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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 13: New York Giants

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

If the NFL seeded every team one through 32 last January and had a playoff tourney, the Giants would have been a chic sleeper pick to win it all. Everyone knows New York is a serious threat no matter its seed.

Of course, there is no such 32-team tournament. Only six teams per conference make the playoffs. And in three of the last four seasons, the postseason has begun with the Giants at home.

The NFL isn’t about to open the postseason to everyone and thus devalue the regular season in the process, so it’s up to the Giants to rack up the wins necessary to get a playoff bid.

The question is, are the up to the task?

Here’s a look at the Giants as training camp approaches:

Strengths.

In Eli Manning, the Giants have a skilled, experienced, playoff-tested, durable quarterback. Think of all the teams that don’t have such stability at this key position. The Giants do, and it’s a primary reason they can’t be discounted.

Manning is surrounded by talented skill-position players. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are an elite wide receiving tandem. The depth beyond Nicks and Cruz is strong, too, with Rueben Randle, Louis Murphy and Ramses Barden also useful players.

The Giants also appear in good shape at running back, where David Wilson and Andre Brown comprise a capable tandem. New York also did well to add pass-catching tight end Brandon Myers (ex-Oakland) to replace Martellus Bennett, who signed with Chicago.

The strength of the defense is a deep defensive line led by ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, though the latter is recovering from back surgery.

Finally, the bulk of this club’s core has at least one Super Bowl ring. The Giants have won big, and they have thrived in one of the world’s biggest media markets for close to a decade under coach Tom Coughlin. GM Jerry Reese also deserves credit — the Giants annually have a deep, talented roster.

Weaknesses.

Whether the Giants make the postseason could well come down to the play of their defense, which has been below-par of late. The Giants have ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards per game and yards per play in each of the last two seasons. In 2012, only New Orleans was worse in both categories. The Giants struggled against the run (28th in yards per carry allowed) and pass (31st in opponents’ yards per pass play) a season ago.

While the Giants are strong in the front four, their back seven isn’t as imposing. Their linebacking corps lacks a standout, and the depth is questionable, too. The Giants have a similar situation at cornerback, where Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster are the starters with Aaron Ross (back after a forgettable one-year stint in Jacksonville), Jayron Hosley and Terrell Thomas other options. Thomas is coming off his third right ACL tear, and his ability to contribute remains to be seen.

Changes.

The Giants bid adieu to the tough tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, a key part of two Super Bowl teams, leaving Wilson (5-9, 205) and Brown (6-0, 227) to carry the load in the backfield.

Wilson, the club’s 2012 first-round pick, has exceptional speed. If he continues to round out his game, he could give an already potent offense yet another boost.

“He still makes mistakes, but there has certainly been . . . some significant growth,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said of Wilson in June, according to the club. “Now until you get the pads on — and he has to show that he, as a smaller guy, can do the things necessary that other small backs in this league have done — you are still kind of holding your breath when you see him.”

Brown, who scored eight TDs in just 73 carries in 2012, would figure to be the Giants’ short-yardage, red-zone and between-the-tackles specialist.

Two notable additions on offense are Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four TDs for Oakland in 2012; and rookie right tackle Justin Pugh, who will compete to start right off the bat.

There are numerous changes on defense. Defensive Osi Umenyiora departed for Atlanta. Mathias Kiwanuka, who started six games at strong-side linebacker for New York in 2012, could see more time at end with Umenyiora gone and Pierre-Paul coming off back surgery. The Giants also added rookie pass-rush prospect Damontre Moore in Round Three.

Two former Eagles — Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson — were added to bolster New York’s defensive tackle ranks. The Giants also added Ohio State tackle Johnathan Hankins in Round Two.

Middle linebacker Dan Connor (ex-Dallas) was added in March, effectively replacing Chase Blackburn, who signed with Carolina. The Giants also parted ways with Michael Boley, who logged multiple starts at strong- and weak-side linebacker in 2012.

Talented-but-injury-prone safety Kenny Phillips signed with the Eagles. Ryan Mundy (ex-Pittsburgh) figures to be the third safety behind starters Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown.

The Giants replaced longtime kicker Lawrence Tynes with Josh Brown, who connected on 11-of-12 field goals for Cincinnati in the 2012 regular season. In his prime, the 34-year-old Brown was regarded as one of the NFL’s best kickers, and he was sharp in his stint with the Bengals a season ago.

Position battles.

With Blackburn departing in free agency, the Giants will have a new starter at middle linebacker. Mark Herzlich, primarily a reserve in his first two NFL seasons, held the job in offseason workouts.

“He’s taken a leadership role out there and I think he has some good respect from his teammates in some of the things he’s done in the OTAs,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said in June, according to a transcript from the team. “Obviously, we want to find out what happens when the pads come on.”

Connor, who has 27 starts, is another option in the middle.

There may be greater uncertainty at outside linebacker, with Keith Rivers, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger among the competitors for playing time. Per ESPNNewYork.com, Rivers and Paysinger were the starters outside in the offseason, though Williams was dealing with a knee injury. For the record, Rivers made three starts on the strong side and three on the weak side in 2012, with Williams starting two games on the strong side and one on the weak side. All three of Paysinger’s 2012 starts came at weak-side linebacker.

On offense, Pugh and veteran David Diehl will compete at right tackle. Both could potentially play guard, too. Also, how the Giants divide carries between Wilson and Brown will be closely watched by fans and fantasy-football players alike.

Prospects

The Giants lost their final four road games of 2012. Similar struggles away from home to begin this season would be very problematic for New York, which starts the 2013 campaign with three-of-four on the road, including the season-opener at Dallas. Overall, five of the Giants’ first eight contests before their Week Nine bye are away from MetLife Stadium.

After the bye, the Giants have three straight home games, with the Nov. 17 prime-time meeting vs. Green Bay perhaps the biggest challenge.

Nevertheless, all of that home cooking presents a big opportunity for Coughlin’s club. The Giants — like every other team in the competitive East — need to get their wins when they can. The division hasn’t produced multiple playoff teams since 2009.

Should the Giants get back to the postseason, there will be no doubting their readiness for the rigors of January. The NFC East is tough. And it will also take its toll, too, as the Giants, 9-9 in division play the last three seasons, too well know. To get to January, New York needs to slog through the schedule that encompasses the kids going back to school, the leaves turning colors and all of that holiday music on the radio.

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Chargers announcer suspended for anti-Semitic comment

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Hank Bauer, a longtime broadcaster for San Diego Chargers games, has been suspended after making an anti-Semitic comment on the air last week.

After Bauer’s on-air partner Josh Lewin said at the end of last week’s game that he wouldn’t leave a game early if he had paid for the ticket, Bauer made a joke implying that Lewin is cheap because he’s Jewish.

As a result, Bauer is suspended for this week’s preseason finale. The Chargers issued a statement saying it was the broadcaster Clear Channel, not the team, that suspended Bauer.

“Although we know Hank had no ill-will behind his remarks, we agree the comments were inappropriate. Per Clear Channel’s decision, Hank will not be broadcasting Thursday night’s game,” the statement said. “Hank has been a strong radio voice for the Chargers for the past 16 years and a passionate supporter of the team since his playing days. We look forward to Chargers fans receiving the same high-quality broadcast from Josh and Hank when he returns to the booth for the regular season.”

Bauer apologized on Twitter.

“I made a hurtful insinuation that I regret and I would like to express how sorry I am. My poor choice of words were unfortunately open for negative interpretation, please know it was never my intention to offend any of my listeners. I hope you accept my apology,” Bauer wrote.

Bauer was a running back for the Chargers from 1977 to 1982, spent four seasons with the team as an assistant coach and has been broadcasting in San Diego for 27 years.

Photo via KGTV.

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Report: Lardarius Webb restructures deal

Lardarius Webb AP

Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb hasn’t been able to help the team on the field this summer because of a back injury, but he has reportedly been able to help out with their salary cap.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that Webb has agreed to restructure his deal with the Ravens by converting $4 million of his $7.5 million base salary into a signing bonus. That allows the Ravens to drop further under the cap now and spread out the cap hit over the three remaining years on his contract.

If there’s an immediate reason for the Ravens to want extra cap space, it could be to sign an extension with one of the team’s other players. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, wide receiver Torrey Smith and kicker Justin Tucker are a few of the candidates for a new deal and the Ravens could use their new cap space to reach a deal with one or more of those players.

That’s a concern for the front office. Webb’s top priority is getting healthy and back on the field to help an ailing cornerback corps that added Derek Cox to the mix on Tuesday.

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Gordon may apply for reinstatement after 2014 season

Gordon Getty Images

The good news for the Browns and Josh Gordon is that hearing officer Harold Henderson ultimately didn’t apply the substance-abuse policy as written regarding the duration of Gordon’s suspension.  The bad news is that Gordon will still miss the full season.

But Gordon may be reinstated before August 27, 2015, which would mean that the supposedly mandatory one-year suspension contained in the policy won’t be enforced in this case.

While it does nothing to help Gordon or the Browns in 2014, it means that he could be back with the team in time to better prepare for 2015.  If the policy had been applied as written, Gordon would not have been back until August 27, 2015.

Of course, Gordon must stay clean over the next several months and beyond, passing up to 10 drug tests per month.  If he fails before he’s reinstated, he may not be reinstated.  If he fails after, he’ll face another lengthy suspension.

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Gordon considers all options, including legal action

Gordon AP

Now that the NFL has suspended receiver Josh Gordon for the 2014 regular season (and, if the substance-abuse policy is applied as written, a full calendar year), the question becomes whether Gordon will continue to fight the ban.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, all options currently are on the table, including legal action.

Any lawsuit would face an immediate and aggressive challenge from the NFL under the Federal Arbitration Act, which requires courts to respect the outcome of private litigation.  Only in rare circumstances can a court throw out the results of a private arbitration procedure, and the standard for scuttling the outcome is high.

Gordon’s best bet could be to fashion a plausible legal theory and attempt to secure a so-called “preliminary injunction,” which would prevent the NFL from implementing the suspension under the litigation concludes.  Former Vikings defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams successfully delayed, but failed to defeat, a suspension in the StarCaps case.

If litigation is going to be filed, it needs to be filed soon.  At this point, there’s a chance it will be.

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Loss of Gordon = more targets, more $ for Jordan Cameron

6f11daf55c23d26ef60221bfc4b0b313 AP

The big losers in the Josh Gordon suspension, other than Gordon, are the Browns.

But Browns *tight end Jordan Cameron could benefit handsomely from this, on the field and at the teller’s window.

The Pro Bowl pass-catcher is now clearly the Browns’ most capable receiving target, and should have the opportunity to put up monster numbers since the Browns don’t many reliable options in the passing game.

While they wait for Miles Austin’s hamstring to explode or Nate Burleson to go out for a pizza or for Andrew Hawkins to develop into something other than a complementary slot player, Cameron should get all the looks from Brian Hoyer and/or Johnny Manziel.

That’s good news for a guy going into the final year of his rookie contract.

Cameron said recently that talks toward an extension were “going well,” and there are many reasons to take care of him now.

Not only do the Browns need to dilute (pun intended) the impact of the bad news about losing the league’s leading receiver from last year, they need to make sure they don’t lose Cameron a year from now, when Gordon might come back.

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Cam Newton: “No doubt” I’m playing in Week One

Cam Newton AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s preseason work was probably over after the third preseason game under any circumstances, but a rib injury suffered against the Patriots last weekend made it a certainty.

An MRI found a hairline fracture that Newton said on Wednesday affects several ribs, leaving him with some healing up to do before the regular season. The quarterback is adamant that the injury won’t keep him from answering the bell against the Bucs on September 7.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Newton said, via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “I’m just going to worry about things that I can control. I’m going to continue to come in and get as much treatment as possible so my body will be 100 percent.”

Coach Ron Rivera delivered a similar message on Wednesday, adding that the team wouldn’t be taking zone read plays out of the playbook while Newton is dealing with the rib injury. That’s likely the best thing for the Panthers’s chances of winning, but those runs and the team’s shaky offensive line mean that Newton will be at some risk of further injury once he does return to the lineup.

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NFL announces Gordon suspension

Cleveland Browns v St. Louis Rams 8-8-2013 Getty Images

It’s official.  The NFL has suspended Browns receiver Josh Gordon for a full year, effective immediately.

The banishment, first proposed more than three months ago and languishing on appeal until today, has been announced by the league.

“Appeals officer Harold Henderson has upheld the suspension for the 2014 NFL season of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse,” the NFL said in a statement.  “The suspension is effective immediately.  Gordon’s eligibility for reinstatement will be determined following the 2014 season.”

Gordon, whose suspension comes under the substance-abuse policy, likewise has issued a statement acknowledging the situation.

““I’’d like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Cleveland Browns organization and our fans,” Gordon said.  “I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing officer didn’’t exercise better discretion and judgment in my case. I would like to sincerely thank the people who have been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging time, including my family, my agent, my union, my legal team, and the Cleveland Browns staff.””

Gordon will need even more support over the next year, since he will be prohibited from receiving any assistance from the NFL or the Browns.  It’s a sad situation, with Gordon banished for smoking a substance that is legal in two of the 22 states in which the NFL does business.  At a time when he may have an addiction.

At a time when Ray Rice will miss only two games for knocking out his then-fiancée, now wife.

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Source: NFL upholds Josh Gordon suspension

Gordon AP

Nearly four months after the NFL proposed a one-year suspension for Browns receiver Josh Gordon, a decision has been reached on his appeal.

Per a league source, hearing officer Harold Henderson has upheld the one-year suspension for Gordon’s latest violation of the subtance-abuse policy.

It means that Gordon will be banished from the team and the league for a full calendar year.  He’ll be eligible for reinstatement as of August 27, 2015, only days before the start of the 2015 regular season.

We’ll have plenty of news and angles and reaction as the day unfolds.  For now, the headline is that the Browns will have to make it through all of the 2014 season without one of the best receivers in the NFL.

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Phillip Tanner back in Dallas

Paul Soliai, Phillip Tanner, Austin Spitler (53) AP

The Cowboys have two running backs they don’t want to use in Thursday night’s preseason finale and two others battling injuries, leaving them with a need for someone to help get them through 60 minutes against the Broncos.

They’ve called on a familiar face to fill the need. Nick Eatman of the team’s website reports that Phillip Tanner is back with the team after spending the offseason with the Colts, who released him earlier this month.

Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams are competing for the third spot on the depth chart behind DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar, but Randle has an oblique injury and the oft-injured Williams is fighting a groin issue. Per Eatman, Tanner, who ran for 12 yards on nine carries in Dallas last year, will handle “most” of the running on Thursday while also seeing time on special teams.

The Cowboys will have to drop a player from the roster to make room for Tanner and could wind up dropping multiple players as Eatman says Tanner may have company as the Cowboys work to set up their roster for Thursday and beyond.

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Adrian Peterson: This is the offense I’ve been waiting for

Adrian Peterson AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hasn’t taken any snaps in a game as part of Norv Turner’s offense yet, but he’s seen enough from the bench to feel very positive about the offensive coordinator’s vision.

Peterson spent the last three years as the focal point in Bill Musgrave’s plodding scheme and there was no point in that stretch where anyone felt like the Vikings could succeed offensively without Peterson on the field. This year, though, Peterson says his impression of the unit without him is “like, ‘Man, they don’t even need me.'” It’s little surprise, then, that Peterson is excited about what the future holds.

“This is going to be the best offense I’ve played in. This is the offense I’ve been waiting for,” Peterson said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We’ve got the pieces to facilitate moving the ball around. When Brett Favre was here, listen, when I saw those deep balls going up and guys making big plays, I was like, ‘Yeah!’ That makes your team very scary.”

The team has moved the ball well throughout the preseason with Matt Cassel throwing the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph. Those players should get even more chances when defenses also have to contend with Peterson and the variety of options in Minnesota is richer than its been in recent years.

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Dominique Easley not expected to play Thursday, still hopeful for Week One

Dominique Easley AP

The Patriots released defensive tackle Tommy Kelly this week in a move that came as a bit of a surprise.

Kelly was coming off a torn ACL, but the Patriots don’t have much experience at the position outside of Vince Wilfork and first-round pick Dominique Easley has yet to play in a preseason game after tearing his own ACL in 2013. That’s not expected to change on Thursday night against the Giants.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports that Easley is not expected to play in the team’s final exhibition game of the summer, but the team remains hopeful that he’ll be able to suit up for the season opener against the Dolphins. If he can’t go, the Patriots will have to turn to someone (or some combination) from the group Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano and Jerel Worthy to fill the spot next to Wilfork.

Some of those players will be in the rotation anyway as neither Easley nor Wilfork projects to play every snap of the game for the Patriots this season, but the decision to part ways with Kelly will have much less potential to come back as a negative if Easley is able to make it on the field come September 7.

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Patriots asked Mankins to take a pay cut before trading him

haircut Getty Images

Anyone reading Bill Belichick’s heartfelt tribute to Logan Mankins would know that they didn’t want to trade him — right up until they did.

But they gave the best guard Belichick ever coached a true example of The Patriot Way on his way out the door.

Per multiple reports, the Patriots went to Mankins asking for some of his money back. He was scheduled to make $6.25 million this year and $6.75 million in 2015 and 2016.

It’s similar in theme to the spot defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was in this offseason, but enough paper was shuffled to allow him to stay.

But when Mankins balked at a pay cut, as you might imagine he would, he suddenly became expendable — as they all will be at some point.

Their pragmatism was the Buccaneers’ gain, as a problematic offensive line now has a bit more stability.

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Packers think Eddie Lacy can lead the league in rushing

lacy AP

Last year Packers running back Eddie Lacy started his rookie season slowly but finished as one of the best backs in football. This year, the Packers think he can be the best back in football.

Packers running backs coach Sam Gash says there’s no question that Lacy can lead the league in rushing, and Gash even thinks Lacy may end up leading the league in total yards from scrimmage.

“Without a doubt,” Gash told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He has the capability of being the leading rusher and maybe even combined yards if he catches a lot of balls. I absolutely do think that. I think he’s a bell cow. He’s a big guy, and he’s physical.”

In 2013, Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards with 1,607 and scrimmage yards with 2,146. Lacy was eighth in rushing yards with 1,178, and 14th in yards from scrimmage with 1,435. That’s a big gap, but then again Lacy was a rookie who only ran for 51 yards in the first three weeks of last season. If Lacy plays for 16 games like he played down the stretch last year, he could lead the league in rushing.

And the mere fact that the Packers expect that much of Lacy is a good sign for their offense. In Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay already has one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. If Lacy proves himself to be the NFL’s top runner, that should frighten every defensive coordinator on the Packers’ schedule.

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PFT Live: Julius Thomas, Ross Tucker

Julius Thomas AP

Broncos tight end Julius Thomas is entering the final year of his contract after a breakout 2013 season, which makes it a big year for the former basketball player.

We’ll find out how he’s feeling with the start of the season just around the corner when Thomas joins Mike Florio on Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live. We’ll talk to Thomas about his contract situation, the Broncos’s mindset after losing the Super Bowl last season and playing with Peyton Manning during his visit to the show.

Ross Tucker of NBCSN will also join Florio to talk about some of the biggest stories around the league as the preseason comes to a close. They’ll talk about on and off-field matters that are likely to impact the Broncos and every other team vying for the championship this time around.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Chiefs sign Mike McGlynn

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

Offensive lineman Mike McGlynn was one of the players dropped by the Redskins this week as they dropped to 75 players, but he didn’t spend much time out of work.

The Chiefs announced on Wednesday that they have signed McGlynn. They waived offensive lineman Ben Gottschalk to make room for him on the roster.

Kansas City is set to start the season without right tackle Donald Stephenson, who will serve a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and rookie Zach Fulton is starting at right guard. With Eric Fisher struggling in his transition to left tackle, the team has a need for other options should they need to shuffle the line.

McGlynn has made 48 starts on the interior of the offensive line over his career so he should be able to give the Chiefs that depth at the very least.

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