Super Bowl Champions
The reigning Super Bowl Champions are at it again, winning 2 rings in the past 5 seasons. The G-Men are vocal about defending their crown in a competitive and unpredictable division. They didn’t have Green Bay’s undefeated hype, but going 9-7 was just enough to win the division in the final week of the season to make the playoffs. New York knocked off the rival Cowboys in convincing fashion and similar to 2008, the Giants got in and found a way to complete the mission. They defended home turf against Atlanta, knocked off the heavily-favored Packers at Lambeau Field, and left San Francisco in a physical game to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. It was déjà vu, Patrios/Giants Part II. The first time around, it was the Giants defense that led the team. They locked down on New England’s offense led by the great Tom Brady, with a few clutch plays in the book of Eli Manning. Last year head coach Tom Coughlin had this team rolling on all cylinders at the right time, with Manning stepping up as their leader and Super Bowl MVP for the second time.
No, there are no asterisks next to champions in a lockout season, every team followed the same regulations and lacked a full offseason to make changes. If anything, the trophy and advantage was in Green Bay going into last season and rightfully so.
As for this year, a fresh start and hope for everybody including your favorite team. Last year’s success will be label this year’s favorites. Overachievers have to prove they are more than one-hit wonders, or snap back to reality. Underachievers have the pressure of showing their true worth, while some will give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of getting back on track.
Eli Manning has elevated his status by stamping his name as a top-10 quarterback. Manning has proven to be both clutch and a winner, but he has some unfinished business to attend to. Keep in mind, the Giants only went 9-7 in the regular season. The year before Manning threw a league and career-high, 25 interceptions, where he threw for more touchdowns but missed the playoffs. When you put the focus on the signal caller and compare him to his peers and rivals, the spotlight is on him to perform. His brother Peyton Manning will be back on the field, with some new faces on the border of top-tier status, so this is a big year for Eli’s career on an individual level.
Manning is surrounded by talent and a capable offensive line. Wide Receiver Victor Cruz had a breakout season and I think he’s the real deal. He appears to be an excellent route runner with a knack to find seams in a defense. He has the speed to run past cornerbacks down the field, but he’s even more dangerous when he gets the ball in space. Now that he’s on the radar as the go-to guy, defenses will make Cruz more of a focal point. He made the big plays, but it’s the consistency as the chain-mover on 3rd downs that took the league by surprise. Paired with the talented Hakeem Nicks on the other side, defensive backs will have their hands full. Nicks is a bigger receiver that needs to stay healthy. Newly acquired tight end Martellus Bennett should have a breakout season of his own. After leaving the shadow of Jason Witten in Dallas, he should get his fair share of targets to make an impact. Tight end Bear Pascoe and fullback Henry Hynoski were unsung heroes with their blocking and some key catches in the postseason. The ground game didn’t produce like the Giants are used to, but the combination of a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson should improve the offense. Bradshaw is a smaller back that keeps you on your toes in the screen game, but he’s tough and will hit the holes inside. Wilson is fast and explosive, while D.J. Ware is a good pass blocker as a 3rd down type of back.
The NFL is a copycat league, and who better than to copy than the Giants’ dominant defensive line. They have taken over games putting not only the rest of the defense, but the entire team on their back. Justin Tuck is just a great all-around football player. Osi Umenyiora is a pass-rushing specialist. Mathias Kiwanuka is one of the most versatile defenders in the league, playing at every linebacker position and in the trenches. You might not know the defensive tackles, but the scheme and the motor on these guys is relentless. They get the job done, and we haven’t even discussed their best defensive player yet. Which leads us to Jason Pierre-Paul. It’s not too early to say the Giants found, the young defensive end is already one of the best in the league. You even see him on special teams blocking field goals, don’t be surprised to hear his name as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Oh yeah, they have 2 other units on defense. Michael Boley is a sure-tackler at linebacker and Chase Blackburn has played well in the middle since Antonio Pierce retired. And quietly, the Giants have formed one of the better secondaries in football.Antrel Rolle is a vocal player, he’s the leader of the secondary and a good all-around safety. Kenny Phillips is the strong safety in the box that has shown flashes of what he can do. Corey Webster is the team’s best cornerback, but he has company with high draft prospect Prince Amukamara, and don’t forget about Terrell Thomas who was playing at a high level before his knee injury last season.
This team will be tough to dethrone in the NFC East. Their inconsistent play in the regular season has my projection at 9-7 with a playoff appearance as a wildcard team. The odds to repeat are against them, so I’ll take the field and stay tuned for the Super Bowl prediction.