Overlooking The Giants Would Be a Huge Mistake
Every summer, right around the same time that the crickets and the lightning bugs first appear, comes the deluge of predictions for the upcoming NFL season. And, as sure as the sky is blue, most of these predictions will completely ignore the New York Giants. At this point, underestimating the Giants has almost become a summer tradition — one that most Giants' fans look forward to almost as much as their annual fourth of July barbecue.
That's because, in the NFL, being underrated and slipping under the radar is a good thing; maybe the best of things.
All “Shawshank Redemption” references aside, this season looks to be no different when it comes to preseason predictions for the New York Giants. Despite the fact that Big Blue still contains most of the nucleus from the team that won the Super Bowl 16 months ago, the Giants will roll into training camp quiet and unnoticed even though there's absolutely no reason why the team should be overlooked heading into the 2013 season. While some writers and analysts may be doing exactly that, you can bet that there won't be a single team that makes that mistake come Week 1.
As of right now, the Giants are projected to be a middle-of-the-pack nine-win team yet again. Can you blame anyone who makes that prediction? Of course not. After all, the Giants have finished 9-7 each of the last two seasons. What makes it even weirder is that both of those seasons ended with the team at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. In 2011, they won the Super Bowl with a 9-7 record; last season, they missed the playoffs entirely. The fact that a team can finish with the exact same regular season record two seasons in a row, yet achieve such drastically different results is what's so great and unpredictable about a typical NFL season — it's also what makes it so maddeningly difficult to predict.
The last time I can remember the Giants being preseason favorites to make the Super Bowl was in 2009 when ESPN The Magazine predicted a Giants-Chargers Super Bowl matchup. What happened that season? Well, the Giants finished 8-8, of course, and they missed the playoffs despite starting the season 5-0. Predictions for the Giants in subsequent seasons have been mostly conservative, because the truth is that no one ever knows exactly what to make of the Giants (no one really knows what to make of any team before the season starts, but that's for another day). Their recent reputation of starting strong and crashing back to Earth late in the season has thrown just about everyone off their scent. Add that to the fact that they've won two Super Bowls in the past six seasons after mediocre regular seasons, and the Giants are just about the league's biggest enigma, year in and year out.
However, as hard as it is to even predict what the Giants will do from one week to the next, they seem poised to make a run this season and go under the radar yet again. So what's the biggest difference between last season and now? For starters, the schedule seems much more forgiving. For the past two years, the biggest obstacle that the Giants have faced as they've headed down the stretch in the latter part of the season is a brutal second-half schedule. In both 2011 and 2012, the Giants returned from their bye week to stare down a gauntlet of top-tier teams like the Packers, Saints, Falcons, Ravens, 49ers and Patriots. If you didn't notice, three of those teams participated in the last two Super Bowls.
This season, the second half of the schedule appears to be a little less intense. Of course, we don't know how good or bad teams like the Raiders, Chargers, Redskins and Lions will be until the season starts. But, for now, I'm sure the Giants would take those teams over the Packers, Ravens, Patriots and Falcons any day.
Furthermore, the team is returning its top two playmakers — Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks — for at least one more season, and the beginning of the David Wilson era at running back looks to be promising. The team has its holes, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but every team has its flaws on paper (except maybe the 49ers). The truth is, with the offense intact and healthy, there's really no limit to what the Giants can do. Plus, everyone knows that it's never a smart idea to overlook a team led by Eli Manning — just ask Bill Belichick.