Lingering memories of a Super Bowl win should have faded for the New York Giants. Repeat world championships come every decade in the NFL's golden age of parity. Tom Coughlin's team began its attempt at a repeat earlier in the month with the start of spring OTAs. Looking backward would only be a distraction.
The Giants received several reminders as to why back-to-back championships are so difficult. Hakeem Nicks fractured his foot on Thursday, putting his status for the start of the season in question. Veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora is skipping OTAs, which is becoming an annual spring sideshow. Depth at cornerback could be tested again following the second torn ACL for Brian Witherspoon.
Eli Manning settled any questions about his proper place among the league's best quarterbacks. He turned 31 in January, and has started all 16 regular season games over the last seven years. The defense is still deep with pass rushers, something of a trademark for the Giants, and is now headlined by third-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. A contract extension for perpetually endangered head coach Tom Coughlin is in the works.
On paper, it certainly looks like a better Giants team than the one that had been written off throughout the 2011 season. Expectations will be high for the Giants in 2012.
The Giants hit rock bottom with a four-game losing skid against a trio of playoff teams and the Eagles last season. It put their record at 6-6 before things started to gel in Week 14. New York went 3-1 over the last quarter of the season, wrapping things up with a decisive win over Dallas in last week of the season to decide the NFC East winner.
Eli Manning threw for a career-high 4,933 yards, one of four quarterbacks to crack the top-10 list for single-season passing yards in 2011. Breakout star Victor Cruz accounted for almost a third of Manning's passing yards, just one year removed from joining the team as an undrafted free agent. Manning and his receivers did not get much help via the running game, which was dead last in the league in yardage and yards per attempt. Nevertheless, the threat of Manning and his receivers helped the Giants score 17 rushing touchdowns, sixth-highest total in the league.
Jason Pierre-Paul exploded onto the scene with 16.5 sacks. JPP also carried the pass rush while Justin Tuck and Umenyiora dealt with injuries during the regular season. You can still make the case in hindsight that he deserved the league's Defensive Player of the Year Award over Terrell Suggs. Throughout the season the defense was handed injury after injury, including starters CB Terrell Thomas and LB Jonathan Goff (signed by the Redskins this season) before the start of the season.
Best Free Agent Pickup
New York signed tight end Martellus Bennett to one-year, $2.5 million deal. The former Cowboy automatically jumps to the top of the depth chart at tight end, and could thrive as a starter in the Giants offense.
The Giants sent a 5th-round pick to Cincinnati in exchanges for outside linebacker Keith Rivers. That allows the team to slide Michael Boley into the middle, with Rivers,a quality run defender, on the weakside. Mathias Kiwanuka will stay on the strongside.
2012 NFL Draft
General manager Jerry Reese used his 1st-round pick on running back David Wilson. Some considered the pick a reach. Wilson was the third-best running back in the draft, and upgrades the Giants running game by replacing the departed Brandon Jacobs with a speed threat to pair with Ahmad Bradshaw.
Rueben Randle, a 2nd-round steal, will be thrown into the mix with the first team during the offseason while Nicks recovers from his broken foot. Big and possessing a tremendous amount of a athletic ability, Randle could thrive in the Giants' offense, even as a rookie.
New York added some intriguing players with their handful of late-round picks, most notably Auburn offensive tackle Brandon Mosley.
The Giants are defending Super Bowl champs. Of course, what everyone wants to know is can they do it again. The answer is, probably not. That, however, does not mean this won't be a very good football team.
The Giants still have the coach/quarterback combo in Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning that has won two Super Bowls. They still have the pass rush. They still have a ton of playmakers on offense, even with Mario Manningham in San Francisco.
The Giants have a brutal schedule that will work against them, and will compete in what looks like a vastly improved NFC East. They may not win the Super Bowl again, but they will be a tough task for every team that plays them.
They Make The Playoffs If ...
As strange as it sounds, the defending champs are no lock to repeat as NFC East winners. The Cowboys engaged in an offseason arms race. The Redskins made their usual spree through free agency and traded a boatload of draft picks to get quarterback Robert Griffin III. Philadelphia will be desperate not to repeat its disappointing season.
If their bevvy of pass rushers can stay mostly healthy, improvements to the defense's back seven should make it an even better unit in 2012. Fixes in the running game and depth among the receiving options should allow for another potent season of production from the offense. Finding the same momentum that carried Coughlin's team through January and to championship will be the secret to another playoff bid.