It will be Lawrence Taylor 1986 vs. Saquon Barkley 2018 in the finals of the 2019 Giants Bracket Challenge: Best Individual Season in Franchise History.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact -- In the end, contests like these that require votes on the internet are popularity contests. No player on the Giants is more popular right now than Saquon Barkley, and understandably so. If he doesn’t advance to the finals, I would be very surprised. Meanwhile, Lawrence Taylor might be the single most dominant defensive player in Giants history. He has tremendous name recognition. They will face one another in the finals.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – L.T. is a given. Just pencil him all the way through to the finals and as the champion. Even all these years later, you could put Taylor in any bracket, and Giants fans will vote him the winner. Whom he beats is where it gets interesting. Barkley is on a collision course with Strahan, and I think the latter will win out eventually just given how much people respect the sack record. There have been valiant attempts by Justin Houston (2014 with Kansas City) and Jared Allen (2011 with Minnesota), but both fell a half-sack short.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact -- I think Lawrence Taylor 1986 will have some competition with Victor Cruz 2011, given how special that season was for the undrafted wide receiver. But it’s hard to see any player, regardless of the season, knock off LT. Taylor won MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, led the NFL in sacks and helped New York win the Super Bowl in 1986. Forget the Giants, it’s one of the greatest individual season performances in league history. As far as the top of the bracket goes, given how fresh Saquon Barkley’s highlights are in the minds of Giants’ fans, I think that will help his cause immensely on top of the fact it seems as if he broke every Giants rookie running back record imaginable. I can see Barkley colliding with Michael Strahan 2001 in the semifinals because, like Taylor in 1986, Strahan won Defensive Player of the Year and set the NFL single-season record for sacks (22.5).
The Bracket Challenge is heavier on defense.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction -- It’s surprising given that most people relate Giants history with dominant defense, but there are plenty of great offensive seasons in the bracket. Victor Cruz, Homer Jones and Plaxico Burress are all in the mix, as are all-purpose backs in Tiki Barber, Frank Gifford and Joe Morris. Quarterbacks Eli Manning, Charlie Connerly and YA Tittle are looking to advance, and rightfully so. Offense is more than well represented. The fact offensive stats are easier to quantify helps in this regard too.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact – This is a franchise with defense in its bones. Lawrence Taylor is the last defensive player to be named league MVP, but the history started way before that. This is where I want to make a case for Emlen Tunnell, who had 10 of his 79 career interceptions in 1949. Just think about the era in which he did that. They hardly threw the ball back then. To put it in perspective, Johnny Lujack led the NFL with 312 passing attempts that year. In 2018, Ben Roethlisberger threw a league-high 675 times.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction -- I’m not sure if this is a trick statement, but if you break down the bracket based on position, there are 13 offensive players and just four who played on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, the defense is highlighted by Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan, but I don’t think those two players outweigh the accomplishments of players such as Saquon Barkley, Phil Simms, Eli Manning, Y.A. Tittle, Victor Cruz and Mark Bavaro in their respective seasons.
Saquon Barkley had the best Giants season in the 21st century.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction -- Tiki Barber had a better season in 2005 (he gained more total yards) than Barkley did in 2018, so that’s why this is fiction. Otherwise, this is a really tough one. There are some really good seasons that are in contention here. Strahan set the sack record in 2001. Eli Manning led the team to the Super Bowl thanks to one of the best clutch seasons (his fourth quarter stats that year are mind-boggling) in Giants history. I don’t want to have to choose. Do I? Wait, that wasn’t part of the question? Great!
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – Nothing has topped Victor Cruz’s 2011 season – yet. It was an even better story. Making the team as an undrafted rookie the year before, the Paterson (N.J.) native broke out in 2011 with 1,536 receiving yards, a team record that still stands to this day. Ninety-nine of those came on one fateful touchdown against the Jets on Christmas Eve. Coach Tom Coughlin called it the “spark” in their run to Super Bowl XLVI, which Cruz kicked off with a touchdown in the first quarter. The Giants went on to beat the Patriots, 21-17, to claim their fourth Lombardi Trophy.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction -- When it’s all said and done, this will likely, easily, be a fact. As it stands right now, though, I don’t think you can dismiss what Tiki Barber accomplished in 2005. That season, Barber collected 2,390 total yards and 11 touchdowns. Barkley finished with four more touchdowns in 2018 but he had 300 total less yards and, if you further break it down, Barber (1,860) ran for over 500 more yards than Barkley (1,370). In 2005, Barber recorded eight 100-yard rushing games including three 200+ yard performances. In comparison, Barkley had seven 100-yard games but none for at least 200. 2018 was a very special season for Barkley but we don’t have to crown him just yet.
The NCAA Tournament is more compelling than the NFL postseason.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction -- Unpredictable? Sure. More compelling? Nope. The NFL playoffs are a culmination of months of teams growing to the point where they are in the NFL postseason. When two teams play one basketball game there is a level of inherent randomness that is more prevalent than in NFL playoff games. If one team in the tournament gets hot enough from three all bets are off. It is much more difficult to have an upset like that in a NFL playoff game. I prefer a scenario where it is more likely the better team is going to win, so I’ll take the NFL playoffs.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – The first weekend is better, but as a whole, it’s not even close. Unless your team (or bracket) is still in it, the NCAA Tournament kind of fades week to week. In the NFL, it’s the exact opposite. You have conference championship Sunday and then obviously the Super Bowl, the greatest day of each year.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction -- I love basketball and would even put it ahead of football on my rankings, but despite the regular occurrence of several upsets in the NCAA Tournament, you won’t find more parity than in the NFL postseason. Just 12 out of 32 teams make the NFL playoffs. Given that small percentage, you’re seeing the best teams in the league on the biggest stage. When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, you have a field of 68 teams. When the top seed plays the 16th seed there’s a great disparity between those two teams. In the NFL, the disparity is minute, essentially nonexistent. Are there some lopsided games in the NFL postseason? Absolutely, but the percentage is much smaller compared to March Madness.