1925...
TGS 2012 PRO FOOTBALL PREVIEW... NEW YORK GIANTS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Let?s just call it deja' blue.

Last December, we first began to note some possible parallels between the 2011 New York Giants and the 2007 version that won the Super Bowl four years ago in Glendale, Arizona.

But we couldn't have imagined how closely the 2011 G-Men would follow the late-season script of their predecessors from Super Bowl XLII. Right down to beating Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the favored Patriots in the Super Bowl. Right down to a last-minute, long TD drive led by Eli Manning. Right down to a circus long-ball catch on the final scoring march by one of Eli's wideouts (in February, Mario Manningham; four years ago, David Tyree).

Even the stretch drive of the regular season, and the early rounds of the playoffs, played out remarkably similar to four years ago for the G-Men. That early December loss to a then-unbeaten Green Bay, in which New York performed heroically, came by the same 38-35 scoreline the Giants lost to another then-unbeaten team, the Patriots, at the very end of the 2007 regular. Although the schedule sequence of those 38-35 losses (the loss to New England four years ago came in the final regular-season game, and was the last installment of the Patriots' 16-0 regular season) were not exactly the same, the similarities were hard to ignore, as each defeat seemed to galvanize the G-Men.

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The 2011 Giants still had lots of work to do in the regular season after that December 4 loss to the Packers, but, like four years ago, began to catch fire down the stretch. Facing a must-win situation at Dallas the following week, the G-Men rallied for a pulsating 37-34 win. As they also did late in the 2007 season, the Giants picked a home game against Washington to subsequently stub their toes in a game without "must win" attached to it, but still controlled their playoff destiny if they could win their final two games against the Jets and Cowboys, which they did to claim a playoff berth as well as the NFC East crown.

Like 2007, the Giants hooked an NFC South team in the wild card round (last January it was Atlantta, four years ago Tampa Bay), and, though unlike 2007, were able to host the playoff opener, still prevailing impressively, 24-2. Sent on the road in the next round for a rematch from the regular-season against the NFC's top seed, the Giants throttled the Packers, winning away from home in the division round much as they did against top-seeded Dallas four years ago. Then, on the road again as an underdog in the NFC title game, this season's Giants won in overtime at San Francisco thanks to a Lawrence Tynes field goal, just as the 2007 Giants had won the NFC title game in overtime at Green Bay, the winning points also scored by...you guessed it, PK Lawrence Tynes.

And then came the Super Bowl against the Patriots, with the teams even decked out in the same uniforms as four years ago, and in another domed stadium to boot, the only difference being this one at Indianapolis, and four years ago at Glendale (Phoenix). And then came the similarities between XLVI and XLII, both with grandstand finishes.

Not to mention that, like 2007, the Giants provided few hints that they were ready for something special until the later stages of the regular season. Or that, like 2007, HC Tom Coughlin's job was rumored to be in jeopardy at various times of the regular season. Or that news cycles this year were dominated by presidential primaries and caucuses just as they were four years ago when the Patriots and Giants got together in February 2008.

Maybe we're simply living in a parallel universe to four years ago after all?

No matter, but we have to bring this up to Giants fans who still might be basking (understandably so) in the glow of that win over the Patriots.

There has been a definite downside to past Super Bowl wins by the G-Men.... the following seasons.

As glass-is-half-empty as that might sound, it?s also true.

Granted, there were some extenuating circumstances involved in each of those previous forgettable campaigns, but they?re merely the sorts of things that happen to teams that don?t win Super Bowls.

For example, in 1987, the year after the Giants won their first Super Bowl title, the NFL season was significantly altered by an early-season work stoppage and three weeks of ?replacement? football. The dynamics did the Giants, who lost their first two before the disruption, no favors, as the replacement G-Men lost all three of their games. By the time the ?real? Giants returned to the field in late October, they were already 0-5 and out of the playoff chase, en route to a 6-9 finish.

Fast-forward to 1991, the year after the unforgettable 20-19 Super Bowl win over the Bills in Tampa. Remember, however, that HC Bill Parcells retired (for the first, and not the last, time in his career) after the ?Supe? vs. the Bills, and Ray Handley?s forgettable two-year run as head coach commenced the next season in ?91. No need to elaborate; the G-Men faded to an 8-8 mark.

More recently, look to 2008, when for a while it seemed as if the G-Men were in good shape to defend the Super Bowl crown they won the previous February in Glendale vs. Bill Belichick?s then-unbeaten Patriots. With only one loss into late November, the Giants nonetheless unraveled after the Plaxico Burress gun incident in a Manhattan nightclub. New York lost three of its last four regular-season games, then was listless in a 23-11 playoff loss to the Eagles, with the Burress fiasco a major distraction. It was a depressing way to end what had for so long seemed to be an uplifting season.

Now, the G-Men look to defend another Super Bowl crown this fall, but the dynamics appear to be a bit different than in the past. Unlike past Super Bowl seasons, New York hardly resembled a powerhouse for much of the 2011 campaign; indeed, no Super Bowl winner had ever finished as poorly as 9-7 in the regular season, as did the Giants a year ago. And we recall few past Super Bowl winners getting as little respect from the wagering public as are this year?s G-Men.

Oddsmakers, perhaps noting previous NYG failures after past Super Bowl wins (as well as perhaps taking a look at a very-demanding New York schedule), have posted their season win total at a modest 8 ½ shaded to the ?over? (many Las Vegas sports books have priced that ?over? as high as -160). The G-men also aren?t favored to retain their crown in the NFC East; the Eagles (13/10) are rated the team to beat, with New York and Dallas both listed at 2/1.

Completing the pre-preseason pricing, the G-Men are listed at 7/1 to win the NFC at most Las Vegas books and 14/1 at the majority of outlets to win another Super Bowl crown.

As is often the case with many teams these days, the Giants were forced to do some quick maneuvering due to salary cap considerations in the wake of the Super Bowl win. The G-Men were only able to add a few unrestricted free agents to one-year, minimum salary deals, and were also prevented from re-signing offensive linchpins such as playoff hero WR Mario Manningham and beastly RB Brandon Jacobs. Cornerback Aaron Ross was also allowed to walk in the offseason and signed with Jacksonville.

Where Giants GM Jerry Reese believed he filled some gaps, however, came in last April?s draft. ?Best player available? be damned; Reese shrewdly drafted for need right out of the box, using his first two selections for a new RB (Virginia Tech?s David Wilson) and WR (LSU Reuben Randle) to effectively take the places of Jacobs and Manningham. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosely was added in the third round to take the place of Ross.

But on the field, HC Tom Coughlin and o.c. Kevin Gilbride know it is going to be difficult for the G-Men to have a shot at repeating if they can?t goose the ground game that generated a measly 89 ypg in 2011 and ranked dead last in the NFL. So much about that old adage that teams need to be able to run to win. Still, Coughlin would much prefer a physical infantry diversion; in that regard, Jacobs could be missed. But the durability of Jacobs and that of holdover Ahmad Bradshaw (left) have been issues in recent years, and Wilson appears to be the sort of all-terrain workhorse who can stay on the field and provide an effective complement to the passing game.

Speaking of the passing game, it remains in good hands with Eli Manning, incredibly now entering his ninth season (where did the years go?) in the league. But with two Super Bowl wins under his belt, the only legitimate debate regarding Manning?s credentials regard his qualifications for entry to Canton.

Eli has now passed for better than 4000 yards each of the last three seasons and topped out at a career-best 4933 YP a year ago.

A key development to watch through training camp will be the status of WR Hakeem Nicks (76 catches in 2011), who has a emerged as a very-reliable target for Eli but whose foot injury has resulted in him being placed on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list for the preseason. There are hopes that Nicks will be ready for the opener vs. the Cowboys; if he?s not, it could be up to rookie Randle to take some of the pressure off of last year?s surprise package Victor Cruz (left), the UMass product who nabbed an astounding 92 passes, including a 99-yard TD pass from Eli in a crucial late-season win vs. the Jets.

But the key area on offense could well be along the line, where Coughlin wants to emphasize more drive-blocking to help establish the ground threat. Reese allowed another Super Bowl starter, RT Kareem McKenzie, to walk after last season; Coughlin believes LG Davie Diehl can handle the switch to the RT position. Kevin Boothe steps in as the news starter at LG. Rookie TE Adrien Robinson (Cincinnati) could also emerge as a force in the ground game as he arrives in the NFL with a reputation as an excellent blocker.

Meanwhile, d.c. Perry Fewell?s Giants stop unit regressed stat-wise last season, allowing 57 more yards per game than in 2010, but keep those numbers in context because the G-Men were playing outstanding defense down the stretch when holding their last six foes (including all four playoff victims, including the potent Packers and Patriots) to 20 points or fewer.

By the end of last season, the defensive front had evolved into one of the league?s best, with Justin Tuck (right) and Jason Pierre-Paul giving Fewell a terrorizing pair on the edges, while Chris Canty and Linval Joseph emerged as a functional pair of tackles. And Reese did not have salary cap issues to worry about his DL; perhaps the Giants? strongest position group remains in tact.

It won?t be until after this coming season that Reese will have some serious contract issues to worry about with his defense, as that?s when DE Osi Umenyiora and DE/OLB Mathias Kiwanuka will be unrestricted free agents. For now, however, they remain in the fold, with Umenyiora providing high-quality depth on the edge.

The key offseason addition for the stop unit was adding versatile ex-Bengal LB Keith Rivers, who provides more flexibility for Fewell by perhaps lessening the need to utilize three-safety sets on passing downs.

Early news from summer camp in Albany has been a bit disconcerting, however, as RCB Terrell Thomas (left, vs. Dallas last season) suffered a knee injury, although early fears that it could require the same ACL surgery that ended his 2011 season proved premature. Which is good news, because corner is not a position where the Giants can afford to lose many more bodies after Aaron Ross? offseason departure to the Jags. Virginia Tech rookie Hosley, a bit of a runt at only 178 lbs. but a ballhawk in his college days, might get a chance at the corner sooner than expected (Coughlin was considering Hosley mostly as a punt returner and possible nickel back in his rookie year).

Spread-wise, Coughlin?s teams have been prone to streaks over the years; last season, they covered their last six and eight of their last nine, reminiscent of the 2007 Super Bowl campaign when they did the very same thing. Coughlin?s 2009 & ?10 teams, however, each faded badly down the stretch when missing the playoffs both years (2-9 vs. line last 11 in 2009, 2-6 vs. spread last eight in 2010).

Coughlin?s Giants teams, however, have been consistent overachievers as an underdog, standing a stellar 22-8 vs. the mark when receiving points since 2007. Moreover, Coughlin?s teams are 32-15 vs. the number away from their pair of home stadiums in the Meadowlands since the same 2007 campaign.

Within the NFC East, note covers in 8 of the last 10 meetings vs. Dallas, but spread losses in 7 of their last 8 vs. the Eagles.

Summary...Coughlin has pulled a couple of major surprises in the past five seasons, with the similarity of stretch drives in both 2007 and 2011, into the playoffs and concluding with last-minute wins over the Patriots in the Super Bowl, almost eerie. Having said that, we don?t expect the G-Men to repeat, but suspect that the oddsmakers and wagering public are downgrading Coughlin?s team a bit much perhaps because of the schedule (it?s tough, sure) and past letdowns after Super Bowl seasons. But because the G-Men seem to be an afterthought in the championship discussion, Coughlin is amazingly again flying a bit under the radar (where he has done his best work in the past), and we are not sure about ?fading? the G-Men as are so many others. This is still a potential playoff team and contender in the NFC, with Coughlin and Eli having risen to the occasion when least expected in the past.

Underestimate these guys again at your own risk.


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