Saquon Barkley’s rookie season was more impressive than Odell Beckham Jr.’s in 2014.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - Saquon Barkley had just as many receptions in his rookie year as Odell Beckham Jr., and Barkley is a running back. Granted, Beckham missed four games of his rookie year with a hamstring injury, making his numbers a bit more impressive, but Barkley’s ability to stay on the field is part of his spectacular rookie performance. Even if you take Beckham’s scrimmage yards per game average as a rookie (111.7), it is significantly less than Barkley’s 126.8 per game in 2018. Barkley led the league in yards from scrimmage, passing Ezekiel Elliott in Week 17 when the Cowboys running back sat out the finale. He was second to Elliott in touches from scrimmage with 352. He didn’t fumble the ball once. Barkley was spectacular in nearly every way, and it will be a pleasure watching him here for years to come.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - This is a tricky one. I’m going with Odell just because of the absolute mania of that season and the fact that he kind of came out of nowhere. I don’t want to say becoming the third NFL rookie in NFL history with 2,000 scrimmage yards was to be expected for Barkley, but then again, Dave Gettleman did say that you need to be able to picture the player in a gold jacket one day when you’re picking at No. 2. Covering Beckham for Giants.com in 2014 felt like a ride, from his pregame catching routine to meeting LeBron James shortly after “The Catch” to texting with Michael Jordan to the Pro Bowl to commercial shoots with J.B. Smoove. He was so much more than that, though. Beckham was named the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the only Giants player to be so honored in the history of the award. He was the franchise’s first Rookie of the Year since Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor won the defensive award in 1981. I’ll never forget team president John Mara saying he hadn’t been that excited for a rookie (i.e. Beckham) since L.T..
LANCE MEDOW: Fact - If you can find a Giants rookie running back record that Saquon Barkley didn’t break, please let me know. He essentially rewrote the Giants record book on a weekly basis and even put his name in the same conversation as other NFL prolific running backs such as Eric Dickerson. Barkley was just one of three rookie running backs in NFL history to accumulate 2,000 scrimmage yards, broke Reggie Bush’s NFL rookie running back record for receptions with 91, which also tied Odell Beckham for the most catches, regardless of position, by a Giants first-year player and produced numerous highlights and game-changing plays. I can list you all his accomplishments but I don’t see how that would be a productive exercise given I wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know. While Beckham’s rookie campaign, in 2014 was impressive, he missed the first four games of the season and didn’t knock off as many Giants and NFL records as Barkley.
The 2018 NFL season will be remembered for the re-emergence of dynamic running backs.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - It’s hard for me to go here with Le’Veon Bell sitting out this season, Kareem Hunt getting suspended and David Johnson having a down year in Arizona. Guys like Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley proved that a running back can be just as big of a weapon in the passing game as in the running game. The continued emergence of explosive passing offenses will be what the year will be remembered for. Passing efficiency (i.e. completion percentage) is on the rise all over the league. You have to pass well in order to win in the NFL.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - It’s been building for a few years. After no running backs were taken in the first round in 2013 and 2014, we’ve now seen Todd Gurley (No. 10), Ezekiel Elliott (No. 4), Leonard Fournette (No. 4), Christian McCaffrey (No. 8) and, of course, Saquon Barkley (No. 2) go in the top 10 over the past four years. This season showed that a running back who can run and catch passes is often the most important skill player on the field, more so than a tight end or wide receiver. The 2018 season saw players average 4.42 yards per rush attempt, the highest single-season total in NFL history. It will always be a quarterback’s league, but his best friend is a running back.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction -Were there a number of dynamic running backs that flourished in 2018? Absolutely. Can I say the same thing about 2017 and a number of years before that as well? Absolutely, so why should we crown 2018 as the season they re-emerged? Where exactly did they go? In 2017, the top four rushing leaders were the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt, Todd Gurley of the Rams, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy. I would label all four of those players as dynamic running backs and, no surprise, all four of those teams made the playoffs. Dynamic running backs have been around for the last few seasons and given their usage in the passing game, they’ve become that more dangerous and that much more difficult to defend. The 2018 season reinforced that; it didn’t bring them back to the forefront.
The biggest takeaway from general manager Dave Gettleman’s press conference was his “very extensive” conversation with Eli Manning.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - The quarterback is always the most important position on any NFL team, so even though Dave Gettleman gave few clues to Manning’s future, it is still the most significant part of the press conference. The fact he didn’t just come out and announce that Manning was returning as the team’s starter in 2019 is significant on its own. We stand exactly where we did before the press conference: no one knows who the Giants quarterback will be in 2019…yet.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction -I’ll write about this more on Monday, but the thing to keep in the back of your head as we approach the Senior Bowl, combine, free agency, and draft, is his bluntness about needing to find more playmakers on defense. When he was hired last year, Gettleman addressed the elephant in the room and said they need to improve the offensive line. This year, he looked to the other side of the ball. Gettleman was asked point blank what he thinks is the main reason for the 5-11 record, and his response was: “It’s not easy to win games when you don’t have playmakers. We need to improve the defense, guys. Just like I looked you right in the eye last year and told you we’ve got to fix this O-line, we’ve got to get better on the defensive side.”
LANCE MEDOW: Fact -Dave Gettleman covered numerous subjects during his season-ending press conference, but I don’t think statements regarding the improvement of the offensive line in the second half of the season, the need to address the defense this offseason or the team not having an interest in trading Odell Beckham were surprising admissions. I could say the same thing about a meeting with Eli Manning, but the fact that Eli called for the chat, it means both sides will continue to evaluate their options. There’s no definitive conclusion at this time as to who will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2019, which perhaps provides for, at least, something to think about.
The NFC is the stronger conference heading into the postseason.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - After the Chiefs, the playoff teams in the AFC are very interchangeable. Are the Patriots, with the way they have played this year, really the second-best team? Or is it the Chargers, who even though they did not win their division, have the same number of wins as the Chiefs? Or is it the Ravens, with their running attack and great defense? Or is it the Colts with red-hot Andrew Luck? The NFC has the Saints on top, and I think they are the best team in football. The Rams are as explosive on offense as anyone. The Bears, Cowboys and Seahawks have some of the best defenses in football. The Eagles are the defending Super Bowl Champions. Give me the NFC any day of the week.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - I like to avoid theoreticals when possible, so let’s look at the head-to-heads. The AFC went 34-30 against the NFC this season. The AFC East was 7-9 vs. NFC North, AFC North was 9-7 vs. NFC South, AFC South was 10-6 vs. NFC East, and the AFC and NFC West were tied 8-8. In terms of playoff teams, the six from the AFC were 15-9 in inter-conference play, and the NFC’s six representatives were 16-8 vice versa. The tiebreaker I’ll give to the NFC is the number of Super Bowl-winning head coaches. The NFC has three (Doug Pederson, Sean Payton, and Pete Carroll) to the AFC’s two (Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh). Granted, Belichick has more than all of them combined.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact -I can make a strong case for just about every team in the NFC to win the Super Bowl. For the most part, all six squads are well-balanced and, with the exception of the Bears and Mitchell Trubisky, the five other teams all have quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Jared Goff, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles) who have been to the playoffs, including three (Brees, Wilson, Foles), who have won Super Bowls. That’s not the case in the AFC. Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck are the only three quarterbacks that have played in a postseason game with Brady the only one with hardware. While Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes has had a stellar campaign and rightfully is a favorite for MVP, he has yet to play in one playoff game. The same can be said for Deshaun Watson of the Texans and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson. Experience plays a big role when you get to this time of the year and just because you’re accomplished in the regular season doesn’t mean that will carry over to the postseason. On top of that, although the Chiefs are the top seed in the AFC, unlike the Saints in the NFC, they don’t showcase one of the best defenses in the NFL. Kansas City ranks 31st in the NFL in total defense and 24th in scoring defense. I see a lot more question marks in the AFC compared to the NFC.