DAN SALOMONE: Fact - He threw as many incompletions as touchdowns in that game with four apiece. His 87.1 completion percentage was the highest in franchise history in the regular season (Phil Simms had a completion percentage of 88.0 in Super Bowl XXI). In the winning effort, Manning also became the first Giants quarterback to have a passer rating of at least 150 in a game since Kerry Collins in 2002.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - First of all, it’s important to note the key phrase in the statement is ‘the Giants’ best offensive performance of the season’, not necessarily ‘Eli Manning’s best performance of the season’, though you can certainly make an argument the two cases go in hand in hand. Looking through the games this season, the Dolphins and Saints contests certainly stand out, but don’t overlook Eli’s performance, as well as the whole offense, against the Niners in Week 5. Ben McAdoo and company put up a season-high 525 total yards of offense in that game. They were also extremely efficient on third down, converting nine of their 14 opportunities, and faced a season-best 10 third downs for four yards or less. Manning put the ball in the air a career-high 54 times in that game, completing a career-high 41 passes with just one interception for a career-high 441 yards. The most impressive statistic: seven different players had at least four receptions and 21 receiving yards. I don’t think you can ask for better balance than that. To top all of that off, Manning helped orchestrate a game-winning eight-play, 82-yard drive, capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Larry Donnell. When a quarterback attempts 54 passes, the odds are usually against that player and team being efficient or even winning. Eli and company accomplished both rare feats.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - The Giants top priority will be finding the right head coach. There are so many things necessary for someone to be a good head coach in the NFL, many of which have been taken for granted because Tom Coughlin was so naturally good at them. Having the wrong person in that position can throw an entire organization into flux. Finding the right leader of the team is priority number one. The second most important job will be fixing a defense that was last in the NFL in 2015 in yards allowed and passing yards allowed. The team was too inconsistent rushing the passer and allowed too many big plays in the middle of the field. If this team wants to make any significant improvement, it starts there.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact - In 2014, the Giants ranked 29th in total defense (375.8 yds) and were tied for 22nd in scoring defense (25 pts). This past season: 32nd in total defense (420.3 yds), 30th in scoring defense (27.6 pts). In comparison, the offense has ranked in the top 13 in both total yards and scoring in each of the last two seasons. Of the five games the Giants lost this season by three points or less (Cowboys – Week 1, Saints – Week 8, Patriots – Week 10, Jets – Week 13, Panthers – Week 15), the defense surrendered either a game-tying touchdown, game-winning touchdown or game-winning field goal on the opponent’s final possession in either regulation or overtime. In nine of the Giants’ 16 games in 2015, the opposing quarterback threw for at least 300 yards and the team’s record in those games was 1-8. In comparison, that happened just three times in 2014. Don’t get me wrong, there were also offensive and special teams issues that contributed to losses but, to me, the defense had a number of missed opportunities in critical times in games throughout the season. To further put things in perspective, of the 12 teams in the playoffs this year, all but two are ranked in the top 15 in total defense. Based on all those stats and so many close games being decided by a play here or there, which is the difference between being in the playoffs and looking in from the outside, addressing the defense is by far the top offseason priority.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Even though Robert Ayers led the team in sacks, many came at the end of the season when the Giants lost six out of their last seven games. Ayers also missed four games due to injury and the Giants were 3-1 during that stretch. If you do the math, that means the Giants were 3-9 in games in which he played. A lot of that is bad luck and had nothing to do with Ayers, but the record is the record. He was the best player in the Giants front seven and would be my runner-up for defensive MVP to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Cromartie made three interceptions, two of which led to a win against the Cowboys, and he played all 16 games. A couple of dropped interceptions and missed plays within games hurt the team, but he was still, in my opinion, the team’s best defensive player.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - Teams need playmakers, and no one made bigger plays on defense than cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this year. He started off right away with a 57-yard fumble return touchdown in the season opener, and in the rematch against Dallas later in the season, he grabbed two interceptions, one of which he took 58 yards for a score.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Robert Ayers had a very strong finish to the season, and a career-high 9.5 sacks shouldn’t be overlooked, but he did miss four games early in the season (Weeks 3-6) and the team went 3-1 during that stretch. When you take into consideration the stats, game-changing plays and how crucial a player is to the entire defense, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the MVP of 2015. He led the team in passes defensed (13), defensive touchdowns (2) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (3). DRC returned a fumble for a score in Week 1 against the Cowboys and then gave Dallas more headaches with a pick-six off Matt Cassel in Week 7. The best case for DRC being the defensive MVP is how teams attacked the secondary when he left a game. For example, in Week 8 against the Saints, right after DRC left the game briefly in the first quarter, Drew Brees targeted his replacement, Trevin Wade, and connected with Brandin Cooks for a 26-yard touchdown. In Week 12 against the Redskins, Kirk Cousins followed a similar script as he hooked up with DeSean Jackson for a 63-yard touchdown on the very first play of a drive in the second quarter. On the final play of the Redskins’ previous drive, DRC had injured his ankle. Sometimes you see a player’s true value when he’s not even on the field. Unfortunately, that happened a few times with DRC.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - In the NFC, in my opinion, there are only three realistic teams that could make the Super Bowl: Arizona, Carolina and Seattle. It is hard to make the argument for the Vikings, but they would be next up. In the AFC, however, there’s a chance for every team to make a realistic run except for the Houston Texans. The Chiefs haven’t lost in months. The Broncos have home field throughout, and I have a funny feeling Peyton Manning has one more run left in him. The Patriots are getting healthy. The Bengals have a great team built around AJ McCarron and will hope to survive long enough to get Andy Dalton back. The Steelers have the best passing game in football. Good luck figuring out what teams makes it out of that Conference.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - The hottest and perhaps most dangerous team on the NFC side is the sixth and final seed -- the Seattle Seahawks, who are the two-time defending conference champions. In the fifth spot, it doesn’t get any easier with Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and the Packers. If Seattle and Green Bay are your worst two teams in the postseason, then yes, it’s more wide open in the NFC.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact - In the NFC, of the six teams that are in the playoffs, the Panthers and Cardinals have certainly separated themselves from the pack, and the defending conference champion Seahawks are currently playing, arguably, their best football of the season, which makes them extremely dangerous. You can say the same thing about the Redskins, but Washington hasn’t been nearly as consistent as Seattle, the Packers are still working out issues on offense and while the Vikings defense is impressive, you wonder whether their offense, specifically the passing game, can compete with the some of the other high-powered offenses that Carolina, Arizona and Seattle showcases. In the AFC, with the exception of the Texans, there’s not much separation between the other five teams. The Broncos are well-balanced, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Peyton Manning has yet another magical run in him. The Patriots are getting their injured key weapons back at the right time. The Bengals have remained productive with AJ McCarron under center and can lean on their defense to win games. The Chiefs have won 10 games in a row since a 1-5 start and when the Steelers offense is on, watch out. The AFC is a real guessing game compared to the NFC.