EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Kickoff Weekend home games have become such a rarity for the Giants, only two players on the current roster have played in one for the team.
Eli Manning and Zak DeOssie, the only holdovers from the team that won Super Bowl XLVI, also played in the 2012 season opener, the Giants' most recent in MetLife Stadium. The Giants lost that night to Dallas, beginning a streak of first-game losses that reached four in a row and is now at five of the last six.
The last five of those games were on the road, including four in Dallas (where the Giants, not surprisingly, will play their first road game next week). Tomorrow, they will open the 2018 season at home and play their first game under head coach Pat Shurmur when they host last season's AFC finalists, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It is just the 30th season-opening home game in the Giants' 94-year history (they are 17-12). The Giants finished under .500 at home in three of the last four years, including their 2-6 mark in 2017. But the Giants have put that season behind them and are eager to make their 2018 debut in front of their own fans.
"I think that's exciting," Manning said. "I think it's always fun to start the season at home with your home crowd. It should be a great atmosphere and I think it's helpful to start – you can use your cadence at home, you don't have to worry about crowd noise and all those things. So I think it should help us out in getting off to a good start."
The Giants-Jaguars game has many intriguing storylines and subplots, including…
*Shurmur's debut as the Giants' coach. When they arrived a month apart, general manager Dave Gettleman and Shurmur were determined to improve both the culture and the roster. They've done both - the current 53-man roster includes 30 players who were not here a year ago - but they are far from finished.
"It's a journey," Shurmur said this week. "This first game is the first game in that journey. We've done a lot of work, there's a lot of water under the bridge. We feel good about our roster, we feel good about the coaches, the interaction with player personnel and administration, the communication and the way we communicate behind the scenes. We want to put a product on the field that our fans are proud to root for."
*The Giants were 3-13 last season, but their holdovers in this are not the only principals who experienced searing disappointment a year ago. The Jaguars had a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in the AFC Championship Game in New England, but lost, 24-20. Shurmur was the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings team that was defeated by Philadelphia in the NFC title game, 38-7. Shurmur moved to the Giants, but he hasn't completely let go of that defeat.
"Certainly, we're playing an outstanding football team, a team that fell one game short of going to the Super Bowl," he said at his news conference Wednesday. "I experienced that last year in Minnesota."
"Excited about this opportunity to be here and start the season," Shurmur said. "That's the great thing about the NFL, that every year is a brand new year and last year does not matter, whether good or bad. It's about what you can do this year and the team coming together and it's a new group of guys and new coaches and a new scenario and a new opportunity."
*This is the seventh Giants-Jaguars game since the teams first faced each other in 1997, and it will be the first meeting in which Tom Coughlin is not coaching one of the teams. Coughlin coached the expansion Jaguars from 1994-2002 and the Giants from 2004-15, winning two Super Bowls. He was 1-2 with both the Jaguars and Giants in the series.
Although he no longer patrols the sideline, Coughlin's presence still looms large. No one was more influential in Manning's development into the one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and two-time Super Bowl MVP. And Coughlin is currently Jacksonville's vice president of football operations and his imprint is all over Doug Marrone's coaching staff and the roster.
*The home team has won all six games in the series.
*Odell Beckham, Jr. makes his long-awaited return to the field after suffering a fractured left ankle last Oct. 8 that required surgery and forced him to miss the final 11 games of the season. That sets up perhaps the best individual matchup of Kickoff Weekend, Beckham, arguably the NFL's best receiver, vs. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, perhaps the league's finest cornerback.
"Honestly, I'm more so looking forward to just playing football again, to be real with you," Beckham said. "But yes, it is an exciting matchup. It's a good test for yourself in the first game against the best defense in the league, I would say."
"A lot of people are going to try and make it about me and him specifically," Ramsey said. "That's not what it is about. Football is a team game, 11 guys out there for us, 11 guys out there for them. We going to have to come together and do what we gotta do to try and get a win. I'm going to try and do my part. He has an all-around game in my opinion. Viewed as one of the top in the game by everyone obviously. He backs it up when he goes out there and plays. A premier player for their team so of course that's a fun matchup, a fun challenge that I like."
*The unveiling of James Bettcher's 3-4 defense in its first major test against a Jaguars rushing attack that led the league with 141.4 yards a game. The unit's first objective will be containing Leonard Fournette, who ran for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. His 304 touches (268 carries, 36 receptions, one for a touchdown), led all running backs.
"He's a strong runner, an elite player," Bettcher said. "You know he's going to get his touches, because that's what they do, but you don't know he's going to get them."
Linebacker Connor Barwin faced Fournette last year when he was with the Los Angeles Rams.
"(He is) a big running back," Barwin said. "They give him the ball a bunch throughout the game – downhill runner, has the ability to breakaway and take runs the distance, so we'll have to gang tackle him and. It'll be a big challenge for us."
Fournette had the lowest rushing total of his young career last year against the Arizona Cardinals, whose defensive coordinator was … James Bettcher. Last Nov. 26, he ran for just 25 yards on 12 carries in the Cardinals' last-second 27-24 victory.
Three Jacksonville running backs combined for 29 yards on 16 attempts in that game. But quarterback Blake Bortles ran for 62 yards and two touchdowns – including a 17-yarder – on just six carries.