Evan Engram has been the league’s most impressive rookie pass catcher
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact – The closest player to Evan Engram is Cooper Kupp, but he has seven fewer catches, 26 fewer yards, and the same amount of touchdowns than Engram. Many of the top wide receivers in the draft class (Corey Davis, Mike Williams, John Ross) have dealt with injury issues in the early part of the season and others (Zay Jones) have just been ineffective. Engram has emerged as Eli Manning’s number one target in the passing game.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact – As we’ve been plugging along this season, I have kept up with how Engram was leading all rookie tight ends in receptions and yards. I didn’t realize until this week, however, he’s leading all rookies, regardless of position. I just assumed there was some wide receiver out there putting up some numbers similar to what we’ve seen in recent years from previous rookie classes. But no. The leading pass catchers are Christian McCaffrey, a running back, and Engram, a tight end. Go figure.
Lance Medow: Fact – If you go solely on stats, there’s not much to debate. Through the first seven weeks of the season, Evan Engram leads not just rookie tight ends but is also ahead of every rookie wide receiver in receptions (30) and receiving yards (342). To put things in perspective, the Rams’ Cooper Kupp leads all rookie receivers in receptions (23) and yards (316), so Engram has some cushion in both categories. What makes his numbers even more impressive is that he’s tied for fifth in receptions among all tight ends and fourth in receiving yards. You can’t overlook Engram’s three touchdowns (tied for most among all rookies), and with multiple injuries to the Giants’ receiving corps, he has become the focal point of the offense. The only rookie that has surpassed any of Engram’s totals so far is the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey, who has 44 receptions, but he’s a running back.
The Giants’ remaining division games are tougher than their non-division games
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact – The Giants still have to play the Eagles (6-1), Redskins (3-3) and Cowboys (3-3) FOUR times the rest of the year. All three are good enough to be in the playoffs. Outside the division, the Rams (5-2), Chiefs (5-2) and the Raiders (3-4) are the toughest teams remaining. Even though the Cowboys have lost to the Rams and the Eagles have lost to the Chiefs, I still think on whole the NFC East group is tougher, especially when you consider the two other non-division games the Giants play are against the 49ers and the Cardinals.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – This is close, but with travel, I’ll go ahead and say the non-division games will be tougher. As the schedule rotation dictated, both the AFC West and NFC West came up this year for the NFC East, so the Giants still have trips to San Francisco, Oakland and Arizona. But their toughest remaining matchup actually comes at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. KC has lost its last two games, but the Chiefs can turn you over and do some special things on offense to make things tough in a hurry.
Lance Medow: Fiction – I think the Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys are all dangerous teams with their fair share of strengths, but when you take into consideration the caliber of the non-division games still on the schedule, it’s hard to put the NFC East ahead of that group. The Giants still play the Rams (5-2 – second-best record in the NFC and the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL), the Chiefs (5-2 – tied for the best record in the AFC and showcase the second overall scoring offense in the NFL) and the Raiders (3-4 — struggled early but now that quarterback Derek Carr is healthy shouldn’t be overlooked and still rank in the top half of the league in scoring offense). All three of those teams will present challenges for the Giants’ defense. The Giants don’t play those teams every year, so there’s not nearly as much familiarity with the personnel as with the NFC East.
In a season full of injuries to star players, Odell Beckham Jr was the biggest in the NFL
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction – This would have been a question worthy of some heavy debate until last week. David Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr would have been neck and neck for this distinction, with J.J. Watt right behind. Then Aaron Rodgers got hurt and this became a moot issue. Rodgers’ injury is the biggest since he is probably the best player in the NFL right now. The Packers offense can barely function without him and they will struggle to win many games in his absence.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – Based on star power alone, he’s up there. But the Giants were still winless before losing him for the season. On the other hand, Green Bay had NFC North title hopes and beyond until losing Aaron Rodgers, one of the most productive quarterbacks in NFL history. This league is all about the quarterback, and it’s hard to overcome an injury at the most important position in all of sports.
Lance Medow: Fiction – If you go by name alone, Odell Beckham is right up there and his absence certainly has impacted the Giants’ offense in a variety of ways. When you remove a player who has collected at least 90 receptions, 1,300 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns in each of his first three seasons, that dramatically changes how opposing defenses try to slow down your offense. However, I would still put Aaron Rodgers atop the list. As dynamic as Beckham is, losing an annual MVP candidate and one of the best quarterbacks in the league is a far more significant hit. Case in point, in the Packers’ first full game without Rodgers, they managed just 87 passing yards in their loss to the Saints in Week 7. The Vikings lost rookie running back Dalvin Cook, but Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have helped them maintain a respectable run game. While Joe Thomas is one of the best left tackles in the NFL, the Browns were 0-6 with him in the lineup. The Cardinals will be further tested now that they’ve lost both quarterback Carson Palmer and running back David Johnson, though the recent acquisition of Adrian Peterson helps. The Chiefs seem to have recovered from the loss of safety Eric Berry.
The most surprising team in the first half of the NFL season is the rival Philadelphia Eagles
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction – In the preseason, I said many times that if Carson Wentz could take that next step as a quarterback, the Eagles could very well win the NFC East. He has, and the Eagles sit with the best record in football at 6-1. Their offensive and defensive fronts allow them to win consistently in the trenches and Wentz has made explosive plays without turning it over a bunch. I think his luck turns a bit in the second half and he throws some more interceptions, but he will be a thorn in the Giants’ side for years to come. I have to go with the Rams. I thought they would be better, but 5-2 blows away any reasonable expectations. Sean McVay has worked wonders with Jared Goff and that offense, while Wade Phillips is making the most of Aaron Donald’s special skills. The Rams are 5-2 and look like the real deal.
DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – There are such things as bad surprises, right? Look no further than the Giants. No one saw a 1-6 record coming at the bye week based on how they played last year. But that was the problem. General manager Jerry Reese said this week that the team didn’t come out hungry enough and even bought into the preseason hype.
Lance Medow: Fiction – At 6-1, the Eagles have the best record in the NFL and while that may have been a bit unexpected, when you look at the recent history of the NFC East and how much the division leader has fluctuated, I don’t think it’s a huge surprise. My biggest surprise is the Rams, who at 5-2 lead the NFC West nearly halfway through the season. Jared Goff has made huge strides in his second season in the NFL thanks to new head coach Sean McVay, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has once again worked his magic, turning the LA defense into one of the most opportunistic groups in the league. On the opposite end of the standings, I’m surprised the Bucs are just 2-4. Three of their four losses have come by less than a touchdown, but there’s way too much talent on both sides of the ball on that team for it to be at the bottom of the NFC South standings.