Eli Manning
Eli Manning and the New York Giants haven't reached the playoffs in five years. Reuters/Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a disappointing four-year stretch for the New York Giants, who haven’t made the playoffs since they defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl for the second time in four years. After finishing with a second consecutive 6-10 record, the organization spent more money in free agency than any other team, hoping to finish atop a very winnable NFC East.

New York spared no expense in trying to improve its greatest weakness. The team shelled out more than $105 million in guaranteed money to its top three acquisitions, giving much-needed help to a defense that, at least statistically, was one of the worst in recent memory. The Giants also used their first-round draft pick on a defender, hoping the unit catches up with an offense that’s ranked in the top 10 in each of the last two years.

Will it be enough to get the Giants back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011?

After approaching the all-time mark and ranking dead last in the NFL by allowing 420.3 yards per game in 2015, New York’s defense should be significantly better. The team made key additions to the defensive line in defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Damon Harrison, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins will help a secondary that surrendered 299 passing yards per game.

The play of New York’s first-team defense has been a much-welcomed sight in the preseason. The Giants limited the Jets to just 10 points in the first three quarters of their Week 3 preseason matchup, limiting Ryan Fitzpatrick to 76 yards on 16 pass attempts. The starters shut out the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter of the exhibition opener, and there were plenty of positive signs in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills.

The Giants are 1-2 this preseason in large part because of offensive struggles. Eli Manning and Co. have had trouble moving the ball, playing behind an offensive line that hasn’t been up to par. If the offensive line doesn’t improve once New York starts playing meaningful games, the Giants will have a tough time competing for a postseason berth.

Only so much stock, however, can be put into exhibition games. The unit won’t be among the NFL’s best, but it should be serviceable, especially with left guard Justin Pugh returning from injury.

Under Ben McAdoo, who was the team’s offensive coordinator for two years and now replaces Tom Coughlin as the head coach, Manning has put up the best numbers of his career. With All-Pro Odell Beckham Jr. and a returning Victor Cruz at his disposal, the veteran quarterback should be looking at a third straight season with at least 30 touchdown passes.

New York isn’t among the best teams in the conference—they’d likely finish in the bottom half of both the NFC North and NFC West—but the Giants might be the most talented team in the NFC East.

Tony Romo’s injury will make it difficult for the Dallas Cowboys to win the division, no matter how good Dak Prescott has looked in the preseason. The Philadelphia Eagles are rebuilding, and they are the biggest longshot of any NFC East team. The Washington Redskins have a shot to repeat as NFC East champs, but it’s unknown if Kirk Cousins can be as good as he was in 2015, and the team didn’t do much to improve a defense that wasn’t much better than New York’s.

It might not take double-digit wins to finish in first place in the NFC East, and the Giants are good enough to claim their first division title in five years.

Players to Watch: Cruz (WR), Pugh (G), Eli Apple (CB), Darian Thompson (S)

Betting Odds: Super Bowl (+2000), NFC East (+175)

Prediction: 9-7, NFC East champs