GIANTS QUIETLY REMAIN FAVORITES TO WIN THE NFC EAST IN 2012
"Eli Manning went onto
CNN the other day. Naturally, the Giants quarterback and two-time
Super Bowl winner was asked a question about ... Tim Tebow? Of course he
was, because that's the kind of respect he and the Giants command in the town
they play football. Which might be less respect than they command in the NFC
East, where you're unlikely to see many pundits pick them to win the division.
It's beyond foolish (not to mention disrespectful). But Eli and Co. are
OK by that.
"It's one of those deals, in New York you win a Super Bowl
but I'm the third most talked about quarterback between Mark [Sanchez] and Tim,"
Manning said. "But that's the way I like it."
This wasn't the first time
Manning's had to say that. He repeated the mantra on another
national news show around NFL Draft time. Knowing that people would rather
talk Tebow and Sanchez than Manning and his rings, and knowing that the Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins all had "big"
offseasons, should it be any surprise that people aren't picking the Giants to
win the NFC East ... again?
Of course not. But in the land of offseason
champs, the Giants are still king, because they have a proven formula for
winning, continuity across the board and an easier schedule this season.
impossible to predict a hampionship-winning hot streak in the NFL, although
they're happening more and more in recent years. But there are two things you
need to generate one: an elite quarterback who thrives late in games and a pass
rush capable of taking over on the defensive end and generating turnovers. (Look
at the Steelers of 2008,
the Packers of 2010 and, of
course, the Giants of 2007 and 2011.)
The Giants return both of
those things in 2012 and, honestly, there's no reason to think the G-men won't
get better in each area next season. Eli took a monster step forward in
2011 after we all scoffed at his "elite" comments and should be poised to
continue that success in 2012. Jason Pierre-Paul is
still scratching the surface on his terrifying potential. Osi Umenyiora is playing
for a contract (finally!).
And Justin Tuck, as he told me
during a recent podcast, is taking steps this offseason to be completely healthy
next year. I also pointed out to Tuck that, in Vegas, the Eagles are currently
favored to win the NFC East.
"I should go bet something in Vegas," Tuck
said about the Giants odds to win the division. "If I was a betting man I'd
probably go put some money in Vegas."
One more thing on Tuck: he talked
about building a dynasty at the Giants recent ring ceremony. Whether or not you
classify dynasties by division titles (the Giants have three in the past 10
years) or Super Bowl rings (two in the last five) is beside the point. To build
a dynasty in any sport one thing is paramount: continuity.
have that in spades, especially as they transition from last year's title team
to 2012's hopeful repeat defenders. Are there losses? Sure. Aaron Ross is gone to Jacksonville, but Terrell
Thomas is an upgrade if he's healthy. The secondary's overall statistics don't
look great from last season, but they were dominant down the stretch. If they
perform at that same level in 2012, watch out.
Mario Manningham took
the money and ran, but his production was overvalued based on a big catch at the
right moment; Rueben
Randle was a steal in the second round and along with Ramses
Barden can fill that void. Brandon Jacobs joined
Mario by the bay, but the addition of David Wilson to the
running game is an upgrade as well. To say that the offensive line
isn't a strength is stating the obvious; the Giants have done just fine for a
while with plug-n-play linemen though.
All of this
is happening while the rest of the division is in flux -- the Cowboys are
rebooting their defensive scheme and the Redskins are trying to slam the manhole
on the Rex Grossman/John Beck Era. The Eagles
are just trying to live up to the hype (again), only this time they're keeping
all their flashy offseason signings in-house. Good for them.
concern for the Giants -- at least at the moment -- is the schedule next year.
They currently have the hardest strength of schedule in the NFL for 2012, but
the Eagles are tops in terms of quality opponents (teams with at least nine wins
in 2011) they have to play, with eight. The difference is the Eagles appear to
have a softer spot at the back end of 2012; you might be able to
find a soft spot for the Giants early in the year. Maybe.
thing though. People believe the Giants limped into the playoffs because of
their 9-7 record. The reality is that Tom Coughlin's squad was 6-2 after beating
the Patriots in Week 9.
Then they embarked on a portion of the schedule that saw them play the Packers,
49ers, Saints, Eagles, Cowboys (twice)
and Jets down the stretch.
They weren't in the middle of any kind of "swoon," despite what fans
thought and despite what the local press pushed as a narrative. They were
grinding through an impossible late-season schedule that ultimately prepared
them for a hot run in the playoffs.
In other words, they were tested.
And they'll be tested again next year; if they don't suffer the ridiculous slew
of early season injuries they dealt with in 2011, expect them to improve on last
season's results. The running game will be better, the secondary is improved and
-- gulp -- the pass rush might be even better.
It's a formula that
worked last year and it's a formula that will work again in 2012. That everyone
else is busy lauding the rest of the division for their offseason "wins" is all