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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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Reports: Former Cowboys RB Robert Newhouse passes away at 64

Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Robert Newhouse, a running back and fullback for the Cowboys from 1972 through 1983, died Tuesday after a bout with heart disease, multiple media outlets reported Tuesday.

A second-round pick out of Houston, Newhouse rushed for 4,784 yards and 29 touchdowns in his 12 seasons with Dallas. He started in three Super Bowls for the Cowboys, and he capped the club’s 27-10 victory vs. Denver in Super Bowl XII with a 29-yard fourth-quarter TD pass to Golden Richards.

“House was a great football player,” Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach said of Newhouse, according to Fox 4 in Dallas-Fort Worth. “Off the field, he was a great man, kind and caring, solid as a rock.”

According to published reports, Newhouse is survived by his wife and four children.

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Julio Jones cleared for practice, but will be limited

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones AP

Relegated to spectator duty throughout offseason workouts, Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones is getting closer to full strength.

According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, head coach Mike Smith said Jones has been cleared to practice ahead of the start of training camp on Friday.

However, Jones will be eased back into full duty.

“He will be limited in terms of his snaps,” Smith said. “Our number one goal is to make sure that we’ve got everybody as healthy as we possibly can be, but we know that we have to get these guys some work together and reps. Julio will be out there participating in practice right from the start.”

Jones appeared in just five games for Atlanta last year before a broken bone in his right foot ended his season. Jones had put together an explosive start to the seasons with 41 catches for 580 yards and two touchdowns before the injury. The 41 grabs were already more than halfway to his career-high of 79 catches in 2012.

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Texans sign rookie TE Chris Coyle

Chris Coyle AP

The Texans have re-signed rookie tight end Chris Coyle, the club announced Tuesday.

Coyle (6-4, 243) signed with Houston as an undrafted free agent on May 16, but the club waived the Arizona State product a little more than a month later. He garnered first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a senior in 2013, catching 29 passes for 423 yards and five touchdowns.

In other roster moves Tuesday, the Texans waived fullback Brad Smelley and defensive end Tim Jackson. According to the NFL’s transactions, Jackson was waived with the “failure to disclose physical condition” designation.

The Texans have 30 rookies on their roster. The club has two open roster spots.

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Report: Jamaal Charles will hold out from Chiefs camp

Jamaal Charles AP

In a surprise move, one of the NFL’s best players has reportedly decided not to report to training camp.

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles will not show up when the Chiefs report to camp on Thursday. Charles is holding out for more money, KCTV-5 reports.

Charles still has two more years left on his contract and is due $3.9 million this year. He’s correct if he thinks he’s a lot better than a lot of players who are making more money than him, but the Chiefs may feel that they have no reason to give more money to a player who is under contract through 2015.

If Charles is serious about making his holdout a long one, that would be very bad news for the Chiefs: Charles led the team last year not just in rushing with 259 carries for 1,287 yards, but also in receiving with 70 catches for 693 yards. There may not be any non-quarterback in the league who is more important to his team’s offense than Charles.

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Jaguars’ Ace Sanders says he’s facing a four-game suspension

Ace Sanders AP

Jaguars second-year wide receiver Ace Sanders disclosed Tuesday that he’s in line for a four-game NFL suspension.

Sanders, whom the Jaguars placed on the non-football illness list Tuesday, said he will not participate in training camp and will seek counseling, according to a team-issued transcript of his remarks to reporters.

“I’ve made some mistakes that I do regret, that I do honestly regret,” Sanders said, according to the club. “I could have handled situations a little differently. I’m still just dealing with it. I’m trying to be a better person and a better teammate for everybody and everybody around me.

“I decided to go seek that help, get that attention that I need, hopefully somebody can help me out and I should be okay. I should be fine. I just want to get better and come back and be ready to play.”

Sanders was second on the Jaguars in receptions (51) as a rookie. The Jaguars drafted wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in May, and the club also returns leading receiver Cecil Shorts III (68 catches, 777 yards, three TDs in 2013). However, this is another setback for a receiving corps already without 2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon, who’s serving a substance-abuse suspension handed down last fall.

Sanders said he would not appeal a suspension. He also declined to disclose the nature of the NFL violation.

“I have some personal issues that I am dealing with,” Sanders said. “I’m trying to get everything straightened out. It’s been really tough. It’s been a tough road for me the past couple of months.”

In opening his remarks, Sanders publicly apologized to the organization and fans. He also said he was heartened by the support of the team during this tough time, including that of his fellow receivers.

“That room is just like a brotherhood. They rallied behind me and told me that they were sending prayers and to just do what I have to do to get back and that when I get back that we’ll just play ball like we’ve been playing,” Sanders said. “It just made me feel loved and feel good inside to know that they still have my best interest whether I’m out there with them or trying to get myself together.”

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PFT’s preseason power rankings, sorted by division

Jeff Fisher, Bruce Arians AP

PFT wrapped up our 2014 preseason power rankings Tuesday by unveiling our top-ranked team, the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the top two teams are out of the same division, with the San Francisco 49ers — NFC West and NFC runners-up a season ago — taking the No. 2 spot.

With the ultratough West in mind — what a challenging draw for the Cardinals and Rams — here’s a division-by-division look at the power rankings. Teams are ordered within their divisions by their overall ranking:

AFC East

4. New England Patriots. (AFC rank: 2.)

19. New York Jets. (AFC rank: 9.)

28. Buffalo Bills. (AFC rank: 12.)

31. Miami Dolphins. (AFC rank: 15.)

AFC North

7. Baltimore Ravens. (AFC rank: 3.)

9. Cincinnati Bengals. (AFC rank: 5.)

15. Pittsburgh Steelers. (AFC rank: 6.)

22. Cleveland Browns. (AFC rank: 10.)

AFC South

8. Indianapolis Colts. (AFC rank: 4.)

25. Houston Texans. (AFC rank: 11.)

29. Jacksonville Jaguars. (AFC rank: 13.)

30. Tennessee Titans. (AFC rank: 14.)

AFC West

3. Denver Broncos. (AFC rank: 1.)

16. San Diego Chargers. (AFC rank: 7.)

17. Kansas City Chiefs. (AFC rank: 8.)

32. Oakland Raiders. (AFC rank: 16.)

NFC East

13. Philadelphia Eagles. (NFC rank: 8.)

18. New York Giants. (NFC rank: 10.)

23. Washington Redskins. (NFC rank: 13.)

24. Dallas Cowboys. (NFC rank: 14.)

NFC North

5. Green Bay Packers. (NFC rank: 3.)

12. Chicago Bears. (NFC rank: 7.)

21. Detroit Lions. (NFC rank: 12.)

27. Minnesota Vikings. (NFC rank: 16.)

NFC South

6. New Orleans Saints. (NFC rank: 4.)

10. Carolina Panthers. (NFC rank: 5.)

14. Atlanta Falcons. (NFC rank: 9.)

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (NFC rank: 15.)

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks (NFC rank: 1.)

2. San Francisco 49ers. (NFC rank: 2.)

11. Arizona Cardinals. (NFC rank: 6.)

20. St. Louis Rams. (NFC rank: 11.)

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Jameel McClain OK after injury scare at training camp

mcclain AP

There’s good news on Giants linebacker Jameel McClain, who was carted off the field on Tuesday at training camp.

According to multiple reporters on the scene, X-rays were negative and McClain is believed to have nothing more serious than soreness in his foot. If McClain is still in pain tomorrow he’ll get an MRI on the foot, but it appears that the Giants’ starting weak side linebacker will be fine.

It wasn’t all good news on a hot and humid day at Giants camp, as coach Tom Coughlin said he was disappointed that multiple players had to step off the practice field for heat-related reasons. But in the case of McClain, things have turned out OK.

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Ravens expect NFL to be “fair” and “judicious” to Ray Rice

John Harbaugh AP

The Ravens are bracing themselves for being without running back Ray Rice.

But they’re not worried about how long, at least not yet.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he didn’t think the timing of Rice’s punishment (for assaulting his now-wife) would be a problem for the team, as long as they knew by the middle of the preseason.

“It’s not my decision to make or any of us here,” Harbaugh said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “It’s in other people’s hands. I’m sure there’s a lot of complications making those kind of decisions. There are many sides to every story, and there are a lot of factors. There are other people involved.

“There are other disciplinary situations involved around the league. That has to be weighed and taken into context They’re going to have to sort through that to be fair about the whole thing. I know the league is really judicious about that. I think they work really hard to do the right thing. I don’t think they worry about public opinion too much. I think they want to do the right thing by the people involved and see where it goes.”

Of course, if the Ravens were concerned about public opinion, they might not have live-tweeted Rice’s wife apologizing for getting knocked out.

But that’s just one of the issues they’ve faced this offseason, as they led the league with five arrests.

Asked how he addressed that surge in off-field activity, Harbaugh replied: “I think the point has been made.”

Now we get to sit back and see if it is heeded.

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Coughlin thinks Giants will be rejuvenated under new offense

coughlin AP

The oldest coach in the NFL wanted some fresh blood in his offense.

That’s why, Giants coach Tom Coughlin told Josina Anderson on ESPN, he decided to hire Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator. Coughlin said he thinks McAdoo’s playbook will go a long way toward making Eli Manning look more like he looked in the Giants’ two Super Bowl seasons, and less like he looked during his 27-interception 2013 season.

“I felt like this would be an opportunity for us to rejuvenate those veteran players who were here, Eli for one, to force all of us to learn, again, a new system, a new communication process,” Coughlin said. “For 10 years we had used the same system — we got two Super Bowls and accomplished an awful lot of things offensively — but last year wasn’t one of those years. We turned it over way too much.”

Coughlin was careful not to make it sound like he was taking shots at former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. But it’s clear that Coughlin believed a change was in order.

“I just felt like after Kevin retired that this might be the time to make a wholesale change and in so doing reinvigorate the entire system, the coaches that were kept, the veteran players who have been here, to put new energy into their preparation,” Coughlin said.

Rejuvenating the Giants’ offense this year may be Coughlin’s last hope of making a run at his third Super Bowl ring.

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Texans, Andre Johnson’s agent are communicating

Pittsburgh Steelers v Houston Texans Getty Images

On Monday, Texans receiver Andre Johnson reportedly was back in the building.  On Tuesday, agent Kennard McGuire declined to address those reports.

“I am not refuting, confirming or denying any reports or stories,” McGuire told Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston.  “Per the collective bargaining agreement there’s a period in which veteran players are not allowed to participate or be in their team’s facilities.”

As explained earlier in the day, veteran players currently may work out on their own at team facilities.  Which is all that Johnson could have been doing, under the CBA.

While not addressing whether Johnson visited the team’s facility, McGuire admitted that he has been talking to the Texans on Johnson’s behalf.

“While I am personally in contact with the Texans organization, those conversations will remain between myself, the organization and Andre Johnson,” McGuire told Berman.

Johnson reportedly was willing to report for OTAs, but the Texans refused to give him a chance to earn back a $1 million roster bonus that Johnson forfeited by missing the first two phases of the offseason workout program.  That impasse caused Johnson to skip all remaining offseason activities, including a mandatory minicamp.  The question now becomes whether Johnson will show up for training camp.

Veterans are due to report in Houston on Friday.

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Saints sign two undrafted rookies

Tyrone Ezell AP

The Saints have added two undrafted rookies who had previous short stints with other NFL clubs, signing linebacker Marcus Thompson (ex-Dolphins) and nose tackle Tyrone Ezell (ex-Texans) on Tuesday, the club said.

A Rutgers product, Thompson (6-1, 250) recorded 5.5 sacks in 2013 and was one of the team’s defensive MVPs. The Dolphins waived him on July 1.

Ezell (6-4, 305) had a three-day stint with Houston in May. He was a 12-game starter for the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 and was a team captain.

In corresponding roster moves, the Saints waived/injured third-year outside linebacker Cheta Ozougwu and undrafted rookie nose tackle Moses McCray.

The Saints have all 90 roster spots filled.

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Pat Angerer signs with Falcons

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

When the Falcons lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for the season, there were several veteran free agents mentioned as possible signings to shore up the team’s inside linebacker group.

Former Colt Pat Angerer was on that list and he worked out for the team on Tuesday. The workout apparently went well because Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Angerer is the newest member of Atlanta’s roster.

Angerer ended the 2013 season on injured reserve after hurting his knee and required microfracture surgery to repair the injury. That kept him from shopping himself as a free agent this spring, but things have obviously progressed well enough to satisfy the Falcons.

Angerer, a second-round pick in 2010, played 54 games and made 39 starts during his time with the Colts. The Falcons have Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and rookie Prince Shembo among the in-house options who will compete with Angerer to fill the starting linebacker jobs come the regular season.

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Shoulder healed, Eric Fisher gets back to left tackle

Fisher AP

When the Chiefs made Eric Fisher the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, they didn’t intend for Fisher to be the team’s long-term right tackle.  Now that Branden Albert has exited via free agency, Fisher can flip back to his natural position.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Fisher told reporters on Tuesday regarding the change.  “I felt good out there today. It’s a lot more natural for me. I’m really excited about it.”

Fisher has been permitted to show up early for camp because of the shoulder injury that resulted in surgery.  His weight is at 315 pounds, he’s been lifting again since before OTAs, and he’s ready for his second NFL season.

“I’ve been working my butt of and am just glad to be out here,” Fisher said.  “I never really lost strength.  I’ve been in there working and when you can’t bench there’s other things you can do and that’s what I was doing.”

Fisher said his shoulder is healed and he’s “ready to go.”  Fisher believes he’ll take part in the first padded practice of the year, on Saturday.

Apart from the injury, Fisher struggled at times as a rookie, creating real concerns as to whether he’s ready to play left tackle for the Chiefs.

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Doug Marrone indicates there’s competition to back up EJ Manuel

Jeff Tuel,EJ Manuel,Thad Lewis AP

The Bills’ backup quarterback situation is one to watch, even if only for the events of a season ago.

Starter EJ Manuel missed six games because of injury in 2013, and key veteran Kevin Kolb suffered a career-ending concussion in the preseason, leaving Thaddeus Lewis (five starts) and then-rookie Jeff Tuel (one start) to carry the load at times.

An undrafted free agent from Washington State, Tuel struggled in his first NFL season, completing just 26-of-59 passes (44.1 percent) with three interceptions and just one score. Lewis, who had prior NFL stints in Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit, fared somewhat better after taking over as the top backup. He was far more accurate, completing 59.5 percent of his attempts (93-of-157). However, he had more turnovers (six) than touchdowns (five).

However, if Lewis is going to win the top reserve role once again, he may have to hold off a challenge from Tuel, who reportedly got some work with the second-team offense on Tuesday. Afterwards, Bills coach Doug Marrone told reporters there was competition for the primary backup job behind Manuel.

“Sure, we have a battle for the second team quarterback,” Marrone said, according to a transcript of his post-practice remarks from the club. “We’re trying to find out who it’s going to be, and Jeff did a nice job in OTAs, and he’s earned himself some more reps.”

The Bills carried just two quarterbacks to begin the 2013 season. And that means Tuel, Lewis and fourth-stringer Dennis Dixon could potentially be fighting for just one spot.

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Broncos make Joel Dreessen an even lower-paid ($0) tight end

Joel Dreessen AP

If Joel Dreesen thought tight end pay was unfairly low before, he’s in for a shock this summer, with no pay whatsoever.

The Broncos announced they had released the veteran tight end with a failed physical designation Tuesday.

He caught 41 passes for the Broncos two years ago, but only caught seven passes last year as Julius Thomas flourished as a target for more catches (and ostensibly, more money).

He had three operations on his left knee in the span of a year, and battled through problems with that joint this offseason.

So now the Broncos get to take his $2.5 million in base salary and give it to another tight end.

Or not.

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