Commentary

Coughlin, Giants get no favors in sked

Another fast start is possible, but can Big Blue finish strong and end playoff drought?

Updated: April 21, 2011, 8:43 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

Tom Coughlin has been trying to figure out why his teams have not always finished strong in the second half of the season.

If Coughlin doesn't find a solution, this could be his final season as Giants coach, because the NFL schedule makers did him no favors this year.

While it's always difficult to predict NFL games in April, and more so when a lockout is going on and free agency hasn't begun yet, the 2011 schedule has a fast start and the potential for another collapse written all over it for the Giants.

If the Giants are going to break their two-year playoff drought and prove they are truly contenders, they'll have to go through Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and the defending Super Bowl champs, Tony Romo twice, and Rex Ryan's Jets all in the final nine games.

The Giants play seven games against playoff teams from last season, four coming against New England, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Green Bay in a brutal five-game stretch starting Nov. 6.

"Our deal is how we finish and we play three of our last four games in the NFC East," Coughlin said in a news release. "We need to play good football at the end of the season. Part of our objective for the 2011 season is going to be how our football team plays in the fourth quarter and how we finish. And it's an extremely challenging finish."

Coughlin has been searching for answers ever since the 2010 season ended with the Giants winning 10 games but out of the playoffs. The Giants started 5-2 last season only to squander their playoff hopes by losing two of the last three games.

The Giants have started 5-2 or better in the first seven games of each of Coughlin's seven seasons as Giants coach. But since he took over in 2004, Coughlin's Giants are a combined 29-35 in the last nine games of a season.

The Giants very well could get off to another quick start this season. There are several key players who need to be re-signed, such as Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith, Barry Cofield and Mathias Kiwanuka, just to name a few. And improvements and reinforcements are needed on the offensive line, at linebacker, in the secondary and on special teams.

But if the lockout threatens training camp or more of the season, the Giants should be in good shape since they kept their coaching staff intact and have a veteran team returning, which is better than a team dealing with a new coaching staff or a new coordinator and new players.

On top of that, the Giants open the season on 9/11 in Washington. It surely will be an emotional divisional game, but the Giants have owned the Redskins. That opens a six-game stretch that includes games against the Rams and former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo at home on Monday night, a road game against the Cardinals, and home games against the Seahawks and Bills before the bye week. The Redskins, Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks and Bills combined to go 29-51 last season. The hardest test in the first six weeks is the Giants' visit to Philadelphia in Week 3.

It's not hard to envision a 5-1 or 4-2 start for the Giants again.

"As always, we face a very challenging and difficult schedule," Coughlin said. "Two of our first three games are division road games, so we have to start well, because your divisional games count twice as much. We have to be ready to play."

After the bye comes the really hard part. A home game against Miami, an opponent that typically plays hard, jump-starts a difficult second half. The Giants start November with their Super Bowl XLII rematch with the Patriots in New England. They'll stay on the road, traveling out west to visit Jim Harbaugh's 49ers.

Then, Vick and DeSean Jackson return to the new Meadowlands, where they crushed the Giants' playoff hopes last year. The Giants have little time to recover from that divisional battle before they head down to New Orleans to face Brees, who carved them up in 2009. That 48-27 rout started a collapse that saw the Giants finish 8-8 after opening that season 5-0.

Following their Monday night game in the Big Easy, the Giants have a short week to prepare for a home game against the defending champion Packers. Coughlin's team hopes to avenge last year's 45-17 loss in Green Bay that ignited the Packers' Super Bowl run.

The Giants finish their final four games at Dallas, against Washington, at the Jets and at home against the Cowboys. As if facing the Cowboys twice in the last four games isn't hard enough, the Jets and Rex Ryan's defense will be a nasty Christmas Eve gift.

One positive is that the Giants have to get on a plane only once in the final five weeks after they had to deal with all sorts of travel delays due to snow storms that stranded them in the Midwest twice last year.

There's certainly a lot that can happen between now and January. But if the Giants survive a second half of a schedule that resembles a death trap straight out of a "Saw" horror flick, Coughlin can truly tell his critics to kiss his rear end.

Giants ScheduleESPN.com illustrationIt won't be easy for the Giants as they try to return to the playoffs.

Five biggest games

Week 9 at New England: The Giants face Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for the first time in a meaningful game since Super Bowl XLII. More importantly, this game starts a potentially make-or-break five-game stretch, and it would be a huge lift to come away with a road win over the Pats. It will be interesting to see what Perry Fewell devises to stop Brady. Eli Manning must protect the football against Belichick's defense.

Week 11 at Philadelphia: The Giants and Eagles also square off in Week 3 but the one that could decide the Giants' playoff fate will be the rematch at home where the Giants suffered their epic collapse last year to Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. This was the game that broke the Giants' backs last season. They must find a way to beat their division rival and do it at home to help erase the pain from last year and keep from potentially suffering another late-season meltdown. One thing is certain: Coughlin will practice punting the ball out of bounds the week leading up to this game

Week 12 at New Orleans: "Monday Night Football" against one of the most potent offenses in quite possibly the loudest environment in football. The most critical portion of the Giants' schedule continues with a prime-time visit to the Big Easy, where it is anything but easy on Monday nights. Drew Brees and the Saints abused the Giants' defense 48-27 in 2009 in New Orleans. The Giants can't lie down again.

Week 13 at Green Bay: From the 2009 champs to the 2010 champions. On a short week, the Giants have to go from Brees to Aaron Rodgers. Last season, with a playoff berth on the line, the Giants were whipped by the Packers 45-17 in a game that basically got Green Bay's title run rolling. The Giants had to spend their Christmas weekend in Green Bay. This season, they get the Packers at home, and a win over the defending champs would do wonders.

Week 14 at Dallas: The Giants face the Cowboys twice in the final four weeks, and the first meeting, in Dallas, might be the most important because nobody knows where the Giants will be mentally and physically after facing the Patriots, Eagles, Saints and Packers in the previous five weeks. The Giants might need this division game to stop the bleeding of a losing streak, or they could be trying to keep an amazing stretch of good football going. That's why we have this game over the Jets encounter in Week 16. A win over the Cowboys in Dallas is always good medicine for the Giants, who finish the season against the Redskins, Jets (technically a road game) and Cowboys at the new Meadowlands stadium.

 

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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