The New York Giants have squeaked into the playoffs, despite being pegged the NFC East’s worst by most analysts before the season began. But what’s more striking is how this year’s team is starting to bear a resemblance to the Super Bowl championship team back in 2007.
I am not ready to say the Giants are going to the Super Bowl just yet, but how many times have we seen this happen? An average team during the regular season finds their groove late, gets into the playoffs and plays loose since they’re just happy to have a chance.
All of sudden that same loose style of play eases pressure off everybody, and each player starts performing a notch or two above their season average. Confidence is created, chemistry is built, fear creeps into the head of the opposition, fortune starts to turn, boom, bang, boom, Super Bowl champs.
One need look no further than last year’s Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, as an example of this. If not for a miracle punt return by the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson which knocked the Giants out of the playoffs, the Packers would not have even made it to the postseason.
Aaron Rodgers, who is currently hailed as the year’s best athlete, did not exactly turn heads with his performances early on last season. He was throwing interceptions at an equal rate to touchdowns, was marred by inconsistency and concussion problems, and lost four close games.
By the end of the 2010 season, he wasn’t the guy everyone expected to completely dismantle defenses come playoff time. But, he did, and that’s what makes him a champion.
This year’s New York Giants find themselves in a similar situation. Though they’ll be a higher seed because they won their division, they have a worse record and a defense chock-full of pitiful defenders unless their name is Jason Pierre-Paul.
But, the core of that 2007 team is still the same. Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are still the focal point of the offense. Manning has done this before, so there’s nobody doubting him. Victor Cruz is the new, and much better version of Steve Smith and although Hakeem Nicks has struggled this season, he is worthy of being compared to Plaxico Burress simply because his height and leaping ability alone is a problem for any defense.
Though they’re banged up, the Giants have a bunch of scrubs at tight end who have shown they can make key plays as well.
Jake Ballard caught a game-winner in a shootout against the New England Patriots earlier in the season, a team that is widely regarded as the top team in the league right now. Bear Pascoe isn’t very athletic, but even he showed a knack for the moment when he side-shuffled a Cowboys defender to get a key first down in last night’s win-or-go-home game against Dallas.
On the defensive side, you can call Osi Umenyiora the new Michael Strahan, as he’s become the savvy vet who has shown all season he doesn’t have much left in the tank, but he’ll prove competent enough to make a difference in January. Umenyiora already demonstrated he can still play at a high level and will allow Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck to take fewer snaps in the games ahead.
Speaking of Pierre-Paul, he is the new, more insanely athletic version of Umenyiora from four years ago. His ability to substantial penetration off the line on just about every down allows an awful defense the chance to be at least adequate.
I say awful because that describes just about everything else about the Giants defense. The secondary has blown multiple schemes this season, which resulted in big plays. At safety, Kenny Phillips is the only difference-maker in their secondary.
But more importantly, the Giants have the blueprint for beating the high-powered offensive teams they’ll be taking on in the postseason. They can get pressure on the quarterback, and Manning can take time off the clock with long passing drives.
The one thing the Giants haven’t done that they did in '07 was run the ball well. But with Bradshaw healthy and the offensive line starting to come together, that problem should be alleviated and, even if it’s not, their passing game has improved so much with Cruz that they’ll be able to put up points.