Giants, the Team to Beat, Ring in the New Year
2008 NEW YORK GIANTS PREVIEW
This time, they won't be able to take anyone by surprise. The entire league will be on the lookout for the Giants, and - if they know what's good for them - emulate what they did in Super Bowl XLII to defeat the high-flying New England Patriots. Facing the task of replacing a veteran leader two years in a row, Big Blue will look to make Michael Strahan's absence as inconspicuous as Tike Barber's.
Playing in the extremely tough NFC East, the regular season will not be a cakewalk, but an overall weaker conference should allow the Giants to qualify for the playoffs easily. Eli Manning made all the doubters swallow their words and pride with a postseason full of magic, while head coach Tom Coughlin reaped the benefits of a championship after being raked over the New York coals.
While people will always talk about the pass to David Tyree, Manning made many strides in 2007 besides that incredible play. Throwing for over 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, the younger sibling of Peyton became more than just his little brother.
"Last year we didn't always play our best football until the playoffs," Manning said. "During that time we were playing better football than anyone else. We have to work on being more consistent and play on a high level week in and week out."
As a team, the G-Men rushed for 2,150 yards, nearly half of them from Brandon Jacobs in only 11 games. The bruising back averaged five yards a pop, but needs to hang on to the ball better (five fumbles). "He is going to be a guy that has been around - he's been through the league one time and learned from it," said Coughlin of his feature back. Derrick Ward was signed off the scrap heap and gained 602 yards on the ground in eight games, and rookie Ahmad Bradshaw came on strong in crunch time.
Catching the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl seems like the type of play that would make even the dourest of persons content, but not Plaxico Burress. His 'injury' kept him from participating in a good portion of training camp, which just so happened to coincide with wanting a new contract.
Amani Toomer rebounded and played the way he had three years ago, while Steve Smith made some postseason noise after a quiet rookie campaign. Jeremy Shockey and his 57 catches - which ranked third on the team - will be missed. Kevin Boss must take a step up and become the receiver and blocker that the mercurial Shockey was.
What's there to say about the Giants' offensive line that hasn't already been said? The five tanks up front had as much to do with the championship run than the headlining defensive line did, but just do their job quietly.
The game plan that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo drew up to shut down the Pats was one for the ages, but he couldn't have pulled it off without a front seven like the Giants put on the field in Arizona. Strahan walks away from football smiling, as well he should with a solid (nine sacks) regular season, while Osi Umenyiora took over as the team defensive superstar with 13 sacks. Justin Tuck will take over for Strahan, and his 10 sacks showed that he's ready for prime time.
Kawika Mitchell left as a free agent and will be replaced by Danny Clark, who originally played for Coughlin in Jacksonville. Mathias Kiwanuka will return from a broken leg and become a very important player rushing the opposing quarterback, albeit it from an outside position or lining up as a down lineman. Antonio Pierce led the way with 102 tackles, and will pick up some of the slack without Strahan in the locker room.
"Antonio Pierce is a vocal leader," Coughlin said. "He's the guy that kind of keeps them going, and keeps the inspiration going."
The secondary benefits from the pressure of the first two lines of defense, and came up with key interceptions throughout the playoffs. Veteran Sammy Knight will compete with first round draft choice Kenny Phillips for the departed Gebril Wilson's free safety spot.
While a similar run is highly unlikely, it would behoove the Giants to earn at least one home playoff game. Their furthest road game is in Arizona, a far cry from London. A tough December, with road games at Dallas and Minnesota, may decide if the Giants need to become road warriors again come January. It will be a two-horse race between them and the Cowboys for the top spot and home field advantage throughout.