THE BOTTOM LINE
By Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com
It's fair to assess that, during an offseason in which the Giants added key veterans such as WR Plaxico Burress, ROT Kareem McKenzie and MLB Antonio Pierce, the team narrowed the talent gap in its division. It's probably also fair to suggest that how much the Giants caught up to the Philadelphia Eagles will ultimately be determined by how well QB Eli Manning performs in his first full season as the starter.
The Giants certainly have enough quality skill-position players with which to surround Manning. The starting wideouts are solid, although the staff still must identify a No. 3 guy; TE Jeremy Shockey appears rededicated; Tiki Barber remains one of the NFL's best all-around tailbacks; and the line, while shaky at times in the preseason, is much better. Manning, though, needs to become more consistent and, coach Tom Coughlin has emphasized, more decisive.
The starting defensive unit is well-manned, with DE Osi Umenyiora an emerging young star, but depth is a problem in the front four. If the Giants can avoid the injuries they suffered on defense in 2004, and if coordinator Tim Lewis isn't as constrained as he was forced to be a year ago, the unit could be a good one.
By Joe Theismann, ESPN.com
The Big Question?
Do the Giants have enough playmakers for Eli Manning? Signing Burress was huge, because it gives Manning a potential deep threat to go along with TE Jeremy Shockey and RB Tiki Barber. Manning still is learning, but he needs talent around him. It'll be interesting to see if he has it this season.
By Scott Engel, ESPN.com
Sleeper: WR Plaxico Burress
If Manning's elbow doesn't become a major issue, Burress could end up on the receiving end of some pretty downfield spirals. Manning throws a picturesque deep ball, and Burress has never played with a QB who can take much advantage of his potential big-play skills. Look for Burress to really enjoy his first season with Manning.
Bust: RB Tiki Barber
Don't look for Barber to be a major flop, but a drop in statistical production seems imminent. His workload will be lightened as the Giants utilize WR Burress and TE Shockey more. An improved passing game could mean fewer touches for Barber, who also might lose some goal-line carries to impressive rookie Brandon Jacobs.
From ESPN the MAGAZINE
The Big Number43 New York used its top pick (43 overall) on LSU CB Corey Webster. Now there's a war room no-brainer. The Giants' 50 INTs since 2001 are the lamest four-year total in team history.
STRENGTH --> THE BURRESS EFFECT
The Giants' new No. 1 receiver isn't cheap -- six years, $25 mil -- but neither are the thrills he provides. As the Giants' most dangerous deep threat since ... geez, Homer Jones? ... Burress (left) will bring out the best in Manning's big arm and open things underneath for Toomer and Shockey. At 6-foot-5, he also gives the Giants a badly needed red-zone option to complement the aging Barber. So the final tally? Priceless.
WEAKNESS --> DEFENSIVE TACKLE
The Giants were brutalized by the run (134.8 ypg) in 2004 because they had little skill, and less depth, in the interior. New season, same sad
situation. Robbins can be counted on only to wear down. William Joseph, an '03 first-rounder, hasn't even learned to do that. That makes Kenderick Allen and Clancy -- OK rotation players in over their helmets -- the go-to guys.
Antonio Pierce (left) has a list. Handwritten in blue ink, it contains the names of all 30 linebackers drafted in 2001. His name isn't on it. "Every year I cross off the ones who aren't in the league anymore," says Pierce, who went undrafted out of Arizona. "I wanna be the last man standing."
Eleven down, 19 to go. Pierce led the Redskins with 112 tackles in his first full season as a starter in 2004, then signed a $26 mil deal with New York.
"We needed a playmaker," says GM Ernie Accorsi, who had a list of his own. Settle QB controversy? Check (bye, Kurt). Nab big-time wideout? Check (howdy, Plax). Improve O-line? Check (welcome, Mr. McKenzie). But don't expect any of it to put the G-Men atop the only list that matters: the NFC East standings. Like Pierce, they're working from the bottom up.