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Fact or Fiction: Giants schedule debate

Posted Jul 8, 2016

The Giants.com staff debates the toughest matchups in 2016: 

The best opposing offense on the Giants’ schedule is New Orleans.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - The Saints offense is really good, but they are relying on a bunch of young wide receivers, no longer have Jimmy Graham, and have problems running the ball consistently. They will still put up plenty of points, but they are not the best offense on the schedule. If everyone is healthy, the Dallas Cowboys have to be in the conversation, but that’s a big IF. The Steelers are in the mix, too, with Big Ben, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. They had injury issues last year, too. The Packers are a sure thing. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football, or at least in the top three. Jordy Nelson is back healthy at wide receiver, and Eddie Lacy looks like he is in the best shape of his life. I’ll go with Green Bay.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - I’ll go with the Steelers, who could make some serious noise this year on the AFC side. Last season, they finished third in total yards, third in passing, and tied for fourth in scoring. They would have been better than 16th in rushing had Le'Veon Bell not been injured. With Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown back, the Steelers will be tough to stop on their home field in Week 13.

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LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Despite trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks last offseason, the Saints finished second in total yards per game (403.8) and averaged nearly 26 points per game (8th NFL), but their running game struggled and ranked 24th in the league (93.2 yards per game). The durability of Mark Ingram and CJ Spiller will remain a big question mark once again in 2016. New Orleans also lost one of its most productive players in the passing game to free agency in tight end Benjamin Watson, though it did add Coby Fleener from the Colts. With all that being said, I’d put Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Dallas ahead of New Orleans. All three teams are essentially bringing their key personnel back and are healthy, plus the Steelers added tight end Ladarius Green and the Cowboys drafted running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The best opposing defense on the Giants’ schedule is Minnesota.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - The Vikings defense was already good last year, and they are young and will probably be even better this season. Anthony Barr is a future star. They have young players in the secondary complimented by some steady veterans. Their defensive line doesn’t have a pass rusher that grabs your attention, but they are solid across the board, and very powerful in the middle with Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Scoring on them in Week 4 will be a challenge.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - And it’s only getting better. Coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards inherited a team that allowed the most points per game in 2013, and after two years, the Vikings finished fifth in that category in 2015. They have a Pro Bowler at every level with Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith. The defense will only be tougher with the noise when the team returns to an indoor stadium this year.

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LANCE MEDOW: Fact - The Vikings were one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2015 and they’re only going to get stronger this season with the nucleus still intact. Minnesota finished fifth in points allowed per game, seventh in sacks and 13th in yards allowed per game. With safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr and veterans including defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, the Vikings have a nice mix of youth and experience. I’d put the Bengals as a close second.

The toughest non-conference game will be Week 13 at Pittsburgh.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - The Bengals might be better than Pittsburgh, but the Giants get Cincinnati at MetLife Stadium. Playing the Steelers at Heinz Field is a chore, and the Giants defense will be threatened by the Steelers' big three of Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown. Their defense has to get better, but the offense should be enough to give the Giants fits in early December. Also, keep in mind that Heinz Field is used for college and high school games, so by early December, the turf could be a real mess.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - For all the reasons we mentioned in the first answer about the offense, this one is fact. They seem to be a trendy pick to come out of the AFC this year, and I wouldn’t necessarily bet against it. They’re led by a two-time Super Bowl champion in Ben Roethlisberger and have weapons all over the field. Meanwhile, the rebuilt defense continues to improve and finished fifth against the run in 2015.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Pittsburgh arguably showcases the best offense the Giants will see this season, thanks to its three-headed monster: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Throw in Ladarius Green to replace the retired Heath Miller, plus a healthy offensive line, and the Steelers are in pretty good shape on offense. The Ravens, Browns and Bengals can’t match that balance on paper, especially with Cincinnati losing two of its top three wide receivers (Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu) to free agency. While Pittsburgh has some question marks on defense, I still think it’s the most dangerous and balanced team in the AFC North.

The toughest divisional game will be Week 17 at Washington.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - At Dallas, in Week 1. The final two games at Philly and at Washington might be more meaningful and more important but not as difficult as winning in Dallas to start the season. You don’t know who will be on the field at the end of the season, but in Week 1 there has to be some confidence that Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and the rest of the Cowboys will be relatively healthy. It is true that Dallas will be missing Randy Gregory and, likely, DeMarcus Lawrence, their two pass rushers, so the Giants should be able to take advantage of the Dallas defense. With that said, the Cowboys will have a chip on their shoulder coming off a 4-12 season and will be psyched to play well to start the year. It will be a very tough and very important game for the Giants to win.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Week 17 is usually for all the marbles in the NFC East, and we’ll see what drama is in store this year. The division has turned over every year for more than a decade, but until someone knocks them off, the Redskins are still the team to dethrone. Being on the road only makes it tougher.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - I’m looking at track record with this answer. The Giants have yet to crack the code on winning a season opener in Dallas. A win to start the 2016 season would be the first in franchise history. Late season trips to Philadelphia and Washington in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively, will certainly pose challenges, but the Giants want to get off to a strong start and there’s no better way to do that than with a win in Week 1, something they haven’t been able to do since 2010.