Saquon Barkley (284366)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

The time is now for Daniel Jones and the Giants. The 2021 regular season, which for the Giants begins this Sunday at MetLife Stadium hosting the Denver Broncos (4:25 p.m. kickoff), is one that will determine the course of the franchise’s immediate future and that of Jones, as the two are inextricably intertwined.

The Giants’ primary decision makers, co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, and general manager Dave Gettleman, invested the No. 6 overall pick in 2019 in Jones, trusting he would be the long-term successor to two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning at quarterback. Since replacing Manning in the starting lineup in Week 3 of the 2019 season, the objective assessment of his play is that it has been maddeningly inconsistent in the view of fans, his coaches and aforementioned executives.

Yet, Jones is not solely responsible for the Giants’ potential fortunes or failures. Second-year head coach Joe Judge has the challenging charge of developing a roster that will execute and produce in all facets of the game to a degree that will elevate them to contenders for the NFC East division title after going 6-10 last season. The most evident concern is that Jones will be operating behind an unproven offensive line, whose starting unit was mauled by the New England Patriots in the Giants’ third and final preseason game two Sunday’s ago.

It was their only collective appearance during the preseason and an alarming revelation for a team that has made a concentrated attempt to build a consistently sturdy offensive front for the better part of the last 10 seasons. Consequently, there is a correlation to the Giants having made the playoffs just once since winning the Super Bowl in 2011 and finishing 31st in scoring (17.5 points per game) out of 32 teams in the NFL last season.

Another critical factor in how the Giants upcoming season will unfold is the health and durability of running back Saquon Barkley. As in the case of Jones, the organization used a hefty asset in the form of the No. 2 overall pick in 2018 to draft the Bronx native. Barkley was sensational to start his career, becoming only the third NFL player to exceed 2,000 total yards (2,028) in his first year, breaking the league rookie record for receptions for a running back (91), setting the Giants’ single-season rookie mark for touchdowns (15) and establishing himself as the only rookie in franchise history to rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,307).

He had a strong sophomore season, topping 1,000 yards again (1,003) in 2019 and catching 52 passes despite missing three games due to a high ankle sprain. But last Sept. 20, in Week 2 versus the Chicago Bears, Barkley tore his right ACL and has not played since. The 6-0, 230 pound force will be a visceral and tangible boost for the Giants, although when the 24-year-old Penn State product will be back had not been announced by the team as of mid-week.

With an additional game added to the NFL regular season schedule this season, bringing the number to 17 teams to play, ensuring Barkley is ready for full contact and maintaining his health is paramount for the Giants after a long and grueling year of recovery.

“This whole process I’ve been a team player listening to the doctors, listening to the coaches, listening to the trainers knowing that they have my best interest at heart,” said Barkley last Thursday after a Giants practice. “Whatever they feel that is best for me and best for the team, I’m willing to do.”

On Monday, Judge stressed a decision on Barkley will be made with caution and prudence. “I know the next question coming is, ‘Where are you on Saquon?’ he said to reporters. “Look, that won’t be decided until later in the week. I want to see how he responds to a couple things physically within his body and make the best assessment going forward for him this weekend and going forward past that.”

Prominent oddsmakers are giving the Giants little chance to make the playoffs. However, there are many variables that could alter their prediction as the season progresses. It’s all on the Giants to defy the odds.