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Fact or Fiction: Saquon's reception total

Saquon Barkley will be second on the team to Odell Beckham Jr. in receptions this season.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - This is a very good statement, and I think it is going to be very, very close. I think Saquon Barkley will have between 60 and 70 receptions, so the question is whether or not Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram or someone else will top that. If Odell Beckham brings in his typical 100-plus catches, are there enough passes to go around for another player to grab more than 70? I think Shepard is the best shot. As the second receiver and the slot guy with three receivers on the field, I think Shepard is going to turn into Eli Manning’s primary third down target in short to medium range. I like Engram more as a big target down the seam. Shepard might not have the best yards per reception, but I think he will be targeted a bunch. I’ll give him 72 catches, second most on the team. Engram will finish with 58.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - My initial thought was to go “fiction” here, but looking at numbers for Le'Veon Bell (85 receptions last season), Alvin Kamara (81) and Christian McCaffrey (80), why can’t Saquon Barkley get to that level? The latter two were rookies, and McCaffrey was even coached in Carolina by Mike Shula, who is now the Giants’ offensive coordinator. Now, I think being in the 80s is a tall task because Barkley will be running more than Kamara and McCaffrey, but he is going to touch the ball a lot via the pass, whether it’s designed or on a check-down. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Last season, with Odell Beckham limited to just four games, Evan Engram finished with a team-high 64 receptions, followed by Sterling Shepard with 59.  This season, with Beckham fully back in the mix, I think either Engram or Shepard will finish second on the team in receptions, ahead of Saquon Barkley.  In 2016, Shepard finished second with 65 catches behind Beckham’s 101 and if you look at the Vikings’ stats from 2017, wide receiver Adam Thielen was first in receptions (91), followed by fellow wideout Stefon Diggs (64) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (57).  Running back Jerick McKinnon finished fourth with 51.  I think the Giants will have a similar order in 2018. Additionally, the most receptions Barkley collected in a single season while at Penn State was 54 in 2017.  Barkley will have plenty of opportunities in the passing game this coming season, but I would be surprised if he puts up 80 receptions like Christian McCaffrey did with the Panthers as a rookie in 2017.  Keep in mind, Carolina’s top target, tight end Greg Olsen, missed more than half the season and the Panthers traded away arguably their best wideout Kelvin Benjamin in October.

The Giants defense will increase their interception numbers more than they improve their sack total.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - The Giants had 13 interceptions last season, tied for 15th right in the middle of the league. The Giants had 27 sacks and only two teams had fewer. I do not think the Giants have significantly improved their pass rushing talent on defense with the loss of Jason Pierre-Paul, but I do think the sack totals will go up for a few reasons. For one, the Giants should be playing in more competitive games this season, so other teams will not simply be running out the clock at the end of games. If the Giants have leads and their run defense improves (which it should), they will also be able to sell-out going after the passer on third and long more than they did last year. Combine that with the fact that the Giants’ schedule features some excellent quarterbacks (like Drew Brees and Matt Ryan) who will throw the ball a lot, and the pass rush should have more opportunities to get more sacks. I also think defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s scheme will create a few more sacks than last year’s scheme did.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - I think both will go up in James Bettcher’s first year, and pass rushing and ball hawking really depend on each other, so this is pretty tough. But I’ll say the interception total rises more. I think the attacking-style of defense will speed up the clock in the opposing quarterback’s head, and that leads to bad decisions and tipped passes – even when the pass rushers don’t get home. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Last season, the Giants collected 13 interceptions (T-15th NFL) and 27 sacks (T-29th NFL).  By comparison, James Bettcher’s defense in Arizona had 15 interceptions (12th NFL) and 37 sacks (T-17th NFL).  The Giants only return players who accounted for 12.5 of those 27 sacks in 2017, and they traded their sack leader from last season Jason Pierre-Paul to the Bucs. As a result, they will be relying on a number of young players on the defensive line. It remains to be seen who will provide consistent production.  You can argue the secondary also has a handful of questions, but with Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins both expected to be fully healthy, Eli Apple looking to take advantage of a clean slate and the arrival of a veteran like William Gay, I’d say it’s more likely the interception total increases more than sacks. There are proven commodities on the back end of the defense.

Game Sevens in championship series are more exciting than Super Bowls.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - This is a generality. It varies based on matchup, but I think Game Sevens are more exciting because the previous six games in the series have provided some history. Rivalries and, frankly, dislike is formed over the course of a long and grueling six-game series. The fact the series got to six games usually also means that the teams are very evenly matched, giving a better chance for a competitive Game Seven. The teams are familiar with another and no one is going to surprise anyone. The team that plays the best will win. A Super Bowl could always turn into a blowout if one team has a really bad day. I just think a long, grueling series can create some real intense animosity between opponents, making a Game Seven a little more exciting. 

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - The drama that builds within a series is captivating, but what does the NFL do better than any league? Storylines. Average fans know more about what the players and teams are doing and saying in the NFL throughout the course of the season, so the drama is already built-in by the time you get to late December. On the other hand, in hockey, basketball and baseball, you might never see a team play before the postseason and you have to learn all about them as the biggest games of the year are unfolding. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - You can’t go wrong with either one, but it’s hard to argue anything trumps a Game Seven, whether it be the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final or the World Series. The Super Bowl is a huge spectacle, but it’s a single contest, whereas there’s a lengthy buildup to any Game Seven and much more familiarity between the teams, likely making for a much more competitive affair.  The latter is what makes Game Seven more exciting.  You’ve invested all that time in the previous six contests and now it comes down to one final game.

The NFL is the toughest league to win across all sports.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Very often, teams that aren’t the best in the league win Super Bowls. If you get into the playoffs and get hot, almost anyone can win in the NFL thanks to the fact it is a single elimination format. Baseball can be similar, where wild card teams that were downright average during the season can get a hot pitcher or two and make a World Series run. Hockey is utterly unpredictable with eight seeds or expansion teams making runs to the finals. The NBA is the toughest sport to win a title. More often than not, the best team wins a seven-game series. Upsets are rare. Having a true superstar like LeBron James, Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neal often gives a team an insurmountable advantage. The Warriors are so talented and play so well together, they are extremely hard to upset. If you don’t have the talent and stars in the NBA, you simply aren’t going to win. 

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - There is no bigger disparity between the haves and have-nots than in the NBA. When this season tipped off in October, you could have guessed who would be playing right now in the conference finals, or at least gotten three out of the four. Raise your hand if you predicted in September that Jacksonville, New England, Minnesota and Philadelphia would be playing for the Lombardi Trophy earlier this year. No one? OK. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - If there’s one term to define the NFL, it’s parity.  There is not a huge disparity between all 32 teams, which makes the field extremely competitive and provides an environment where just about any team can win on any given Sunday.  That’s one of the reasons why no team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots following the 2003 and 2004 seasons, and no team has won consecutive NFC East titles since the Eagles claimed four in a row from 2001 to 2004.  Throw in the physicality of the sport and the fact that just 12 of the 32 teams make the playoffs, and it’s easy to see why the NFL is by far the toughest league to win across all sports.  In the NBA and NHL, more than half the teams make the playoffs, and in MLB, while the percentage of teams is much lower, you still have many more games than the NFL.

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