The New York Giants started the 2012 season on a high note. The defending Super Bowl champions stormed out to a 6-2 start, Eli Manning was playing some of the best football of his career, and it looked like the team would cruise to another division title.
The wheels came off in the second half, however, as Manning's play suffered and the defense collapsed down the stretch. The team lost five of its last eight games and missed the playoffs.
What will the Giants need to do to avoid a similar disappointment in the 2013? Let's find out.
3 Steps to success
1. Eli Manning finds his groove again
Manning wasn't helped out by injuries or a porous offensive line, but his second half performance was still alarming on several levels. His 59.9 percent completion rate was his lowest since 2007. There are rumors that he was battling a dead arm down the stretch, and whether or not that's true, the Giants need Manning to play more like the two-time Super Bowl MVP if they want to get back in the playoffs.
2. David Wilson
Wilson spent his rookie year mainly confined to special teams. This year, the Giants plan on making him the feature back after releasing Ahmad Bradshaw. Wilson has explosive speed and the physicality to move between the tackles. If the offensive line cooperates, he could be one of the big breakout players of 2013.
3. Hakeem Nicks needs to stay healthy
Nicks was bothered by knee injuries all year and it slowed him down when the team could least afford it. He's now healthy again and ready to resume the No. 1 role with Victor Cruz' contract status up in the air. A healthy Nicks would be a major boost to Manning.
3 Feats toward failure
1. Offensive line doesn't improve
Injuries ravaged the offensive line, forcing the team to play David Diehl at right tackle for stretches even though Diehl is way past his prime. The Giants took steps to upgrade by drafting Justin Pugh, who may win the starting left tackle job out of the gate. If he has rookie struggles if could be another long year for Eli.
2. The defensive line gets thin again
Jason Pierre-Paul underwent back surgery in the offseason and his status for the season opener is uncertain, while Justin Tuck hasn't been fully healthy in about two seasons. A normally stout pass-rushing unit, the Giants got just 33 sacks last year, good for 22nd in the league. If they can't get to the quarterback, it will just create more problems for...
3. Who's playing linebacker?
You'd be hard pressed to find a more anonymous group of players in the league. Starters Chase Blakcburn and Michael Boley are both gone, leaving it down to Keith Rivers, Dan Connor, Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger and Jacquien Williams to fight it out for playing time. Things could get ugly if this unit doesn't gel.
On paper, the Giants probably have the most talent in the NFC East. When Eli is clicking, they can hang with any team in the league, and David Wilson has the potential to take this offense to the next level.
Having said that, this team is still confusing, and you're never really sure which Giants team will show up on Sunday. The defense has a lot of question marks, and the offensive line are a couple injuries away from imploding again. Ultimately, the Giants' 2013 season hinges on whether or not Eli can get back on the wagon.
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