In Giants.com's "Top 5" series, we rank the best games, plays and moments from the 2016 season. Here are the Top 5 surprises of 2016:
FREE AGENTS PAID IMMEDIATE DIVIDENDS
NFL history is littered with teams that won free agency but lost the season. Not the 2016 Giants. General manager Jerry Reese and his staff pulled off one of the biggest free agency periods in recent memory, beginning with signing the defensive trio of Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins.
All three earned either All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors, or in Jenkins' case, both. Their career years blended well with the returning veterans, as well as the rookies, to form the No. 2 scoring defense in the NFL.
COLLINS TOOK AN ALL-PRO LEAP
Everyone expected Landon Collins to make a leap from Year 1 to Year 2, but no one thought it would be as high as it was – the Alabama product included. After starting all 16 games as a rookie and leading his team in tackles, Collins took his game to another level in 2016, earning first-team All-Pro honors as well as a Pro Bowl nod. Collins became the only player in NFL history to have at least 100 tackles, 100+ solo tackles, 2+ sacks, five interceptions, and 12 passes defensed in a season.
OFFENSE COULDN'T HIT 2014-15 NUMBERS
In two seasons as offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo guided Eli Manning to two of his best statistical years. But in 2016, the Giants fell from eighth (372.3) to 25th (330.7) in total yards per game and from sixth (26.3) to 26th (19.4) in scoring. McAdoo is already at work trying to fix it for his second year as head coach.
"We didn't reach our goal and there's only one team that's happy at the end of the season and we're not going to be that team this year," said McAdoo, who tied Dan Reeves for the most victories (11) by a Giants head coach in his first season "We're going to have a bad taste in our mouths here for a little while and when we come back here in April, and hopefully before then, within the rules, we'll get better and have a chance to evaluate everything and use that for fuel for success for the future."
JPP, CRUZ RETURNED TO OLD FORM
After trying times for Jason Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz, two key members of the team's Super Bowl XLVI run, the beloved Giants returned to the field fully in 2016. Pierre-Paul racked up seven sacks and three forced fumbles, his highest totals since 2014. His signature game came in Cleveland, where he had a career-high three sacks, forced a fumble, and returned another 43 yards for a touchdown. Meanwhile, Cruz, who went 700 days in between games, came up clutch for the Giants all season and averaged 15.0 yards per reception.
NFC EAST DOMINATED REGULAR SEASON
In 2015, 11 wins would have given you the NFC East title with a four-game cushion. This season, that total was only good enough for the Wild Card. Almost every year the NFL produces one last-to-first team, and Dallas was it this year. After a 4-12 season, the Cowboys went 13-3, thanks to an 11-game winning streak that was bookended by losses to the Giants. And for the first time since 2009, the NFC East sent two teams to the postseason. It was also the only division that had all four teams boast a positive point differential on the year.