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Mailbag: Pivotal early-season games, top matchups

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Tim in South Carolina: The Week 2 game at Washington (on Thursday Night Football) will be crucial. Win or lose in Week 1 at home against Denver, the Giants will be playing for either a fast start to the season, or avoiding a troublesome 0-2 beginning, as well as setting up a positive start in NFC East games, and gaining an early advantage over a division rival. Just how crucial will this short-rest game be?

John Schmeelk: The obvious cliché answer is: every division game is important. It's a cliché because there is some truth behind it. It's usually a requirement for a team to go 4-2 within the division if they want to finish on top. It's also very important for the Giants not to get off to another slow start this season. Slow starts have been a big part of every disappointing season within the past eight years. Denver and Washington could have Top 5 defenses this year and will present Daniel Jones with a lot of issues up front with their top pass rushers and playmakers in the secondary. They could be low-scoring, grind-it-out affairs, but the Giants need to figure out how to win them to avoid another slow start.

The odds the NFC East struggles as much as it did last year are slim. A team is probably going to need 10 wins to win the division. Starting 0-2 makes it a very hard haul to get to 10 wins, especially with the difficult schedule in October and November. Winning at least one of those first two games, with the Washington game being the more important one, will be paramount to a successful season.

Tim in Arizona: What are your favorite matchups? I will take Dallas, stemming from a deep-seeded irritation for this rival. There are few things I love more than sweeping the Cowboys!

John Schmeelk: The games against Philadelphia are always a battle and are often a good measuring stick for the Giants. The Cowboys games are also fun since they are high-scoring, so many unexpected things tend to happen and the games go down to the wire. And this season's schedule will have the Giants visiting the Chiefs in the eighth game of the season, providing challenges on both sides of the ball and offering the Giants a true test as to whether they are playoff contenders, Super Bowl contenders or something else. And to see Patrick Mahomes in person … can't beat that.

Mikey in Massachussets: With expectations at its highest in years, is this the make or break season for the Dave Gettleman rebuild? What is the benchmark to prove this team is over the hump?

John Schmeelk: It's best not to label anything "make or break" because so many things (i.e. injuries) can happen during a season that adds a lot of nuance to the final analysis. But this is a very important year in a lot of different ways. The team made several big investments in free agency and the expectation is for those players (Kenny Golladay, Adoree' Jackson, Leonard Williams, Kyle Rudolph) to make an immediate impact.

Even more important than the free agent additions is the progress of the team's recent draft classes. Can Saquon Barkley stay healthy in his fourth season? Can Daniel Jones make a jump in his third year? Will the young offensive linemen from the 2020 draft class (Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, Shane Lemieux) become consistently good players?

These are important questions that will not only impact the Giants in 2021, but also determine whether or not the team will be able to sustain success over a long period of time. It cannot be stressed enough how the young players must continue to improve in order to form the core of the team for years to come.

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