As we crack the seal on the NFL's 100th season - with endless memorials and testimonials on the way - it's fitting we ponder the Giants, football's version of an Original Six squad, as engrained in our frostbitten memories as any team the NFL. Here are five bold predictions for Big Blue in 2019.
1) Saquon Barkley will challenge the record for most yards from scrimmage. Chris Johnson has the mark now, with 2,509 total yards for the Tennessee Titans in 2009. Barkley has already skipped the line, as one of three rookie running backs in NFL history to amass 2,000 total yards.
This is also a young man's record. Johnson set the all-time mark when he was 23. Over half of the 25-most productive seasons came from RBs age 25 or younger. The list includes LaDainian Tomlinson at No. 4, Steven Jackson at No. 6, Marcus Allen at No. 8, and Edgerrin James at No. 10.
Both James and Le'Veon Bell broke the top-25 at age 22. Barkley is 22 this year. Barkley seems like a good man with a machine's durability. Even by the freakish contours of the modern NFL player, Barkley looks big. As Golden Tate sits out a suspension and as Sterling Shepard eases back into the rotation, more will be expected of Barkley, especially with the starting QB spot in doubt for the first time in 15 years.
Daniel Jones to start Week 7 against Arizona. If Big Blue benched Kurt Warner at 5-4 to get a look at Eli Manning, then 2-4 is not an unfair mark for the Giants to take a peek at Jones, whom they have plugged and promoted in camp, in slow-mo, and in the first series of every preseason game. The Giants have made conditions perfect to portray Jones as the new Eli, keeping the starters on the field to protect Jones and to catch his perfect, glistening passes.
Benching Eli a few years ago was so ugly and poorly handled that it literally brought the house down, costing the GM and the HC their jobs, and leaving a monstrous void in leadership. If Eli is to be replaced this year, the climate will be sunny and still, not stormy and dark, like last time.
3) Evan Engram will set the club record for most catches and yards by a tight end. The receptions record was set in 2002 by Jeremy Shockey, who had 74 receptions. Mark Bavaro holds the other record when he posted 1,001 yards in 1986.
The logic is pretty simple. The Giants don't have a game-breaker beyond Saquon Barkley. The G-Men have a dearth of dominant wideouts. And since we don't know exactly how improved the offensive line will be, the best way for Eli (or Jones) to stay upright is to make quick, intermediate throws, which will largely find Barkley and Engram. Add Engram's whiplash speed for his size and position, and he is a nightmare for opponents to cover.
Figure Engram will gash defenses across the middle, on seam routes against zone coverages and on quick throws into the flat. With the emergence of Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and George Kittle, each posting PlayStation-like numbers, the tight end figures more formidably than ever in NFL offenses. (Even with second and third-string QBs throwing to him, Kittle had 88 catches for 1,377 yards.) Engram looks and runs like the prototype. Figure he grabs 78 passes for 1,150 yards.
4) The Giants will finish 8-8. Pretty bold when you consider they won five games last year, and Vegas has the club's over/under at six wins this year. After a 2-4 start, the Giants win their next two - perhaps with Daniel Jones under center - and enter their Week 10 bye at 5-5. Then they will lose to the Bears, Packers and Eagles, then win their final three against the Dolphins, Redskins and Eagles. They play the hapless Dolphins at MetLife, as well as their last game against the Eagles, who will have the NFC East locked up and will likely rest most of their star players.
Since the NFL's playoff format expanded in 1990, there have been at least four new teams playing in the playoffs every year. So, expect four teams who played last January to miss the action next January. The Giants will fall short of the postseason but prove that one season is not a precursor of the next. The Giants dedicated most of their draft to beef-up their defense. Tate will eventually return from his suspension. Engram and Barkley will break out even more. And maybe, just maybe, Daniel Jones is their next QB.
It's also time for Pat Shurmur, who has a 15-34 record in the NFL, to finally flex his coaching chops. You can only dismiss his record as an adjunct of bad players for so long. An 8-8 season would show the media, the masses and his bosses that he belongs on Big Blue's sideline.
5) A Giants player will have more catches and yards than Odell Beckham Jr. It might take two players, but it still counts.
If Engram catches 80 passes, that will be more than OBJ can snag in Cleveland, especially when you consider that Baker Mayfield has such a fertile field to scan.
On first down, he can hand the rock to Nick Chubb, or Kareem Hunt (after Week 8). On second down can toss the ball to Jarvis Landry. On third down, he can zip a pass to blossoming TE David Njoku. That's a darn fine game plan and it didn't even include the electric, eccentric No. 13. It will be hard to get 80 catches for Beckham when you ponder their gifted skill players, plus the fact that Beckham has only played 16 of his last 32 games.
If Sterling Shepard fills Beckham's Big Blue shoes, then he could easily get up to 1,300 yards as the No. 1 wideout. So, if Beckham grabs 70 passes this season, he must average 19 yards per catch. He's never averaged more than 15.1 yards per reception in a season and averages 14.0 yards per catch over his career.