I am trying to be optimistic on the Giants. Most every preseason publication, however, hasn’t joined me in my valiant effort.

To wit, I give you FootballOutsiders’ Russell Levine, from his “Over/Under” report for the NFC based on both Vegas odds and FootballOutsiders/Pro Football Prospectus projections. By the way, Levine is a Giants fan:

New York Giants (+/- 8 wins) [Vegas]

PFP 2007 Projection: 7 wins

I’m going to try and talk about this in an objective manner. The Giants have many issues. They play the third-most difficult schedule in football. Their best offensive player retired and their best defensive player has been strongly considering it. Their most important player has seen his development stagnate. His blind side is going to be protected by the Giants’ former backup guard. Their corners are alternately old, injured, mediocre or inexperienced. They have two strong safeties, one of whom will need to play free safety. Oh, and they have a lame-duck coach who no-one believes in. Deliver us Jake Long, please. Under with extreme prejudice.

(FYI: Jake Long is a left tackle from Michigan who is widely considered the Joe Thomas of the 2008 draft.)

So Levine isn’t quite feeling the ‘Men this year, and he’s not alone: arguments you’ll hear from people in the office or at bars will probably revolve around at least one of his arguments (mostly the one about Eli – it’s kinda crazy how much people love to hate on him.)

But I’m trying to be optimistic, which, at this point in the season, is not too hard for me. I may be deluded, but I expect good things from this team.

So to respond point-by-point to Levine, here’s what I think:

 

1) “They play the third-most difficult schedule in football.”

I read this when I purchased my copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2007, and I pondered why this was so. Playing in the NFC East – maybe the toughest divisions in football, with the possible exception of the AFC North – surely has something to do with it.

But why, I wondered, did PFP think the Giants schedule was so much harder than that of the Eagles (18th hardest schedule, according to PFP), who won the division and should therefore have a tougher out-of-division slate?

One of the reasons was that PFP projected the Giants to be pretty bad and the Eagles to win 11 games, which means that the Giants have two games against a very good-to-great team while the Eagles have two games against a below average team.

Other than that, the Giants and Eagles play eight of the same ten out-of-division opponents: the Packers, Lions, Jets, Bears, Vikings, Dolphins, Patriots, and Bills.

The non-common opponents are as follows: the Giants play the Falcons and the 49ers, while the Eagles play the Saints and the Seahawks.

Which to you sounds like a tougher slate? A team that made the NFC Championship game and one that took the eventual NFC Champions to overtime? Or a feel-good 7-9 team that looked better towards season’s end but still posted the 27th best DVOA in the league (49ers) and the Mexico-less disaster that is the Atlanta Flacons?

So I guess the question is: Is the difference between the Giants and the Eagles that great to make up the difference of the two non-common opponents? Apparently so.

The point of all this is that you shouldn’t get too freaked out by Levine’s claim about the Giants’ tough schedule. If you disregard the fact that PFP thinks we’ll suck while the Eagles will be a Super Bowl contender – which, in my preseason optimism, I have no choice but to do – we actually have an easier schedule than the team with the 18th hardest schedule in the league.

 

2) “Their best offensive player retired and their best defensive player has been strongly considering it.”

Let’s take this in two parts:

1) Tiki

The loss of Tiki will be hard to overcome, no doubt. In good conscience, I can’t make a case that Jacobs will be anywhere near as good as the Teekster.

But we have to hope that the improved play of the offensive line, the return of Amani, and a significantly better season from Eli will help offset Tiki’s loss.

And there’s reason to think all three will happen.

People tend to forget that Petitgout was injured and not on the field during our nosedive last year: when we melted down, Bob Whitfield our left tackle, not Petitgout. So the question is not how Diehl compares to Petitgout, but how he compares to Whitfield. You have to think that he’s an upgrade.

Amani will be back and he will be good – he’s looked good during preseason. And Steve Smith will be better than Tim Carter or David Tyree, who became our number two and three receivers last year after Amani went down.

Now, Eli. He will be better too, at least because of the reasons above: 1) the line won’t fall apart on him like it did during the second half of last year; and 2) his receivers will be better.

He is also a year older and wiser. He also can’t possibly play worse than he did towards the end of last year. He also has established that he will never, ever be Peyton, and will therefore benefit from the reduced expectations.

All of this will help offset Tiki’s loss, though not completely. Tiki was awesome, and our offense will be worse than it was for the whole of last year.

But is this such an indictment? Does this mean our offense will suck? No, not really. Last year, our offense was top-third in terms of DVOA, ranking 9th in the league. Let’s say that because of the loss of Tiki, we slip to middle-of-the-pack, to 16th? Is this so atrocious?

No, it’s not. It’s average. So stop fucking saying that we’re gonna be so bad.

2) Strahan

Plus, I think our defense will be better than it was last year. People tend to forget that it tends to hurt your defense if you lose two of the best defensive ends in the league, and that we’re essentially adding Osi and Strahan to last year’s defense.

(Oh, you don’t think Strahan’s coming back? Well, by the time you read this, he probably already has. And he’s gonna be really good. And you didn’t think he was coming back, and if you think he’s not gonna be really good, then you’re stupid.)

Justin Tuck will also play a bigger role, and he’s good. And our linebackers will be better because we won’t be subbing guys in for the injured, scrubby likes of LaVar and Emmons.

And because our pass rush will be so much better than it was last year, our secondary will be less exposed. It won’t be great or even above-average, mind you, but if it is even average, our defense as a whole can be solidly above-average.

 

3) “Their most important player has seen his development stagnate.”

From above:

Now, Eli. He will be better too, at the very least because of the above reasons: 1) the line won’t fall apart on him like it did over the second half of last year; and 2) his receivers will be better.

He is also a year older and wiser. He also can’t possibly play worse than he did towards the end of last year. He also has established that he will never, ever be Peyton, and will therefore benefit from the reduced expectations.

 

4) “His blind side is going to be protected by the Giants’ former backup guard.”

That’s not fair. Dave Diehl has been a solidly above average lineman for quite some time. At the very least, you have to think that he’ll protect Eli’s blind side better than Bob Whitfield did.

But will he protect it better than Luke Petitgout? That’s the million-dollar Jerry Reese gamble.

Not many people think so, but Reese does: (quote courtesy of NYGMen commentator Cody.)

“People are so worried about left tackle…I think that’s so overrated. People act like (Luke) Petitgout was the second coming. He never made the Pro Bowl, and I don’t think he ever was a first alternate. Now all of a sudden he’s the savior? That’s ridiculous. I don’t think we’re that bad off without Luke Petitgout. He was not a star left tackle. He was a solid left tackle on some occasions and other times he wasn’t. Luke has been a marginal player for a long time.”

So the question is this: does this above quote say more about Luke Petitgout or Jerry Reese?

 

5) “Their corners are alternately old, injured, mediocre or inexperienced.”

This is pretty much true. I’m not sure what Levine means by “alternately,” but let’s look at each corner and see who he’s talking about.

Madison: old (33), mediocre, and injured;

R.W.: old? (30), and mediocre;

Webster: inexperienced, mediocre, and possibly injured (although reports about his hip have been positive recently);

Ross: inexperienced;

Dockery, Underwood, McPhearson et al: inexperienced, mediocre;

So can we fashion a decent group out of these guys? Probably not, but they’re not that bad.

Ross is a first-round draft pick, so maybe he’ll be above-average by the end of the year. Webster has had all kinds of injuries in his first two years: can he break out? I don’t know – I hope so. R.W. wasn’t terrible last year. And Madison is apparently a big fan of Spagnuolo’s press coverage schemes – in his second year with Big Blue, maybe he’ll improve.

The secondary really can’t get worse than it was last year. And with a pass rush that you have to think will drastically improve, maybe this unit won’t be the glaring liability that people think it will.

 

6) “They have two strong safeties, one of whom will need to play free safety.”

Ok, now this guy is talking about safeties. I know there are plenty of reasons to hate on the 2007 G-Men, but he’s talking about safeties? C’mon – this is a little ridiculous.

On the other hand, there’s a legitimate question here: do Gibril and Butler have the speed/range to cover the deep halves?

If not, let’s get J.R. Reed in this piece!

 

7) “Oh, and they have a lame-duck coach who no-one believes in.”

Ok, this isn’t nearly as relevant a point as people make it out to be, and here’s why:

All football teams play hard at the beginning of the season. It’s only towards the end of the season, if they’re doing poorly, that they’ll give up on a coach, something that is more likely to happen if the coach is a lame duck.

This is exactly what happened to the Giants last year: they pretty much shat the bed for lame-duck Colonel Tom towards the end of the season. And that’s why NYGMen was pretty pissed when they kept him around for another year.

But he’s back. And despite the Strahan bullshit, and despite the Eli-Tiki bullshit, it’s a new season and there’s a new sense of optimism surrounding this team. Dare I say it, but for now, last year is pretty much forgotten.

And it will be even more forgotten about if we go into Dallas and beat the Cowboys. And it will be even more forgotten about if we take care of business at home against the Packers the following week.

And suddenly, no one will be talking about Colonel Tom being a lame duck – they’ll be talking about this team getting its shit together – finally – and making a playoff run.

So really, the status of Colonel Tom is secondary. If and when this team ever does give up on him, it will be when all is lost already. But if all is not lost already, they will not give up on him.