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20 Questions: Game to circle on Giants 2020 schedule

JONES-BRADY

With the calendar flipped to July, Giants.com asks 20 important questions heading into the team's 2020 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

For 20 days, a member of the Giants.com crew will answer one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more.

No. 16: What game are you circling on the Giants' schedule?

Lance Medow: I'll never choose a NFC East game because the Giants play their divisional rivals twice each season and you can essentially flip a coin when it comes to those games - every one is important and the team records make no difference. Of the 10 other games to choose from, there's one that jumps off the page for many reasons: Week 8, at home, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.

It's a NFC game which means it carries a bit more weight when it comes to the playoff race, plus it's one of the three prime time contests on the Giants' schedule. In addition, the Giants will be coming off a lengthy rest period since their previous game is on Thursday Night Football in Philadelphia on Oct. 22. That means it will be New York's first game in 11 days. Whether that turns out to be good or bad remains to be seen. This contest also marks the midpoint of the season - the Giants will have played eight games by the time the clock expires and it will provide a solid sample size to see where the team stands.

In addition to all those factors, here's the main course. The Giants will be facing one of the best offenses in the league, led by Tom Brady, who just joined the Bucs in free agency. New York's history with Brady already provides for some intrigue, although it doesn't hurt that he'll be surrounded by a plethora of weapons, including 1,000-yard receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, versatile tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, and dual-threat running back Ronald Jones. You also can't overlook receivers Justin Watson and rookie Tyler Johnson - and I haven't even brought up the defense. Shaq Barrett led the NFL in sacks in 2019 with 19.5, Jason Pierre-Paul is still a dangerous force and the defensive line features big bruisers Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea. Add in linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David ... and Tampa Bay boasts one of the best front sevens in the league.

This will be quite the test for the Giants on both sides of the ball, and if last season's Week 3 matchup is any indication, the rematch shouldn't disappoint. In 2019, the Bucs ranked third in total offense (398 yard avg.), first in passing yards per game (303) and tied for third, with the Saints, in points (28.6) - all with Jameis Winston under center. Now, they've upgraded to Brady. I rest my case. Circle November 2nd.

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

Dan Salomone: This is an interesting one because not only are there so many new faces, but the unit will require a collective effort. Plus, new head coach Joe Judge and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham come from the Bill Belichick tree, which is rooted in adaptability. Their philosophy is to put pressure on opponents by making them prepare for multiple things. Within that, they need personnel versatility/flexibility with the scheme to adjust the game plan, thus maximizing their strengths against any opponent's weaknesses.

Long story short: The focus of the defense won't be concentrated on one player.

Nevertheless, players still need to make plays. Who will they be? Let's start with the newcomers. Former Packer Blake Martinez, who will be the quarterback of the defense, leads the NFL with 441 tackles since 2017 and is second to five-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner since Martinez entered the league in 2016. Former Panther James Bradberry has been tested against the NFC South's gauntlet of receivers and was regularly assigned to shadow them. Kyler Fackrell, another former Packer, has a double-digit sack campaign on his resume.

The coaching staff also hopes to tap into a lot of potential from the team's returning players. Among them is big Dexter Lawrence, who is my answer to this question. This team will find success when it controls the line of scrimmage. The focus around the Giants is often on the offensive line, but the defensive line is just as important, particularly the interior. If you can gain ground inside, then the quarterback or running back is running for his life and the edge defenders can finish the job. The NFC East is stacked with running backs, and the team that can stop the run will win the division. Lawrence, a former first-round pick, along with Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, can be a major factor in achieving that goal.

John Schmeelk: This begs for me to be boring. Saquon Barkley, right? Easy peasy. He is going to be one of the most productive players in the NFL, so making him the Giants' offensive MVP should be a no-brainer. Nah – too boring!

If everything goes right, it is going to be Daniel Jones. In truth, the most important player on any high level NFL offense is the quarterback. The quarterback is the engine and the Giants are likely to go only as far as Jones takes them. Nah – too boring!

Instead, I am going to go with the player that I think may be the offense's biggest X-factor: Evan Engram. Will he play in enough games to compile the necessary stats to be the Offensive MVP? Probably not, but that doesn't make him any less important to the unit.

Engram is the team's biggest mismatch amongst their tight ends and wide receivers. At his speed, linebackers have no hope of staying with him in coverage, and even safeties could have issues battling his size down the field on contested catches.

Every Giants fan has seen how Jason Garrett's offense in Dallas featured Jason Witten for more than a decade. Engram could be a similar weapon and go-to player in the red zone with even more big-play ability. He has special skills. If he can ever play 16 games, he could turn the Giants' offense into one of the league's top units.

Dan Salomone: Just follow the green dot. The player with it on his helmet is the one who relays play calls from the coordinator to the men in the huddle. On defense, that will most likely be Blake Martinez. Originally a fourth-round draft choice by Green Bay, Martinez leads the NFL with 441 tackles since 2017 and is second only to five-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner since he entered the league in 2016. He recorded double-digit tackles in 24 of his 61 games played. He also has familiarity with assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who was Martinez's position coach with the Packers in 2018.

"I love having the green dot," Martinez said when he signed with the Giants. "It's always been an awesome aspect that I've [been] able to have since my rookie year. I've grown more and more, and just understanding the things that I need to do within the huddle, out of the huddle, pre-snap, all those things that have just been growing throughout the years. I know Pat's extremely open and free with communication that he's going to allow me to do within a given series, within a given game. It's exciting for me to be able to have that freedom. I can't wait to be able to go out there and obviously, lead the Giants defense."

Whether you want to call him a tackling machine or cleanup guy, Martinez said his responsibility is not to let big plays happen. The Giants allowed 79 plays of at least 20 yards last season, tied with the Lions for the third-most in the NFL. There are a lot of intriguing newcomers on this roster, but Martinez is the quarterback of the revamped defense and a promising linebacker corps.