The New York Giants haven't blown the top off of the NFL's regular-season schedule in recent years, but they have won two Super Bowls in the past five.
And isn't that what matters most?
Some may call it luck or backing into the playoffs, the Giants can call it winning four Super Bowls by steaming up at the right time. How else can the team's marching into Green Bay and San Francisco and knocking off the top two teams in the NFC last season be explained?
Stay the course. Hustle and something good will happen. Those have been the mottos for the Giants when their backs are against the wall. And losing five of six games from Nov. 13-Dec. 18 a year ago had New York almost down for the count.
Not Eli Manning, however. The Giants quarterback lit up talk-radio switchboards last offseason by believing he is on the same page as Tom Brady, then put the team on his back for a six-game winning streak (including playoffs) at season's end, including a much-needed victory over Dallas in Week 17 to decide the NFC East and a 21-17 triumph over New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
One could say that the Giants were one of the worst teams to win it all because of their 9-7 record in the regular season, and others could retort with a thumb to the nose. That's what the Giants did.
It's interesting how low the Giants are flying under the proverbial radar leading up to the 2012 campaign, with all of the Gotham hype going to the rival Jets. Tim Tebow knows how to draw a crowd, but can he win the big one? Manning, now a two-time Super Bowl MVP, could show him how by handing Tebow some game film dating back to 2007, save the 2010 season in which he posted 25 interceptions.
Manning, who set franchise records for pass attempts, completions and passing yards in 2011, has earned the praise of new quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan. But Ryan has pointed out some flaws he would like to see Manning improve on before Week 1.
"We spent a lot of time with our movement in the pocket, which is something he improved on last year," Ryan said. "But we're continuing to work on moving in the pocket and keeping our eyes downfield and having good throwing mechanics when we're ready to pull the trigger after we've had to move in and out of the pocket. I think he's really refocused on that. We worked on that. It's something he improved on last year."
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, who is signed on through 2014, is an old- fashioned type of leader who preaches running the football and playing tough defense is what wins games. However, the Giants were last in rushing yards last season (89.2 ypg), which is one reason why Manning had such a great year. Brandon Jacobs, who is now with the 49ers along with wide receiver Mario Manningham, and Ahmad Bradshaw weren't exactly a formidable one-two punch in the backfield.
Fortunately for Coughlin, the offensive line -- as revamped as it was with new faces -- was able to protect Manning so he could contribute to 1,000-yard seasons by wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
Nicks, though, suffered a broken foot during OTA's in late May. He is expected to play in Week 1 versus the Cowboys on Sept. 5, however.
"Definitely still on target, no setbacks," Nicks said during training camp. "Everything is going well. I've been running every day. No setbacks. Feeling good. Getting back."
The Giants will need Nicks back healthy to get the season started with all of their playmakers. It's possible Cruz could have a down year, since defenses will be keying on the breakout player from a season ago. Plus, defenders don't want to see Cruz do his salsa dance when reaching the end zone.
New York already did its dancing after another Super Bowl win, and now it's time to get back to the grind. Hardly a favorite to reach the ultimate game in most of its history, New York looks to take the NFL by storm again and add more room to its already-jammed trophy case.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Giants, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 RECORD: 9-7 (1st, NFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2011, defeated New England in Super Bowl XLVI
COACH (RECORD): Tom Coughlin (74-54 in eight seasons with Giants, 142-114 in 16 seasons overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kevin Gilbride (ninth season with Giants, 6th as OC)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Perry Fewell (third season with Giants)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Eli Manning, QB (4933 passing yards, 29 TD, 16 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE (86 tackles, 16.5 sacks)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 8th overall (32nd rushing, 5th passing), 9th scoring (24.6 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 27th overall (19th rushing, 29th passing), 25th scoring (25.0 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: TE Martellus Bennett (from Cowboys), RB David Wilson (1st Round, Virginia Tech), WR Rueben Randle (2nd Round, LSU), OT Sean Locklear (from Redskins), DT Marcus Thomas (from Broncos), OLB Keith Rivers (from Bengals), CB Jayron Hosley (3rd Round, Virginia Tech), CB Antwaun Molden (from Patriots), CB Dante Hughes (from Chargers), S Stevie Brown (from Colts)
KEY DEPARTURES: TE Jake Ballard (to Patriots), RT Kareem McKenzie (free agent), MLB Jonathan Goff (free agent), CB Aaron Ross (to Jaguars), RB Brandon Jacobs (to 49ers), WR Mario Manningham (to 49ers), WR Devin Thomas (to Bears), WR Michael Clayton (free agent), OT Stacy Andrews (free agent), DE Dave Tollefson (to Raiders), DT Jimmy Kennedy (free agent), OLB Clint Sintim (released), CB Will Blackmon (free agent), S Deon Grant (free agent), S Derrick Martin (to Patriots)
QB: Comparing yourself to Brady and backing it up is almost as nice as topping your older brother in Super Bowl wins. That's what Manning (4933 passing yards, 29 TD, 16 INT in 2011) did last season and will try to do once again as he continues his career. He took every snap for New York last season and rightfully so, even if the Giants didn't exactly give off a championship vibe midway through the campaign. Manning's precise passing and strong arm are definite pluses, and though he still may rate behind the big three quarterbacks in the NFL (Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees), winning is what's most important. David Carr is the backup and will be a good model for Giants sideline apparel, particularly a visor or baseball cap, since Manning hasn't yet to miss a game during his eight-year career.
RB: Jacobs and 571 rushing yards, three scores and depleted role headed across the country to San Francisco, leaving Bradshaw (659 rushing yards, 9 TD) as the sole featured back for the Giants. He had 171 carries to Jacobs' 152 in 2011 and will try to bring New York's ground game back to respectability after last season's horrid results. Granted that the Giants did run the ball effectively in the playoffs, but things could have been a lot easier had they achieved more success in that area. D.J. Ware (163 rushing yards) has the potential to become a reliable change-of-pace back, while rookie first-round pick David Wilson (Virginia Tech) hopes a strong training camp and preseason will lead to an extended role. The Giants have a fast backfield this season, and it could go a long way.
WR: Thanks in part to the breakout seasons from Cruz (82 receptions, 1536 yards, 9 TD)and Nicks (76 receptions, 1192 yards, 7 TD), the Giants finished fifth in the NFL with an average of 295.9 passing yards per game. Cruz came out of nowhere to give the Giants an even more dangerous look, leading to more of a leadership role in 2012. He has welcomed the challenge and said he is all for being a positive example for the younger players. Undrafted and making the most of an opportunity to star for his local team, the New Jersey native led the Giants in catches a season ago. Nicks hauled in 76 passes and is hoping to make a healthy return from his offseason injury. The Giants arguably have the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL, but replacing Manningham could be a committee approach, with Ramses Barden (9 receptions), Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan and rookie Rueben Randle (2nd Round, LSU) all potential options. It may be a chore to find a No. 3 receiver with last year's production, since Manningham had 523 yards and four touchdowns on 39 catches, plus one heck of a grab during the Super Bowl.
TE: 2011 starter Jake Ballard was plucked off waivers by New England as he recovers from a torn ACL, and Coughlin didn't take to kindly to the maneuver. Nonetheless, the Giants will most likely start Bear Pascoe (12 receptions), who appeared in all 16 games mostly as a blocker a season ago. Travis Beckum caught only five passes last season and suffered a torn knee ligament in the Super Bowl. He is on the mend and is hoping to make more of an impact in 2012. New York thought the talent level was thin at tight end, so it brought in former Cowboy Martellus Bennett (17 receptions), who spent the first four seasons of his career playing in the shadows of Dallas great Jason Witten.He hopes a change of scenery and new philosophy can improve his value. Bennett reportedly came in 20 pounds overweight, though he claimed the gain was intended due to an improved workout regimen. Rookie Adrien Robinson (Cincinnati) was selected in the fourth round and hopes to push Pascoe, Bennett and Beckum.
OL: You can't always have your cake and eat it, too. The Giants' offensive line is a perfect example of that phrase, as its play contributed to last year's poor rushing attack as well as the team's dangerous aerial assault. While Manning backed up his elite talk with impressive numbers, the ground game didn't pick up until late in the season and the playoffs. There were some new faces along the line last year, and the same holds true for 2012. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie is gone and so is reserve Stacy Andrews, though he rarely contributed. David Diehl, who began last season as the starting left guard, will move to right tackle alongside another veteran, guard Chris Snee. David Baas will remain at center, with Kevin Boothe sliding in at left guard and Will Beatty protecting Manning's backside at left tackle. Manning was sacked 28 times in 2011, two less than the year before, and has been sacked that many times only three times in his career. He has gone down at least 25 times on six occasions, though. There will be some healthy competition during camp and preseason, with second-year man James Brewer and Sean Locklear pushing for time at tackle. Rookie tackles Brandon Mosley (4th Round, Auburn) and Matt McCants (6th Round, UAB) were also added for insurance and hope to make an impression.
DL: Some say a mother is the glue that keeps families together. If that's the case, New York's defensive line is one heck of a parent after single-handedly keeping the team alive in its postseason run. Led by star defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul (86 tackles, 16.5 sacks) and Justin Tuck (37 tackles, 5 sacks), the Giants wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks and were a part of a four- man rush that opposing offenses struggled to contain. Fellow end Osi Umenyiora (25 tackles, 9 sacks) finally got a new contract in the offseason after continually making a fuss, but played in just nine games due to injury last year. Tuck also missed some time, but so far both ends are healthy and performing well in training camp. The Giants have plenty of beef at defensive tackle in Linval Joseph (49 tackles, 2 sacks), Chris Canty (47 tackles, 4 sacks), Rocky Bernard (30 tackles) and newcomer Marcus Thomas, who started 11 games for Denver a year ago and had 43 stops. His run-stopping ability should help in the rotation. Backup end Dave Tollefson (21 tackles, 5 sacks) is gone, but Markus Kuhn (7th Round, NC State) was drafted in April for depth.
LB: New York's front line hid the fact that its linebackers were often subpar. With how fast the rest of the NFC East is, the Giants want to improve in coverage and stopping the run. Strongside starter Mathias Kiwanuka (84 tackles, 3.5 sacks) was one bright spot, however, and the team brought back Chase Blackburn (26 tackles) in the offseason to again man the middle. He collected 25 tackles in the postseason and had an interception in the Super Bowl. Michael Boley (93 tackles, 1 sack) is penciled in to start on the weak side, but the biggest move may be the addition of former Cincinnati first- round pick Keith Rivers. He may split time with Blackburn or simply take his job away if he can shake of the rust after not playing at all in 2011 due to a wrist injury. Rivers has yet to play a full 16-game season in his career, but the Giants may need 2012 to be his first. Jacquian Williams (78 tackles, 1 sack), Greg Jones (31 tackles) and Mark Herzlich (12 tackles) all saw action as rookies in 2011 and hope to earn more playing time in their second seasons.
DB: The Giants were 29th against the pass in 2011, allowing 255.1 yards per game through the air, and lost a few players in the secondary. Cornerback Aaron Ross (60 tackles, 4 INT) is now with Jacksonville, while safety Deon Grant (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) was not re-signed. Prince Amukamara (14 tackles, 1 INT), last year's first-round choice who missed much of his first season with a broken foot, is healthy and will have a chance to earn a starting job at cornerback with Terrell Thomas (knee) injured for a second straight season. Giants general manager Jerry Reese said he expects Amukamara to play like a first-round draft pick, raising the stakes for the former Nebraska standout. Corey Webster (51 tackles, 6 INT) led New York in picks and has the left corner spot locked down, while safety Antrel Rolle (96 tackles, 2 INT) topped the team in stops and serves as the nickel corner in certain packages. Kenny Phillips (82 tackles, 4 INT) will start again at the strong safety, but backup Tyler Sash was suspended for the first four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Cornerbacks Antwaun Molden (from Patriots) and Dante Hughes (from Chargers) and safety Stevie Brown (from Colts) were all brought in to compete for reserve roles on coordinator Perry Fewell's defense, while returnees Michael Coe, Justin Tryon and rookie Jayron Hosley (3rd Round, Virginia Tech) are all expected to chip in at cornerback.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Lawrence Tynes has made some big kicks in his career with the Giants, including a 31-yarder in overtime at San Francisco in last season's NFC title game, and connected on 19-of-24 field goal attempts for a 71.4 percentage a year ago. He was 12-for-12 between 20-29 yards, but 1-for-3 from 50 yards and beyond. Punter Steve Weatherford was re-signed in March after being designated as the franchise player. He boomed 82 punts for an average of 45.7 yards and is entering his seventh NFL season. Weatherford was 13th in the NFL with a 39.2-yard net average and dropped 25 punts inside the 20-yard line, and set a Super Bowl record with three punts downed inside the 20. Barring injury, Jernigan is slated to return both kickoffs and punts this season, and Zak DeOssie is back as long snapper.
PROGNOSIS: It's a tough call to pin a prediction on the Giants, because they have often fooled practically everyone besides themselves. Playing in a tough division that has improved during the offseason and having a grinding schedule on the horizon doesn't bode well for a team that's averaged about nine wins a year the previous three season. New York has a strong coaching staff and a confident quarterback, though, but a formidable line will once again have to carry the load on defense since all signs point to the secondary being the Achilles' heel. There's a strong chance the Giants can miss the playoffs, but then again, that prognostication isn't equivalent to splitting the atom. Count the Giants out and see what you get. It happened last year, and the end result was another parade up the Canyon of Heroes to Wall Street.