Another NFC East team is talking about dynasties, but the Giants are the ones that have won two of the last five Super Bowls.
It wouldn’t be like Tom Coughlin to be thinking about things like dynasties, anyway. Coughlin’s never allowed himself to think too far ahead, whether it is about his job security or his team’s chances of winning multiple Super Bowls. He’ll just keep starting meetings five minutes early and running his team the way he has since taking over in 2004.
His focus this time around should be on getting the Giants through the regular season with something better than a 9-7 record that doesn’t guarantee you a playoff berth. The Giants peaked at exactly the right moment last year, but the Giants learned in 2009 and 2010 that you can’t count on that happening every year.
Even after some key departures, Coughlin’s got a team that can improve on that regular season record. Recapturing the playoff magic might not be quite so easy.
There’s something about Eli Manning that seems to set off a lot of silly debates. Is he elite? Is he better than Peyton? Is he the best quarterback in the NFL?
People spent time on all those things since this time last year and as entertaining as such discussions might be, they are all ultimately meaningless. Manning is in total control of the Giants offense, has supreme confidence in his ability to lead the team back from any deficit and has grown into the leadership role that fit him like a poorly tailored suit earlier in his career.
Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz return to give Manning top-flight targets and there will likely be other names emerging as they take advantage of open spaces and Manning’s passes to put up big numbers. There are questions in the backfield and on the offensive line, but that was true last year as well and Manning was able to lead the Giants without too many blips.
The defensive strength of the team is also the same as it was last year. Jason Pierre-Paul exploded into one of the best pass rushers in the league and he could be even better with a healthy Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora available to occupy attention from opposing offenses. The Giants also have Chris Canty, who was outstanding down the stretch, and Linval Joseph back in the middle of the defensive line with Marvin Austin returning after missing his rookie year with a torn pectoral.
It’s a deep and talented group that will provide the pressure that makes the Giants defense go.
The offensive line has a lot of question marks as the Giants make their way into camp, the result of a long-stable line forced into changes because of injuries and ineffective longtime starters. Thanks to an eye injury last year and a back injury this offseason, the Giants still don’t know if Will Beatty can handle left tackle and Kareem McKenzie’s departure has opened up right tackle. David Diehl is the likely candidate there, but he struggled mightily last season and might be needed on the left side. Center David Baas and left guard Kevin Boothe could also stand to improve on last year’s work.
Losing tight ends Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to torn ACLs has the Giants looking thin at the position. Martellus Bennett was signed away from Dallas, but he showed up very heavy and he’s had problems with drops over the course of his career.
It has been years since the Giants had anyone dynamic returning kicks for them and there doesn’t appear to be a change in sight on that front. At least the team ironed out some of their kick coverage issues last season, an area where punter Steve Weatherford made a huge difference and earned a new contract as a result.
Running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Mario Manningham both jumped to the 49ers as free agents, leaving openings on the depth chart at both spots. The first two draft picks from April were running back David Wilson and wide receiver Rueben Randle, each of whom could play important roles in the offense if they live up to their lofty draft status.
The Giants acquired linebacker Keith Rivers in a deal with the Bengals, a buy-low move that either landed them a productive linebacker going into his contract year or cost them little to confirm that Rivers won’t ever live up to his own lofty draft position.
Cornerback Aaron Ross jumped to Jacksonville, but Terrell Thomas’ return and Prince Amukamara’s expected growth should mean no hearts grow fonder in his absence. Safety Deon Grant is still a free agent and the Giants could look back to him if Tyler Sash isn’t ready for a bigger defensive role.
The makeup of the linebacking corps will be decided during camp. Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley will start, but Boley could wind up in the middle if the team doesn’t like what it sees from Chase Blackburn, Mark Herzlich and Greg Jones. If Boley does move inside, Rivers is the likeliest starter at his old spot on the weakside.
With Manningham gone, there will be a spirited competition for third receiver snaps. Randle, Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan and Ramses Barden will be involved with Barden likely on his last chance to make an impact after several missed opportunities.
Wilson has the inside track over Da’Rel Scott and D.J.Ware to back up Ahmad Bradshaw at tailback, but he’ll need to prove he’s up to the task this summer. Bradshaw’s had recurring issues with his feet and that’s with never doing more than splitting time in the backfield. If Wilson is slow to pick things up, the Giants might need to go outside the organization for help.
Like all champions, the Giants had more than a few breaks go their way at points in the season and especially in the playoffs when two Kyle Williams fumbles ended San Francisco’s chances of winning the NFC. They weren’t lucky, far from it, but even the best teams can be one bad bounce away from disaster. Giants fans would argue that there were plenty of breaks that went against them as well, but the unpredictable nature of how such things balance out illustrates why it is so hard to repeat in the NFL.
The Giants need only look back to their last attempted repeat for proof of that. After starting the year 11-1, the Giants fell apart when Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg and washed out of the playoffs in their first game. That’s not likely to happen again, but the vagaries of life in the big leagues mean that the Giants could be better this year and wind up with worse results.
That’s the part they can’t control. They can control playing up to their talent for an entire season. With a more demanding slate than they faced last year, the Giants will have to keep their focus throughout the year this time around instead of just waiting to turn on the jets at the last possible moment.
If they accomplish that, and they have more than enough talent to do it, the confidence of the two titles will allow them to take their chances at making their own luck again come the postseason.