As a lifelong Giants fan, I have too many good memories to count watching the team (and bad, unfortunately). When you love a team your whole life, it all starts to run together on you. But if I had to pick a season that was my favorite, it had to be the 2016 lineup. Here’s why:
Uh, pretty much just look at this line up there!
The Giants were coming off a horrible 2015 season where they went 6-10 and finished #6 in the NFC East. They were led by QB Eli Manning, who had played well throughout his career but was deemed “finished” by pundits due to poor play that year.
The running backs featured Rashad Jennings (a new signing) and an unproven rookie named Paul Perkins, who was coming off a gruesome injury. Brandon Marshall, Odell Beckham Jr., and Victor Cruz made up the receiving corps.
The offensive line was filled with old warhorses like Marshall Newhouse, Bobby Hart, and John Jerry; they failed to develop any continuity during the season (I had not yet realized the vital importance of continuity in an offensive line; now I know that you can’t win without it).
The defense was a horror show, with aging defenders such as Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins. They signed Damon Harrison, but he didn’t start; they used Damontre Moore in his place. Their secondary was a mess; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie struggled with injuries and seemed to be playing at half strength for most of the season. In addition, the team went into camp with no proven running back, a new head coach in Ben McAdoo, and had lost their top wide receiver from the year before (Odell Beckham Jr.)
The Giants offered the Cowboys the chance to open their regular season in Dallas, which appeared to be a sign of confidence in their team. But it turned out that to be a mistake when they were beaten 23-20 by Tony Romo and Co. Then, the season began, and the Giants went 0-4, including a 24-10 loss against Washington. Eli Manning threw five interceptions in that game, and it looked like the season was doomed before Week 1 even ended. The Giants were a complete mess!
Then, something changed….something clicked. They went on to win four straight games against Washington (20-14), Tampa Bay (33-30 OT), Miami (31-24), and Detroit (28-17). Eli Manning was on fire, throwing 2 TDs against 0 interceptions in the four-game stretch. Brandon Marshall improved his play, and Cruz was healthy enough to make an impact once again. The running game clicked with rookie Paul Perkins, who averaged 5 yards a carry for 123 rushing yards per game in those four games. With this potent offense, the Giants went into Dallas and beat one of the best teams in football. The defense was still struggling, but they knew they had an offense that could win games for them. Suddenly they were within a half-game of first place in the NFC East!
The Giants then traveled to Philadelphia and got destroyed (29-23), putting their record at 4-6. The season appeared to be over, but instead of crumbling, they kept fighting. They won 3 straight games against Tennessee (20-15), the Los Angeles Rams (19-17 OT), and Cincinnati (24-14). Eli Manning played like he was in his prime again in those wins, throwing 12 TDs and 0 interceptions. As the season came to a close, the Giants were fighting for playoff contention. They took on Minnesota and looked like they would lose (17-0 in the 3rd quarter), but Eli Manning led them back and won 22-20 with an incredible 4th quarter drive. I remember crying after this game; it was one of the most emotional wins I’ve ever witnessed.
The Giants finished the season at 11-5 and won the NFC East, which was especially remarkable given how they started. They had beaten playoff teams such as Dallas, Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Washington to win the division; they were 8-3 against playoff teams during that stretch (including a win against eventual Super Bowl Champion Atlanta). Statistically, Eli Manning had one of the best seasons of his entire career, and it seemed like he was back in his prime. Brandon Marshall led the NFL in receptions with 109 and touchdowns with 14. Sterling Shepard became a reliable target for Manning, averaging nearly 50 yards per game almost exclusively from the slot position. Cruz played well, getting 700 yards and scoring four touchdowns. The Giants’ offensive line was better than average for most of the season as Ereck Flowers struggled in his second year, but Marshall Newhouse played well at left tackle.