TGI's Crystal Ball

TGI's Double Coverage combatants weigh in on the 2009 season…

By Paul Schwartz

1) How will the Giants finish in 2009?

They will go 11-5 and finish a game ahead of the Eagles for first place in the NFC East. They will win a home playoff game and lose in the NFC Championship Game, on the road, in Atlanta. How's that for sounding certain and confident about a series of predictions that everyone knows could go all haywire, being this is the NFL and rarely does form hold? Still, it's difficult to imagine the Giants not putting a quality product on the field most weeks.

2) Most important factor in Giants' success?

Their offensive and defensive lines. Many outside so-called "experts'' believe judged together, the Giants have the best offensive and defensive line tandem in the league. If they aren't the best, they're darned close. As long as the offensive unit – so smart and well-schooled – remains intact the Giants will find ways to move the ball. As long as Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora remain healthy and that ballyhooed depth kicks in, the defense will be tough to reckon with.

3) Biggest source of concern in '09?

The lack of a legitimate No. 1 receiver. I don't care how many passes Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon caught in training camp or how good the two rookies looked on the practice fields of Albany – not that Hakeem Nicks looked all that great this summer. There's not a stud in the bunch – at least not yet – and Eli Manning at times is going to struggle to back defenses off loading up against the run because his targets don't strike fear in anyone.

4) Who will win the NFC East?

The Giants remain the most complete team in the division and should come up on top. They should have one of the top defenses in the league and be able to put heat on the opposing quarterback on a weekly basis. There's a good chance they don't reach the 12-4 record they achieved last year but the division is so tough an 11-5 record could be enough to win it.

5) How will the WRs fare without Burress and Toomer?

Not great. Steve Smith might catch 75 passes but it will only be for about 900 yards and a handful of touchdowns. Domenik Hixon is a nice player but would he be one of the top two guys on many other teams? The key will be how quickly Mario Manningham develops because he's got the physical skills and also how quickly Nicks acclimates to the pro game. This can't merely be a learning season for Nicks or Ramses Barden. They have to contribute in a significant way. It won't be easy, given the track record of rookie receivers with this franchise.

6) What's the best/worst case scenario for the Giants?

The best-case scenario is easy: Their defense dominates, their running game pounds away, Manning takes another step forward, the receivers as a group get the job done and the Giants make it to another Super Bowl. The worst-case scenario, barring something unforeseen like catastrophic injury to Manning, is that the receivers are average at best, the defensive depth never really kicks in because of health problems and the Giants stumble to a 9-7 out-of-the-playoffs season.

Giants

Offensive MVP: Brandon Jacobs
Defensive MVP: Corey Webster
Rookie of the Year: Clint Sintim
Breakthrough Player (Offense): Mario Manningham
Breakthrough Player (Defense): Terrell Thomas
Most pleasant surprise: Danny Ware
Biggest disappointment: Aaron Ross
Unsung hero: Rich Seubert
Brandon Jacobs' stats: 14 games, 238 carries, 1,142 yards, 12 TDs
Osi Umenyiora's stats: 15 games, 58 tackles, 11 sacks

NFL

AFC Playoff teams: Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, Titans, Bengals
NFC Playoff teams: Giants, Eagles, Bears, Panthers, Saints, Falcons
AFC Champion: Chargers
NFC Champion: Falcons
Super Bowl Champion: Chargers
NFL MVP: Philip Rivers
NFL's worst team: Buccaneers
NFL's most improved team: Bengals
Rookie of the year: Mark Sanchez
Biggest story: Brett Favre's amazing durability streak ends with him carted off the field.
Most overrated player: Terrell Owens
Most underrated player: Leon Washington


By Ken Palmer

1) How will the Giants finish in 2009?

This team certainly has the capability of making an extended postseason run. However, there's just a feeling here that it won't happen. Yes, they'll surely win their fair share of games (figure 10 or 11, maybe even 12), but for the first time since he took over Jerry Reese isn't going to get tremendous performances from each and every one of his draft picks and offseason signings. That's not a knock; more so a compliment to the wonderful job Reese has done to this point. But it's going to be a quick exit from the playoffs for the second straight season.

2) Most important factor in Giants' success?

We know, we know, everyone's making entirely too much of the wide receivers situation. You want to know why? Because it's warranted. As good as the Giants offensive line and stable of running backs is they're not going to be able to tear through opposing defenses unless there's some sort of aerial threat. Listen to Eli Manning and it's obvious that even he is a little concerned about exactly who, if anyone, will be able to step up and make a difference in the passing game. The ability or failure to establish a couple WRs that scare the opposition will be integral to New York's success in '09.

3) Biggest source of concern in '09?

Not to take the easy way out here, but the injuries have to be a major concern for Tom Coughlin and Co. as the season kicks off. Too many important players missed significant time this summer. Paying guys like Michael Boley, Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard tons of offseason money and then watching them stand around on the sidelines all training camp couldn't have been a very good feeling for Giants brass. If this team can stay healthy and not have to utilize a host of second-teamers, they should be right there when the final whistle blows. But so far we haven't seen too many reasons to think that will be the case.

4) Who will win the NFC East?

Michael Vick and the Eagles of course. Sure the Giants can and will contend in defense of their 2008 NFC East title. But the Eagles are the class of this division, at least as the season starts, and they also seem to be the team with the highest ceiling. Adding explosive difference-making players to the offense like Vick, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy makes the Birds everyone's sexy NFC East pick – and deservedly so. Let's give the Skins third place and all enjoy watching the Cowboys in their new stadium bring up the division's rear.

5) How will the WRs fare without Burress and Toomer?

Surely one or two of the young guns will surprise, at least the Giants are hoping and praying that's the case. The problem is that no one knows exactly who it'll be at this point. There's no doubt they all have the ability. But it's one thing looking good against the second-team defense in Albany and another producing against some of the game's better defenses every Sunday. Our fearless forecast has Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden proving to be as important to this offense as the projected starters, Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith, by season's end. But, understandably, there will be a drop-off without Plax and Toomer.

6) What's the best/worst case scenario for the Giants?

They can contend; there's no doubt about it. Run down the list of NFC contenders and you have to put the Giants right in there. We all know that games are won and lost in the trenches – and that's good news for Big Blue. There's no team in football that boasts the combined ability of New York's offensive and defensive lines. But a lot of this year's success is based on the progression of number 10 and his new, enormous contract, and the new defense under new coordinator Bill Sheridan. This Giants team can win the Super Bowl. But they almost just as easily could suffer some key injuries and slip to 8-8.

Giants

Offensive MVP: Brandon Jacobs
Defensive MVP: Osi Umenyiora
Rookie of the Year: Ramses Barden
Breakthrough Player (Offense): Mario Manningham
Breakthrough Player (Defense): Bryan Kehl
Most pleasant surprise: Terrell Thomas
Biggest disappointment: Rocky Bernard
Unsung hero: Chase Blackburn
Brandon Jacobs' stats: 12 games, 204 carries, 1,005 yards, 10 TDs
Osi Umenyiora's stats: 16 games, 70 tackles, 16 sacks


NFL

AFC Playoff teams: Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Broncos, Jets, Chargers
NFC Playoff teams: Eagles, Bears, Falcons, 49ers, Giants, Panthers
AFC Champion: Patriots
NFC Champion: Eagles
Super Bowl Champion: Patriots
NFL MVP: Tom Brady
NFL's worst team: Chiefs
NFL's most improved team: Rams
Rookie of the year: Percy Harvin
Biggest story: Tom Brady returns to health and returns Pats to Super Bowl champion status.
Most overrated player: Brian Urlacher
Most underrated player: Madison Hedgecock

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