The New York Giants were in this position five years ago. Riding high off a victory over the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants were the favorite to win the NFC East. They looked the part, starting hot at 11-1 before crashing to a halt—due in part to the fiasco surrounding Plaxico Burress’incident at a nightclub in New York when he shot himself in the leg with an illegally-carried handgun.
The Giants lost three of their last four and stumbled into the playoffs, where they were walloped by the hated Philadelphia Eagles in their first matchup and bounced from postseason play.
The likeliness of history repeating itself this time is slim—the Giants would like to believe lightning never strikes twice in this instance—and the team they will field in their season opener against the Dallas Cowboys will be a much improved team through the trialed but triumphant unit they pieced together week after week in 2011.
Coming off their second Super Bowl victory in five seasons and yet still the most overlooked team in their city and division, the Giants are hungry for more. Despite a rather convincing trek throughout the playoffs, they are still looked down upon, doubted and disrespected.
Eli Manning became elite last season, but can he live up to the lofty expectations that now rest upon his shoulders? Can the Giants improve upon their rushing attack which ranked dead-last in 2011? What about that secondary? Can they step up despite losing one of their key players, Terrell Thomas, once again? Can the the three-headed monster that is Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck do enough to disrupt opposing offenses and alleviate some of the pressure that decimated secondary unit is facing?
Make no mistake about it; it will not be easy for the Giants. Of course, it never is for a team stuck with the most difficult schedule in the NFL. If any team can do it, however, it’s the Giants.
Since 2005, no team in the NFC has won more football games than the Giants (68). In that time, the Giants have won three NFC East titles and made eight playoff appearances.
New York’s success comes down to one simple factor: consistency. At coach, at quarterback, at running back, offensive line, defensive line and perennial draft success, few teams are as consistent as the Giants. And as those longtime Giants start to see their performance dwindle, they step up—like men—and help mold the players who will attempt to fill their shoes in the future.
Yes, head coach Tom Coughlin has become a bit of a softy in his old age, but he still runs things the way he always has no matter how much his players might complain. Just a season ago, players said they wouldn’t want to play for Coughlin. With two rings on his hand and a team following his lead that loves him, it’s fair to assume players would voice much different opinions if asked again.
Coughlin is an old timer. He’s strict, demanding and anything but a pushover. Players have never and will never enjoy that, but Coughlin gets the most out of his players. And the result? That prized Lombardi Trophy all 1,696 players on an active NFL roster are vying for every week.
This season could be Coughlin’s toughest task yet. Can he get another team depleted by injuries up and ready to play every week?
Michael Coe is a six-year NFL veteran who has contributed very little thus far in his career, but he will be expected to step in and be a serviceable starter at the cornerback position opposite former Pro Bowler Corey Webster while Prince Amukamara heals from injury. Chris Canty is out for the first six games from offseason knee surgery and last season’s starting left tackle Will Beatty continues to struggle getting healthy.
But that’s the beauty of the admirably-run New York Giants organization; when one man goes down, another fills in and holds down the fort. Depth has been the key to the Giants’ success since general manager Jerry Reese’s hiring and they hope that will continue to be the case in 2012.
CENTER STAGE: ELI MANNING
Who knew that little brother Eli Manning had the makings of an elite quarterback?
Prior to the 2011 season, only Eli did. After his phenomenal performance from start to finish last season, however, few are willing to question just how special he truly is.
Manning had a career-year in 2011, passing for 4,933 yards while guiding the Giants to seven fourth-quarter comebacks with an NFL record 15 fourth-quarter touchdowns. For those still pondering, Manning put the exclamation point on an argument between who’s better—Manning or Romo—with an exhibit of superior clutch performances the latter could never match.
In the process, Manning bolstered his pocket presence, tallying an 88.5 percent success rate when under pressure—the best in the NFL, according to Sports Illustrated. He helped turn Victor Cruz into a household name, while combining with the salsa-dancing fiend and fellow superstar pass catch Hakeem Nicks for 158 completions, 2,728 yards and 16 touchdowns—more than half of Manning’s 29 passing touchdowns for the season. And while the Giants boasted a dismal rushing attack that finished dead-last in the NFL, Manning led the team to a 9-7 record, the NFC East crown and a six-game winning streak that culminated in a Super Bowl trophy.
In 2012, there is no reason to expect anything less from the 31-year-old quarterback. Surrounded by improving, young targets and new faces ecstatic to contribute by any means necessary, Manning and the Giants could be in for another season full of exciting, jaw-dropping performances, and maybe, just maybe, another Super Bowl triumph in February.