NFL Playoffs 2016: 5 Reasons New York Giants Can Win Super Bowl 51
Five reasons why the New York Giants can win Super Bowl 51 as a Wild Card team following a five-year hiatus from the NFL Playoffs.
There are some who thought that the New York Giants would go another season without making the NFL Playoffs. Critics didn’t think this team of rookies and free agents trained by a first-year head coach would gel and develop enough to find themselves in contention.
On the other hand, most Giants fans had high hopes after a humongous offseason spending spree that brought in “The Big Three,” Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Janoris Jenkins. Those prospects were further buoyed by a handful of exceptional draft picks.
The offseason additions have paid off handsomely as the new crew of contributors have propelled the Giants to a 10-5 record entering the final week of the regular season. With the Buccaneers loss, New York clinched a Wild Card playoff berth and the No. 5 seed in the NFC. The last time the Giants had the No. 5 seed was in the 2007 season when they won the Super Bowl over the undefeated New England Patriots.
The 2016 Giants squad is far from perfect. They could be the most confounding team to follow week in and week out. There was no better example of their uneven play than the Week 16 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The defense hounded Carson Wentz, yet couldn’t bring him down. The offense moved the ball at will, only to end up with field goals. On paper, the Giants should’ve won as they bested Philly in almost every statistical category.
How can a team that mightily struggled to overcome the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, and Cleveland Browns have any chance of lifting a Lombardi? Yet, anyone who’s watched the Giants sweep the Dallas Cowboys and defeat the Detroit Lions gets the sense the best is yet to come.
There are 53 reasons why the New York Giants could win Super Bowl 51 as a Wild Card, but here are the top five:
Aug 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie (51) congratulates New York Giants punter Brad Wing (9) after a kick in the 2nd half at MetLife Stadium. New York Giants defeat the New York Jets 21-20. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
5. Special Teams
We’ll start with the unit that’s been overlooked and overshadowed by the defense, but could be just as important in the playoffs. One can’t forget the debacle that was Josh Brown—his domestic abuse case and the team’s mishandling of his punishment were abominable. Replacing the Pro Bowler and his nearly flawless conversion rate would be almost impossible.
Enter Robbie Gould, a fairly dependable one-time Pro Bowler. Outside of a two-week stretch in which he missed three extra points, Gould has been perfect. Since debuting in Week 7 against the Rams, Gould has gone 8-for-8 on field goals. From 40 yards or more, he’s 3-for-3. The big question remains, can Gould knock one through from 50 yards and beyond?
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The former Chicago Bear hasn’t attempted a kick from 50+ yards in 2016. McAdoo has shown he’d rather go for it on fourth down than risk a miss. Gould’s career long was 58 yards in 2013 and he hit a 55 yarder in 2015. As the weather gets worse in January, would McAdoo go to Gould from way downtown? If the game’s in Green Bay or Seattle, probably not. If the opportunity presents itself in Detroit, Atlanta, or Dallas, Gould could get the green light. Giants fans should know Gould has been perfect in the postseason. Gould has gone 19-for-19 on extra points and six for six on field goals.
As critical as Gould could be, the kick defense could be the difference-maker. The 2016 unit might be the best in franchise history. Johnathan Hankins’ block and Janoris Jenkins’ subsequent return for a touchdown won the game in Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints. Jason Pierre-Paul’s field goal block against the Eagles in Week 9 ended up preserving the win.
While they might not directly put points on the board, punter Brad Wing and Pro Bowl gunner Dwayne Harris have consistently been the most valuable special teams players. Unfortunately, Wing is third in the NFL in punts and punting yards, which reflects more on the offense’s inability to get going. However, Wing is 10th in yards per punt and won NFC Special Teams Player of The Week in Week 14 and Week 15. Wing has landed 27 punts inside the 20, which places him ninth in the league.
What’s more impressive is Wing’s uncanny skill to place the ball inside the 10- and 5-yard lines that changes the game. With field position becoming even more vital in the playoffs, Wing and Harris will be the ones putting the Giants in a position to win.
Lastly, don’t be surprised if Odell Beckham Jr. takes a punt to the house for a pivotal score. OBJ has returned two or three punts for touchdowns that have been called back due to questionable penalties over the past month.
Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Giants running back Paul Perkins (28) rushes the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
4. A Perk’d Up Running Game
What?! Yes, the running game. For the most part, the Giants have been underachievers on offense. Odell Beckham Jr. has been putting that group on his back to help win ballgames. When opposing defenses contain OBJ, the Giants are usually lose. Fans would love for Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz to make defenses pay for that scheme, but they’ve been unable to in recent weeks. How will the Giants free up their trio of wideouts? With a rejuvenated rushing attack, of course.
The G-Men have rushed for 100 or more yards per game in five of the past seven matchups and were seven yards shy of making it six. The only hiccup came against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13. Up until Week 15, those numbers have been without starting left guard Justin Pugh. In the two games he’s been back in the lineup, Big Blue has put up 114 rushing yards per contest. With Pugh, the Giants will need to continue that upward trend to put a dent in stingy run defenses like the Packers, Seahawks and Cowboys.
Though New York has been without third down, pass-catching back Shane Vereen for most of the season, the running back group appears to be on the up and up. Sure, Rashad Jennings is only averaging 3.3 yards per carry, his lowest since his last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But, 2016 fifth-round draft pick Paul Perkins has provided a spark with his eye-opening cuts and elusive moves. He’s averaged double-digit carries the past three weeks and is picking up yards that Jennings hasn’t. Rashad has been better catching out of the backfield.
As defenses hone in on Odell and bring more blitzers, the Giants will lean on Perkins to pound the rock and pick up pass blocks. With each game, Big Blue’s confidence in the UCLA product has grown. We could see Perkins fully bloom into a back to be reckoned with come playoff time. Moreover, don’t sleep on Bobby Rainey!
Dec 22, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Mathews (24) is stopped on fourth down goal line stand against the New York Giants during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Red Zone Defense
The Giants have allowed the fewest offensive touchdowns in the NFL (10 rushing, 14 passing). New York’s defense is third best in points allowed per game, which is even more impressive when you find out that unit has been on the field for the fourth most plays league-wide. Only 31 percent of drives end with an offensive score, which is sixth best overall. The 1.45 points allowed per drive is second only to the Patriots.
As tremendous as the Giants defense has been across the board, it’s their work in the red zone that’s astonishing. They’ve led the league in lowest opponent red zone touchdown scoring percentage and fewest red zone attempts per game. Only 39.02 percent of opponents’ red zone trips end in six points. That’s five whole percentage points better than the next best defense. Big Blue’s defense only allowed 1.1 red zone touchdowns per game.
Even though the G-Men are 7-1 at home and 3-4 on the road, their red zone defense has been better away from MetLife Stadium. The poor record as visitors can be attributed to the offense. Detractors have written off the Giants as Super Bowl contenders because they’re a Wild Card team that will have to win on the road. If New York’s stellar red zone defense sticks to their regular season averages and the offense wakes up, this club will be tough to beat.
Also, let’s not forget that Jason Pierre-Paul is expected to return for the Divisional Round and could be ready for the Wild Card game. Talk about the rich getting richer.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
2. The Road Runs Through Dallas and New England
As the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Dallas has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Can you really call AT&T Stadium an advantage for the Cowboys? You’d be hard pressed to find an NFL fan who would describe Dallas’ home turf as a hostile environment. Dallas certainly isn’t on par with Green Bay and Seattle. In fact, Chris Chase of FoxSports.com ranked Dallas as the worst home-field advantage in the NFL.
From 1990 to 2014, Dallas had the seventh highest winning percentage at home. From 2005-14, the Cowboys had the 15th best winning percentage at home. Their home winning percentage is only 12.5 percent better than their road winning percentage, which is below the league average.
If anyone can attest to the over-inflated nature of home-field advantage, it’s the 2008 New York Giants. Fresh off their unbelievable Super Bowl championship the previous season, the Giants went 12-4 the following season and secured home-field advantage only to lose badly in the Divisional Round to the Eagles in East Rutherford.
Need more proof home-field advantage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Here are four stats from Mike Foss of USA Today Sports that should boost New York’s optimism. Granted, the past three NFC Champions have been the No. 1 seed, but twice it’s been Seattle. The Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in the league thanks to The 12th Man.
Entering Week 17, the Atlanta Falcons have a 77 percent chance of clinching the No. 2 seed and the Seahawks have a 63 percent probability of getting the No. 3 seed. The winner of the Packers-Lions game will most likely secure the No. 4 seed. If those standings stay that way, the Giants would either go to Green Bay or Detroit. Giants fans would probably want to see their squad travel to Ford Field rather than Lambeau. The No. 6 seed—either the Packers, Lions, or Redskins—would have to visit Seattle where the Seahawks are unbeatable.
Should the Seahawks win, they would face the Falcons in Atlanta. On the road, a beat up Seattle club is very beatable. They’ve gone 2-4-1 on the road, the worst among NFC playoff teams. If the Giants can win in the Wild Card round (they’re 2-0 in last two postseason trips to Green Bay), they go to Dallas where they’ve already won once in 2016 and won in the 2007-08 Divisional Round.
A victory in Big D sends the Giants to Atlanta for the NFC Championship. Though Atlanta’s offense is arguably the most powerful in the NFL, the better defense should prevail and that honor goes to New York. The only concern for the Giants defense is Atlanta’s big play potential. Limit those huge gains and Big Blue should make their third Super Bowl appearance in 10 seasons.
Considering Big Blue’s history against New England, would anyone bet against the Giants in their third Super Bowl battle with the Patriots? As Victor Cruz put it, per NFL.com, “[The Patriots] don’t want to see us.” New York has won three of the past five meetings and their two losses have come by a total of four points (38-35 in their Week 17 loss in 2007, 27-26 in their Week 12 loss in 2015). There’s just something about facing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady that brings out the best in Eli Manning. Speaking of which…
Dec 22, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) in action against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
1. Playoff Eli Is DirecTV Eli
Make no mistake, Eli Manning has been as inconsistent and as confusing as ever in 2016. He played well in September, poorly in October, good in November, and horribly in December. Will January be a rebound month?
Manning sits at seventh in interception percentage and 22nd in quarterback rating. The 13-year veteran has accrued a quarterback rating of less than 79 in three of the last four games and has been bad on the road. He’s also thrown the lowest yards per completion average of his career. But, he’s led three fourth-quarter comebacks (6th in NFL) and five game-winning drives (tied for third most), which is right behind his Super Bowl seasons.
This will be Eli’s sixth trip to the postseason. In 11 games, Manning’s gone 8-3 and has only played poorly in two games—the 2005-06 Wild Card game against the Carolina Panthers (his first full season as a starter) and the aforementioned 2008-09 Divisional Round clash with the Eagles. Eight of his 11 postseason games have come on the road, so he’s no stranger to those conditions.
Which Eli will show up in the 2016-17 playoffs? Though Manning’s efforts on the road in 2016 have been disappointing, they haven’t been complete trainwrecks. Upon further review, the road losses come down to just a few bad decisions, especially in the red zone. Why Eli is making those regrettable choices is unfathomable. However, with Beckham and Shepard making their first trip to the playoffs and Cruz possibly making his last, you’d expect them at their best.
15 games into the season and Ben McAdoo hasn’t figure out how to fine-tune the offense. The explanation throughout the season has been the same: the opportunities are there, the execution is not. There’s no better time for the offense to click than now. If they do, the quest for fifth Lombardi is within reach.