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Preseason Power Rankings No. 18: New York Giants

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There have been some magical runs on the way to two Super Bowl titles for the Giants under coach Tom Coughlin.

The start of the 2013 season was pretty much the exact opposite as the Giants got blown out, chewed up and left for dead on their way to six straight losses. Things got better from that point, but the start exposed some major flaws on the offensive line and in the secondary that the team attacked during the offseason.

There was no similar reaction to Eli Manning’s 27 interceptions as the team remained fully committed to their quarterback. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s long run came to an end, though, and new coordinator Ben McAdoo is installing the first significant change to the system of Manning’s career.

How he adapts to that and how quickly the new additions can come together will be the big questions for the Giants this season. Our panel’s No. 18 ranking represents the wait and see attitude that often follows such big changes.

Strengths.

If you were a free agent cornerback this season, you probably got a call from the Giants. They wound up signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman to join Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride in a deep corner group that should match up well with any opposing offense. If Amukamara takes another step forward, the unit will lead the way defensively.

Antrel Rolle leads with his mouth, but he’s usually backed up with his play over the last four seasons. Rolle is coming off a particularly strong season, which has led to discussion about an extension. For now, Rolle will again serve as the constant in a shifting secondary.

If Stevie Brown makes it all the way back from the knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season to join Rolle at safety, the secondary should be one of the best in the league.

Manning threw 27 interceptions last season and Hakeem Nicks left for Indianapolis as a free agent, but it’s still hard not to see the passing game as a strength. Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and first-round pick Odell Beckham seem well-suited to the offense that McAdoo is installing. Their success will have much to do with a group listed in the next section, however.

Weaknesses.

The Giants did just as much work on their offensive line as they did at cornerback, but the upgrade isn’t as clear. Geoff Schwartz solidifies left guard, but Will Beatty’s ability to handle left tackle remains a theory and Charles Brown is coming off getting benched in New Orleans. Chris Snee’s health is a concern at right guard, with rookie Weston Richburg or J.D. Walton, who is coming back from two seasons lost to injury, the choices at center.

Jon Beason’s arrival in a trade with the Panthers last season coincided with a positive turn in the play of the team’s defense, but the oft-injured Beason is out with a foot injury for the near future. Jameel McClain has arrived from Baltimore, but holdovers Spencer Paysinger, Jaquian Williams and Mark Herzlich haven’t been consistently productive during their Giant careers.

The Giants didn’t re-sign Martellus Bennett before the 2013 season and Brandon Myers flopped as a fill-in, leaving the team without any proven players at the position. Adrian Robinson’s athletic ability draws raves, but he’s never been healthy. Larry Donnell is similarly unproven and Kellen Davis didn’t leave anyone wanting more in Chicago. With Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley still possibly returning from injuries, the Giants could take a flyer on outside help.

Changes.

The Raiders were willing to pay Justin Tuck more than the Giants, leading to a big change at defensive end. Damontre Moore and Mathias Kiwanuka are back from last season and the team signed Robert Ayers, but the chances of the Giants defense getting back to its old ways relies on Jason Pierre-Paul. He was a shell of his 2011 self last season and needs to be healthy and back at full speed for the Giants defense to take off.

With David Wilson’s neck injury creating doubt about his future as a running back and the team coming off a dismal 2013 campaign, the Giants signed Rashad Jennings early in free agency. They are talking about him as a bell cow, something he hasn’t done before although he’s coming off a strong year for the Raiders.

Former Dolphin John Jerry joined Schwartz, Brown and Walton as free agent additions to the offensive line as the Giants heavily addressed their biggest problem area from last season.

Trindon Holliday comes aboard from Denver to give the Giants an explosive kick and punt returner who fumbles just often enough to ensure at least one reaction shot that makes viewers worry for Coughlin’s health this season.

Camp Battles.

Word out of Giants spring work was that the team wants Brandon Mosley to at least push Snee as the veteran comes back from hip and elbow surgeries. Jerry could potentially be part of the mix as well.

Linval Joseph left for the Vikings and the Giants will have to sort out playing time among several defensive tackles this summer. Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are the veterans, 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins has a big body for the middle of the line and 2014 third-rounder Jay Bromley has interior pass rush potential.

The Giants spent a little time with Josh Freeman, but he didn’t make it out of the spring. That leaves Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib to compete to be Manning’s backup.

Prospects.

The NFC East hasn’t produced a repeat division champion since the Eagles in 2004, so we’re used to seeing quick turnarounds in the Giants’ neck of the woods.

It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where the Giants make one this year. McAdoo’s offense plays to Manning’s strengths, the offensive line allows him time to connect with his talented receivers and Pierre-Paul brings back the pass rush as the Giants end their two-year playoff drought.

It’s just as easy to see things going the other way on the offensive line, though, and the revamped secondary will only hold on so long if Pierre-Paul isn’t leading a high-level pass rush.

Ultimately, though, it is going to be hard to install a new offense and overhaul several position groups while simultaneously making the playoffs. Blips are inevitable and the division is going to be competitive, which should make the start of the season telling.

It doesn’t have to be 6-0 instead of 0-6, but the Giants need to break well to keep things gelling well enough to be there when the season comes to an end.

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Would the NFL appeal a two-game Brady suspension?

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It’s become a given that Judge Richard M. Berman doesn’t have the option to impose anything less than a four-game suspension on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Technically, that’s accurate.

As a practical matter, Judge Berman can reduce the suspension to two games, explaining that he has decided to deem the four-game suspension as two for “general awareness” (or whatever) of the alleged deflation scheme and two for failure to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation. Sure, he’d be susceptible to a reversal on appeal.

But what if no one appeals?

Tom Brady, if suspended two games for failure to cooperate at a time when he’s reportedly willing to accept at least one game for that infraction and exonerated on the question of whether he should be suspended for the deflation-related activities, could be inclined to accept the two games and move on. Which means that the case would be over — unless the NFL appeals.

At that point, would the NFL appeal? More specifically, would the NFL allow itself to be responsible for prolonging a case that the fans want to see end, when the NFL can legitimately claim partial victory and retreat?

From a legal perspective, the NFL would have a strong argument on appeal, arguing that Judge Berman has no right to chop the suspension in half and that it’s an all-or-nothing decision. From a P.R. perspective, the NFL possibly would be criticized heavily for not accepting a middle ground and moving on.

So maybe, just maybe, Judge Berman will technically get it wrong, but ultimately get to the right solution.

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Jets place Jace Amaro on injured reserve

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The Jets had high hopes for tight end Jace Amaro as a receiver in his second NFL season, but they were put on ice Tuesday.

Amaro has been placed on injured reserve and will have surgery on the shoulder injury that’s kept him out of action this summer. The move strips the Jets of a target for Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or Geno Smith and robs Bills coach Rex Ryan of two chances to face Amaro after the tight end was critical of Ryan this offseason for the lack of accountability on the Jets last season.

Amaro had 38 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis are the veteran tight ends left on the roster, which may lead the Jets to look for another receiving option at the position as cuts are made this week.

The Jets also placed veteran defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson on injured reserve and waived cornerback Dashaun Phillips with an injured designation.

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NFL turns Media Day into “Super Bowl Opening Night”

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If you thought the hype surrounding the Super Bowl couldn’t possibly get any more overdone, think again.

The NFL has announced that it is shifting the long-standing Media Day, which always took place on Tuesday in the late morning or early afternoon, into “Super Bowl Opening Night,” a primetime extravaganza on the Monday night of Super Bowl week.

Super Bowl Opening Night will be a three-hour show at the SAP Center in San Jose, starting at 5 p.m. Pacific on Monday, February 1. In addition to appearances from the players and coaches on the two Super Bowl teams, the event will also feature musical performances.

The league is selling tickets to fans, but this is mostly about creating more Super Bowl week content for NFL Network. And although plenty of people will roll their eyes at the idea, it’s sure to get good ratings. Fans have an insatiable appetite for football, especially during Super Bowl week.

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Report: Randall Cobb expected to be ready for regular season

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The Packers lost one of their starting wide receivers to a preseason injury, but it appears their other one is going to be fine.

According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, all indications are that Packers wideout Randall Cobb’s shoulder injury won’t prevent him from playing in the opener against the Bears.

After losing Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL, the Packers couldn’t afford to lose Cobb for any amount of time.

Cobb’s coming off a career season of his own (91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns) and was rewarded with a new contract before he hit free agency.

Now, there’s even more pressure on him to deliver, as the Packers try to bring along the next generation of young wideouts.

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Panthers put Kelvin Benjamin on IR; waive Melvin White, Robert Lester

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The Panthers have reached the 75-man limit with a series of moves on Tuesday afternoon.

Some of the moves were expected, like placing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on injured reserve as a result of the torn ACL he suffered in August. The team also confirmed that they have parted ways with wideout Jarrett Boykin after swinging a deal with the Seahawks for Kevin Norwood.

The Panthers also waived cornerback Melvin White and safety Robert Lester. White, who has an injured designation after hurting his hamstring, made 17 starts over the last two seasons but lost his job with the first team last year. Lester played a lot in 2013, but only saw action in one game last year while also spending time on the practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Presley, defensive tackle Kenny Horsley, tackle Davonte Wallace and defensive tackle Micanor Regis were also waived.

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James Harrison says old pal Goodell will win fight vs. Brady

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James Harrison has never been afraid to speak out against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but when Harrison was asked by reporters about DeflateGate and Goodell’s court battle vs. Tom Brady and the Patriots, Harrison said he believes Brady’s four-game suspension will be upheld.

Because the Steelers play the Patriots Sept. 10 in the season opener, the result of the proceedings are of particular interest to Harrison. But the 37-year old linebacker had no personal feelings involved when he shared his viewpoint.

“I don’t see what a federal judge can do with something the players signed in the collective bargaining agreement, which gives Roger Goodell (power) to do what he wants to,” Harrison said. “And if that’s the case and he’s going by the letter of what he says, there’s nothing (a judge) can do.”

Monday, federal judge Richard Berman pledged to rule by Friday on Brady’s challenge of his four-game suspension after talks between Brady’s representatives and the NFL failed to reach a settlement.

Harrison and Goodell have quite a history, both of face to face meetings regarding fines that have totaled $150,000 and of Harrison publicly criticizing Goodell. Harrison called Goodell a “crook” and “devil” in a 2011 magazine interview and last year took to Twitter and needled Goodell for his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

“If (Goodell) was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it,” Harrison told Men’s Journal in 2011. “I hate him and will never respect him.”

Harrison tweeted last September, when he considered himself retired, that Steelers players voted against the new CBA in 2011.

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Report: Patriots to put James Develin on season-ending IR

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The Patriots lost one of Bill Belichick’s favorite players last week in Charlotte, and it will be a season-ending loss.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, versatile tight end/fullback James Develin will be placed on injured reserve today.

Develin broke his tibia Friday night against the Panthers, and stayed behind to have surgery there.

He met with Patriots officials yesterday, and they decided today to put him on season-ending IR rather than use the designated for return spot on him.

The injury was originally thought to keep him out for six to eight weeks, but they may have realized it was taking longer than that, or the team just wanted to use that spot otherwise.

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Akeem Spence to PUP as Bucs get to 75 players

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There wasn’t a chance that the Buccaneers would have defensive tackle Akeem Spence for the first week of the season after he was suspended by the league for violating the substance abuse policy.

They won’t have him for at least the five weeks after that either. Spence started camp on the physically unable to perform list when camp opened and announced Tuesday that he’ll remain there into the regular season.

Spence had 28 tackles and two sacks in 16 appearances for Tampa last season.

The Bucs also waived/injured guard Josh Allen, wide receiver Robert Herron and cornerback Leonard Johnson. All three will revert to injured reserve if they go unclaimed on waivers.

Punter Michael Koenen was released earlier on Tuesday and the Bucs made 10 other moves over the weekend to get to the 75-man limit.

 

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Bengals place Cedric Ogbuehi on non-football injury list

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The Bengals drafted Cedric Ogbuehi knowing he wasn’t ready to contribute immediately.

Now it’s official, as the rookie tackle was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list as part of their moves to get to the 75-man roster limit. They also placed linebacker Sean Porter on reserve/physically unable to perform and waived-injured wide receiver Onterio McCalebb, and he’ll revert to injured reserve if he clears waivers.

Ogbuehi suffered a torn ACL in Texas A&M’s bowl game, which was going to keep him from taking the field immediately this year. But they think he can contribute at some point, so they left the window open for him to come back after the first six weeks of the season.

The Bengals chose him knowing he’d likely redshirt this season behind Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, with second-round tackle Jake Fisher providing even more depth there now that he’s back from a shoulder injury.

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49ers coach says Dockett does not have cracked rib

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The rib injury suffered by 49ers defensive tackle Darnell Dockett in last weekend’s preseason game vs. the Broncos is not believed to be serious.

Tuesday, 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said Dockett has a cartilage issue, not a cracked rib, and Tomsula said he expects Dockett to be available for the Sept. 14 season opener.

Dockett posted a picture on Snapchat Monday while receiving treatment and called it a cracked rib.

Dockett, 34, did not play last season after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason while he was with the Cardinals. He’s expected to be a rotational player on the remade 49ers defense.

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Dennis Pitta starting year on PUP list

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The Ravens are down to a 75-man roster and tight end Dennis Pitta isn’t one of them.

Pitta has been placed on the regular season physically unable to perform list Tuesday as he continues to try for a comeback from last year’s dislocated and fractured hip. It’s the second time that Pitta has suffered the injury and may not play again, but the Ravens have no reason to move on at this point with $4 million in guaranteed money coming Pitta’s way this year.

The Ravens also placed safety Matt Elam, linebacker Steven Means, cornerback Chris Greenwood, offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin and tight end Allen Reisner on injured reserve.

They completed their roster cutdown by releasing wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, offensive lineman Marcel Jones, wide receiver Trent Steelman, guard Leon Brown, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, offensive lineman De’Ondre Wesley, tackle Darryl Baldwin, cornerback Tramain Jacobs, punter Justin Manton, and long snapper Patrick Scales.

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PFT Live: Seahawks talk with Bob Condotta, Patriots talk with Tom Curran

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The wait for Judge Richard Berman’s ruling in the Tom Brady case is on and we’ll fill some of the time by talking about the possible outcomes on PFT Live.

Tom Curran of CSN New England will join Mike Florio to discuss the failure of the NFL and Brady to reach a settlement that would have left Berman out of the resolution and how they think things will go when the judge does rule. They’ll check in on other Patriots news as well.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times will also join the show to talk about the team’s first wave of cuts, Fred Jackson’s visit and the offensive stumbles in the preseason.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour by clicking right here.

 

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Dolphins make a change at punter

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The Dolphins have moved to the 75-man roster limit by parting ways with longtime punter Brandon Fields.

Fields has been released after an eight-year run with the team that featured a Pro Bowl appearance after the 2013 season. Fields took a pay cut this offseason to lessen a scheduled cap hit north of $3 million, but it wasn’t enough to allow him to keep his job with the team this season.

Matt Darr is the only punter currently on the Dolphins roster and will fill the role into the regular season if Miami doesn’t look for other options in the next week.

The Dolphins also cut running back Demetrius Bronson to get to Tuesday’s limit. There will be 22 more moves to come before the team sets its initial 53-man roster.

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Saints trade wideout Jalen Saunders to the Patriots

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The Patriots continue to look under every rock for healthy receiver options, and just traded for a guy they got an up-close look at recently.

According to Evan Woodbery of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints have traded receiver-return man Jalen Saunders to the Patriots for a conditional draft pick.

As with most such deals this time of year, this gives a guy who might not have otherwise made a roster a chance with a team that has a greater need for his services. Generally, the condition is “make the 53-man roster,” which makes it a free week’s tryout.

The Patriots and Saints practiced together in West Virginia before breaking camp, so Bill Belichick had a chance to scout Saunders in person.

The Saints appear intent on keeping rookie running back Marcus Murphy as their return man, which left Saunders on the bubble.

The former Jets fourth-rounder now gets to return to the AFC East, where the Patriots have been looking for upgrades and healthy wideouts. They just signed veteran Reggie Wayne, after injuries left them thin through the preseason.

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P.R. chief Paul Hicks leaves the NFL

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The NFL has had a rough year when it comes to public relations. And now a major change is coming to the NFL’s public relations department.

Via Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, executive V.P. of communications and public affairs Paul Hicks is leaving the NFL. He’ll join the Glover Park Group, a firm that provides P.R. advice to the NFL. It’s not known whether Hicks will be working directly with the league.

It’s also unclear whether Hicks chose to leave, was nudged, or feared that a nudge was coming. Some believe that the ultimate fallout of #DeflateGate won’t be a new Commissioner but a new structure beneath him — a process that apparently commenced with the hiring of Tod Leiweke to serve as the NFL’s Chief Operating Officer, a position that had been vacant since Roger Goodell had been promoted from COO to Commissioner.

As one source explained it after Leiweke arrived, the goal will be to cut down on the number of people who directly report to Goodell. Also, Leiweke will assist with day-to-day management and coordination between departments while serving as the conduit between Goodell and those departments.

In many respects, Hicks and general counsel Jeff Pash served previously as the conduit between Commissioner and the various departments he supervised. With another layer added between Hicks and Goodell, it’s not surprising that Hicks would decide to move on voluntarily — especially if he sensed that an involuntary parting was inevitable.

UPDATE 11:20 a.m. ET: Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Hicks will continue to contribute to NFL projects as part of Glover Park Group’s New York office. Leiweke will lead the search for an internal replacement.

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