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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 13: New York Giants

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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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Khalil Mack stars on good night for Raiders defense

Khalil Mack AP

The third preseason game is often called a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

If that’s true of the Raiders-Cardinals game on Sunday night, Khalil Mack is going to steal the show in 2015. Mack was all but unblockable in the first half of the game, which ended with his second sack of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Mack also stripped the ball from running back David Johnson on a third down, which the Cardinals recovered for a loss before Chandler Catanzaro missed a 54-yard field goal.

Palmer was under pressure from Mack and other Raiders all night and the Cardinals will need better efforts up front from a line that’s in flux thanks to Bobby Massie’s suspension to start the season and Mike Iupati’s knee injury. Palmer was sacked three times and finished 8-of-22 for 103 yards and two interceptions.

While Mack is breaking out on the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders are hoping for the same from first-round pick Amari Cooper. Cooper had four catches for 62 yards and showed very well against Patrick Peterson, but neither he nor any of the other starters could get into the end zone. Derek Carr didn’t convert enough third downs while throwing often — he was 18-of-34 for 213 yards overall — but had the Raiders on a good drive to open the third quarter until he threw a pass that Cardinals cornerback Cariel Brooks picked off for an 81-yard touchdown.

His night ended there, but there was more to like than dislike for the Raiders starters on both sides of the ball Sunday night.

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With next court date coming, no momentum toward Brady settlement

Tom Brady, Kony Ealy AP

On Monday, the NFL and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady return to court for a third — and presumably final — hearing regarding the legality of the four-game suspension imposed in May on Brady. While Judge Richard M. Berman has done his best to try to push the two sides toward a settlement, there’s no indication that any progress has been made.

Then again, there’s no reason to make progress in advance of Monday’s in-court proceedings, where Judge Berman once again will try to twist arms. It’s already a deadline-driven business, and there’s no deadline like appearing in court before a judge who will be issuing a ruling soon, absent an agreement.

The NFL and NFL Players Association have jointly requested that Judge Berman issue a ruling by September 4, six days before the Week One game between the Steelers and Patriots. Judge Berman hasn’t promised a decision by then, possibly hoping that the uncertainty will push the two sides closer together.

A settlement remains possible even if not likely, especially if Judge Berman tells the two sides that there will be no clear winner and no clear loser if they force him to issue a ruling. For example, he could kick the case back for another appeal hearing with a different hearing officer, or he could rule in the NFL’s favor but enter an order allowing Brady to play while the appeal process above Judge Berman plays out.

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Menelik Watson leaves with ankle injury

Arizona Cardinals v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Raiders have lost a starting offensive lineman in the first quarter of Sunday night’s game with the Cardinals.

Right tackle Menelik Watson injured his ankle and had to be helped back to the locker room shortly after being flagged for holding Alex Okafor on a passing play. The Raiders announced a short time later that he would not return to the game and Michele Tafoya of Sunday Night Football reported from the sideline that Watson was quite emotional while talking to the trainers about his condition.

Austin Howard took over for Watson, who has made 12 starts in two years with the team that made him a second-round pick in 2013. Okafor beat Howard to force a poor pass by Derek Carr later in the game and he’s been an active force for the Cardinals defense in the early portion of the game.

The Raiders defense has also done well, limiting the Cardinals to three first downs on four first quarter possessions. Nate Allen intercepted Carson Palmer early in the game to set up the first of two Sebastian Janikowski field goals.

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Dolphins make 11 cuts on way to 75 players

New York Giants v St. Louis Rams AP

The Dolphins have started clearing out players ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to set a 75-man roster.

None of the names are surprising ones, although the presence of center J.D. Walton on the list is somewhat notable. Walton signed a two-year deal with the Giants in 2014 that guaranteed him $3 million, but the Giants parted ways with Walton after one poor season.

His departure from the Dolphins could signal Mike Pouncey is OK after hurting his knee and it definitely signals that Sam Brenner was the team’s choice as Pouncey’s backup.

Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, guard Bryant Browning, wide receiver LaRon Byrd, wide receiver Kevin Cone, defensive end Ray Drew, wide receiver Tyler McDonald, defensive end Kendall Montgomery, tight end Gerell Robinson, cornerback Sammy Seamster and safety Phillip Thomas were also dropped from the roster on Sunday.

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Sources say Snyder, football operation are on the same page

Robert Griffin III AP

The team’s recent history and more immediate circumstances have created the impression that dysfunction in D.C. has reached full boil. While the franchise is hardly displaying a high degree of competence on a consistent basis, the situation isn’t quite as bad as it’s currently being portrayed.

Multiple sources tell PFT that, contrary to a Sunday afternoon report from ESPN, no schism exists between owner Daniel Snyder and the people he has hired to run the football operations regarding the status of quarterback Robert Griffin III.

ESPN claims that the coaching staff and front-official officials want to move on from Griffin, but that they are “meeting resistance” from owner Daniel Snyder. Three different sources have told PFT that this simply isn’t true. (One source called it “spaghetti journalism,” with reports being thrown against the wall at a time when a situation that seems to be disintegrating cries out for more and more efforts to advance the story.)

As one source explained it to PFT, everyone in Washington is on the same page regarding the roles and responsibilities. G.M. Scot McCloughan is in charge of the roster, which soon will be at 53, and coach Jay Gruden decides who will play.

Reports of a two-hour meeting between Snyder and McCloughan may have pushed the needle in the direction of a disagreement between McCloughan/Gruden and Snyder, but a source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that the meeting was focused on sorting out exactly what happened with Griffin being cleared to play after suffering a concussion and then not being cleared to play. That discrepancy fueled the latest spike in perceived dysfunction, but it’s not yet gotten to the point where the guy whose primary job is to sign the checks is getting in the way of the people whose primary jobs are to run the football team.

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Bears release Tim Jennings

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears parted ways with one longtime cornerback earlier this offseason when Charles Tillman signed with the Panthers as a free agent.

They said goodbye to another one on Sunday when they released Tim Jennings. Jennings started 74 games for the Bears since signing with the team in 2010 and only missed two games during his five years with the team. Jennings had nine interceptions in 2012 and 16 overall during his time in Chicago.

Jennings, who made two Pro Bowls with the Bears, started the first two preseason games, but was playing in the second half this week after players like Sherrick McManis and Alan Ball had already gotten into the game. Given the ever-present need for corners around the league, Jennings should get at least a look in the near future.

The Cowboys, who lost Orlando Scandrick and employ former Bears assistant Rod Marinelli as their defensive coordinator, could be a possibility. Jennings pleaded guilty to reckless driving this year to resolve a DWI case, but hasn’t received any league discipline at this point.

The Bears will also be missing safety Ryan Mundy in their secondary this year. Mundy is headed to injured reserve because of a hip injury. They also formally placed wide receiver Kevin White on the PUP list after shin surgery and released running back Daniel Thomas.

Defensive back Malcolm Bronson, tight end Kevin Greene, tackle Cameron Jefferson, wide receiver Jeremy Kelley, cornerback Al Louis-Jean, long snapper Rick Lovato, wide receiver Levi Norwood, defensive end Olsen Pierre, tight end Chris Pantale and wide receiver John Chiles were also cut as the Bears got down to 76 players.

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Brandon Bostick cut as Vikings drop to 78 players

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Tight end Brandon Bostick was released by the Packers shortly after he mishandled an onside kick against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game this year and signed with the Vikings a couple of days later.

Nothing quite so dramatic happened during Bostick’s tenure with Minnesota and there won’t be any in the future now that he’s been released by the team. Bostick had one catch for four yards in the preseason and found himself behind Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and rookie MyCole Pruitt this summer.

The Vikings also parted ways with running back Joe Banyard, who played 18 games for them over the past two seasons.

Cornerback Jalil Carter, cornerback Justin Coleman, cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, wide receiver Jordan Leslie, tackle Stephen Goodin, linebacker Josh Kaddu, defensive lineman Crishon Rose and defensive lineman Caesar Rayford were the other cuts in Minnesota.

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Tre Mason questionable for Week One

Kendall Langford, Tre Mason AP

The Rams used a first-round pick on Todd Gurley this year and drafted Tre Mason in the third round in 2014, but they may be starting Benny Cunningham in the season opener against the Seahawks.

Mason hurt his hamstring in the first half of Saturday’s game against the Colts and didn’t return to the field. Coach Jeff Fisher said Sunday that Mason won’t play in Thursday night’s preseason finale and that he’s questionable for Week One.

Gurley is returning from a torn ACL and started team drills last week, but hasn’t played in the preseason and Fisher said the team plans to “bring him along slow” when asked about Gurley’s status for the game against Seattle. Pushing to get either of them back for September 13 at the risk of losing them for some of the 15 to come would go against the patience they’ve shown with Gurley since he joined the club.

Cunningham ran 66 times for 246 yards and caught 45 passes in 16 games for St. Louis last season.

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Cardinals-Raiders airs tonight on NBC

Arizona Cardinals v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

Week Three of the NFL preseason comes to an end tonight in Oakland, where the Cardinals take on the Raiders in an 8:00 p.m. ET kickoff on NBC.

Carson Palmer returns to Oakland to take on one of his former teams, while the Raiders will see if Derek Carr and Amari Cooper can keep their impressive preseason going.

If you can’t watch on TV, you can watch tonight’s coverage on your desktop or laptop at NBC Sports Live Extra, or you can watch it on your mobile device by downloading the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

Halftime of tonight’s game will include Mike Florio, Rodney Harrison and Paul Burmeister doing a mini-version of their NBCSN Pro Football Talk show, with commentary on all the latest news around the NFL.

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Washington says Cousins hasn’t been named the Week One starter

Kirk Cousins AP

During the Sunday broadcast of the preseason game between the Texans and Saints, FOX displayed a large graphic with photos of the three potential Week One quarterbacks in Washington, along with a claim at the bottom of the screen that Kirk Cousins has been named the Week One starter.

It was couched not as a report but as a fact. And it was news to me. It was also news to the team.

The team says it’s not true, deferring to the statements made after Saturday night’s game by coach Jay Gruden. Starter Robert Griffin III, who is cleared to practice but not play after suffering a concussion 10 days ago against the Lions, could still be cleared to play in the regular-season opener.

“I’m not going to announce anything right now,” Gruden said on Saturday night regarding Week One against Miami. “First of all, I need to read these reports. These reports are confusing. We need to sit down and talk to all the players involved, and make our decision as a staff and go from there. This was all put on us in the last minute. We had a great game. Kirk [Cousins] played great. Colt [McCoy] played great. And the offensive line played excellent. Defense got some turnovers. I was happy with the way we played, and the rest of this stuff will sort itself out.”

Gruden is right; there are so many conflicting reports and accounts that everyone is confused about what’s happening. Including whoever made the graphic at FOX.

UPDATE 7:03 p.m. ET: FOX has now fixed the graphic, with the addition of a question mark.

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Buccaneers drop 10, including seventh-rounder Joey Iosefa

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Minicamp Getty Images

The Buccaneers have made their first moves on the way to 75 players and one of the guys jettisoned was part of their 2015 draft class.

The team has waived seventh-round running back Joey Iosefa. Iosefa played tailback in college at Hawaii, but was moved to fullback with the Buccaneers after he joined the team. He had no carries or receptions in the preseason. Veteran Jorvorskie Lane is now the only fullback on the Tampa roster.

Iosefa is the only member of the seven-man draft class to leave the team thus far.

The Buccaneers also waived running back Dominique Brown, defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley, offensive lineman Antoine Everett, long-snapper Brandon Hartson, safety Kimario McFadden, punter Karl Schmitz, cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz, defensive end George Uko and defensive end Jamal Young.

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Tom Coughlin: Victor Cruz won’t practice this week “as far as I know”

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It looks like Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz’s first game action since tearing his patellar tendon last year will come in the regular season.

Cruz has not played yet this preseason as the Giants were bringing him along cautiously early and a calf injury has kept him from the field more recently. That injury left coach Tom Coughlin “concerned” about the wideout last week and it doesn’t sound like that concern has gone away.

Coughlin was asked Sunday if Cruz would return to practice this week and said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, “not as far as I know” and that it wouldn’t be the “preferred way” to handle things to have Cruz return to action without any snaps during the preseason.

It might not be the way the Giants drew it up, but there’s not much they can do about it at this point. If Cruz isn’t healthy enough to play in August, the team has no choice but to roll the dice when he eventually gets the green light in the fall. The offense has certainly looked like it could use Cruz on the field, although his limited action of any kind the last month means it will be a mystery what they’ll get when he is finally able to return.

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Brian Hoyer, DeAndre Hopkins look good together in New Orleans

Brian Hoyer, DeAndre Hopkins AP

The Texans have ended their quarterback competition by naming Brian Hoyer as the starter for the first week of the regular season, but coach Bill O’Brien has made it clear that he won’t be afraid to turn to Ryan Mallett if Hoyer can’t find a way to lead a successful offense.

One way Hoyer can keep that from happening is by looking for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hoyer did that twice early in Sunday’s game against the Saints and the drive ended with a touchdown for the Texans. Hoyer found DeAndre Hopkins open against Saints corner Keenan Lewis for 29 yards down the sideline on the second play of the game and then went Hopkins’s direction again in the end zone.

Lewis was flagged for pass interference after Hopkins got the best of him again, although that didn’t stop Hopkins from reeling in the ball as he went out of bounds. After a replay, the ruling was that Hopkins didn’t complete the catch process in time and Alfred Blue scored two plays later.

Hoyer looked sharp in general and finished 7-of-11 for 82 yards while also leading the Texans to a field goal before Ryan Mallett was roused from his slumber to lead the team on their fourth offensive possession of the game.

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Report: Football people want RG3 out of Washington, Snyder says no

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Robert Griffin III is reportedly remaining in Washington only because owner Dan Snyder is overruling the football people who want to get rid of the quarterback.

Front office officials and coaches want to move on from Griffin but are meeting resistance from ownership, according to ESPN.

The report says the team has talked about trading Griffin, but there’s been no interest. That’s no surprise: Griffin has a guaranteed salary of $3.3 million this year and would be owed a whopping $16.2 million next year if he suffered a severe injury. There’s no way for any team to justify committing that kind of money to a player who has played as poorly as Griffin over the last two years.

From all indications, coach Jay Gruden — who spent most of the offseason insisting that Griffin would be the starter — has lost any confidence he ever had in Griffin as a quarterback. Both Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy have far outplayed Griffin this preseason. General Manager Scot McCloughan, who was hired this year, has no particular loyalty to Griffin either.

But Snyder has loved Griffin since the team traded up in the 2012 draft to get him, and Snyder apparently isn’t willing to let go. And that’s the only thing keeping Griffin in Washington.

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Report: AC joint sprain for Randall Cobb

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Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb feared a broken collarbone when he was first injured in Saturday’s game against the Eagles, but they were able to rule out an injury of that severity before the night was over.

Cobb went for further tests on Sunday and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that he has been diagnosed with a “minor” AC joint sprain.

It’s a better outcome than a broken collarbone, certainly, but Cobb probably can’t be assured of playing against the Bears in Week One. Players have missed good chunks of time with similar injuries — Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson hasn’t played at all in the preseason after spraining his AC joint early in training camp — and it will take some time before the Packers will have a clear idea about his status.

If Cobb can’t play, the Packers would start their season without both of their top wideouts since Jordy Nelson is out with a torn ACL. Barring any additions from outside the organization, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery would likely be the top three receivers in their absence.

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