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Cover 3: Takeaways from Giants 2020 schedule

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John Schmeelk: The Giants are starting a new era. Someone other than Eli Manning is the team's starting quarterback to begin the year for the first time since 2004. There is a new head coach in Joe Judge and a new staff. A slow start tends to shape the outside perception of the team in the media and with the fan base. While outside noise doesn't matter inside a team's meeting rooms, it would certainly help the mood around the team outside of the organization.

When I look at the Giants' opponents to start the season, there are a few essential things to analyze. The Giants' first five opponents all won at least eight games last year, even though only one (the 49ers) made the playoffs. The team's first four opponents -- the Steelers, Bears, 49ers and Rams -- are all returning their head coaches and offensive system from 2019. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is returning for the Cowboys, the Week Five opponent. In what is a unique offseason that ultimately may include no field work, that continuity could give those teams an advantage.

There is a quarterback surplus for the first time in a long time in the NFL, so it should be no surprise that the Giants will face several good quarterbacks throughout the season. It will be interesting to see how healthy Ben Roethlisberger is in Week One as he returns from surgery to his throwing elbow that cut his 2019 season short. Will Nick Foles or Mitch Trubisky be starting for the Bears in Week Two? Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff and Dak Prescott are all returning starters in Weeks Three through Five.

Daniel Jones and the offense will have face several challenges early in the season. The Steelers were the NFL's third ranked pass defense last year. The Bears were the NFL's ninth ranked pass defense. Jones was 21 of 36 passing for 150 yards and two touchdowns in November last year against Chicago. The 49ers had the league's top ranked pass defense. The Rams were ranked 12th and the Cowboys were 10th, though both those teams have different defensive coordinators and new personnel.

Despite all their changes this offseason and a unique and challenging offseason for a new coaching staff, the Giants are going to have to come out of the gates playing good football to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them in seasons past. A good start would position them well to play in meaningful games in December with the hopes of securing a playoff berth.

Dan Salomone: Yes, the Giants are scheduled to host two Monday night games in the same season for the first time in the 51-year history of Monday Night Football, and one of them is against Tom Brady in a Buccaneers uniform. That will do well in ratings, but the Giants need to do well in the standings, specifically in the NFC East. The Giants are 4-14 against their own division since they went 4-2 in 2016, the last time they made the playoffs.

That makes the month heading into the bye week critical. The Giants play five NFC East games in six weeks before the break: at Dallas, vs. Washington, at Philadelphia (Thursday night), at Washington, and vs. Philadelphia. The non-divisional outlier in that stretch is the Brady game in Week 8.

That means the Giants have only one NFC East game – home vs. Dallas in the finale – in the final six weeks of the season to make up any serious ground or lock down tiebreakers. Every week is critical, as we know, but Weeks 5-10 will decide who is playing meaningful games after Thanksgiving. And don't forget, beginning this year, two additional Wild Card teams – one from each conference – will qualify for the playoffs. The top seed in each conference will receive a bye in the Wild Card round.

The NFL last expanded the playoffs for the 1990 season, increasing from 10 to 12 the number of teams to qualify for the postseason. Since 1990, at least four new teams have qualified for the playoffs that missed the postseason the year before – a streak of 30 consecutive seasons.

There is also one logistical note to watch under first-year head coach Joe Judge. The NFC West came up in the schedule rotation this year, which means the Giants will make trips to Los Angeles (Week 4) and Seattle (Week 13). Since Tom Coughlin took over in 2004, the Giants have traditionally traveled to the west coach the day prior to a game. That could change under Judge based on his experience in New England.

"I'd say for the most part, historically, we've gone out on Fridays and given them an extra day to get out there and get acclimated to a few things," he said. "But that's nothing that's locked in concrete. We'll talk as a coaching staff and make sure we hammer what we think is best for this team. To be honest with you, we'll have a game plan to go out there early and be prepared to cancel the extra day if we need to as we get a feel for how our team goes throughout the season."

View iconic photos from the all-time series between the Giants and their 2020 opponents.