Twice in the last five seasons the New York Giants have won the Super Bowl championship, coming virtually out of nowhere with miraculous late-season runs. Each time they left the NFL saying “How the heck did they do that?” Each time they heard cries that they were nothing but a fluke.
But a funny thing happened to the Giants after that first “fluky” championship, when they beat the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The next season they were the best team in the NFL, by far, for the first 12 games of the season. They were 11-1 before they were derailed with the mother of all distractions, when Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg.
What happened that year is that a talented team had found itself at the end of the 2007 season and grew confident that they could beat anybody in the world. They carried that confidence over into the following season.
And this year, there’s no reason why they can’t do it again.
Assuming no receiver shoots himself in the leg – or the Giants don’t find other ways to shoot themselves in the foot – the truth is they are likely to be among the best teams in football in the 2012 season. They are often dismissed as a team that was 9-7 in 2011, as if their final six games – all wins – somehow don’t count. Their chances are sometimes blown off because things change wildly from year to year in the NFL, ignoring the fact that 19 of their 22 starters were starters for them last year, too.
So can the Giants repeat? Absolutely. Whether they will or not can’t be determined until we all see how healthy they are in December. But here are five big reasons why the Giants’ chances at a back-to-back championship – which would be the crowning achievement of their dynasty – simply can not be dismissed:
1. Eli Manning – I find it hard to believe there’s even a debate anymore about whether Manning is an “elite” quarterback or a Top 5 quarterback or however you want to define him. But even if you disagree with those labels you’d have to be blind not to see how he carried the Giants last year. He had his finest season despite a shaky defense and the NFL’s worst rushing attack. He’s not getting worse at this stage of his career and he’s still got the weapons. And when you have an elite quarterback in the NFL the simple truth is you have a chance to win every game. With Manning the Giants have that chance. And if you need more proof, just go back and look at how terrific he was in the playoffs.
2. The pass rush – As the NFL has transformed into a passing league it’s become about exactly what former Giants GM said it was all about when he first traded for Manning in 2004 – “quarterbacks and pass rushers.” If you have a guy that can throw and you can disrupt the guy throwing on the other side, you’ve got what it takes to win a championship. The Giants have the best 1-2-3 pass rushing punch in the NFL in Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, and it could be dangerous if Pierre-Paul approaches the 20 sacks he seems capable of getting. And oh, by the way, linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka often lines up as the fourth defensive end – his old position – making this pass rush impossible to stop.
3. The running game – They finished dead last in rushing in 2011, but that’s not really a fair stat because they jumped about 20 yards per game down the stretch and into the playoffs. That’s because they got healthier along the offensive line and Ahmad Bradshaw got healthy too, which made all the difference in the world. Now they’ve got an even healthier line – minus starting left tackle Will Beatty (back) – and as long as Bradshaw can shake off a minor hand injury he should be ready to go. More importantly, the lumbering and aging Brandon Jacobs has been replaced by rookie David Wilson, the Giants’ first-round draft pick that GM Jerry Reese calls “a world class athlete.” The Giants have raved about him all summer and Manning thinks he’s the fastest running back they’ve ever had. That’s something, considering fourth-stringer Da’Rel Scott was the fastest running back in the entire 2011 draft class. And if Manning is right, Wilson could help return the rushing game to prominence, like it was in 2008 when the Giants produced two 1,000-yard backs.
4. Martellus Bennett – The people in Dallas may laugh at a player they think was a bust, and his skeptics laugh at his colorful quotes, comedy routine, and the fact that he’s nicknamed himself “The Bearded Ghost” and “The Black Unicorn.” But even he admitted “the funny (stuff) is cool, but it's not what I’m here for. I’m here to make big plays.” Can he? The Giants seem more convinced of that than they’ve been since they had Jeremy Shockey in his prime. Manning said Bennett is “probably more athletic than some of the tight ends we’ve had” – definitely moreso than the overachieving Jake Ballard and the limited Kevin Boss. He might be the first legitimate red-zone threat the Giants have had in years. He’s also a powerful blocker and the first tight end they’ve had with the moves to get open on his own since Shockey was around. Not only does that add a new and welcomed dimension to the Giants’ attack, but it helps make up for the loss of Mario Manningham, whose departure to San Francisco thinned the receiving corps.
5. The chips – They still reside squarely on the champs’ shoulder. If there’s one thing this team has been masterful at in the Tom Coughlin Era it’s been that feeling of “Us against the World.” When it’s there, they use it. When it’s not there, they invent it. They love proving people wrong. Well, right on cue they spent another championship summer hearing how they were a fluke, seeing everyone pick against them, listening to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and coach Mike McCarthy say they gave the Giants a divisional playoff victory and San Francisco safety Donte Whitner say the Niners did the same in the NFC championship game. Then Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gets into the act vowing to “beat the New York Giants’ ass.” This team was already motivated to try and become a dynasty by winning its third Super Bowl in six seasons, but now it’s got the same chip they had at the end of last season. Nobody believes in these Giants.
And that’s always when they’re at their most dangerous and best.
—By RALPH VACCHIANO