inspire a record as gaudy as 10-6 and a Wild Card playoff berth. Worst case? A slow start leads to the ugliness of last season, with sniping and unrest running rampant, making Tom Coughlin a coach headed out the door after a season along the lines of 5-11.

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