Big Blue may be on cloud nine for the time being, but Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants cannot ignore sky-high expectations for 2012.
The story took the sporting world by storm: New York turned a volatile regular season into an improbable, electrifying playoff run that concluded with an upset victory in Super Bowl XLVI.
The latter half spells ticker-tape parades and prime-time marketability, but the former raises monumental concerns for next year. The Giants will be expected to compete with the league's juggernauts from Week 1, yet their 9-7 record highlights roster deficiencies and holes in their starting lineup.
The next few months are pivotal in establishing the G-Men as legitimate contenders for a consecutive ring. 2012 will be a hotbed for blockbuster signings and location changes for the NFL's brightest stars. If the Giants can get in on the action, they'll be primed for a successful season.
Here's a look at six players Jerry Reese and company should pursue this offseason.
The official party line of the Reese era reads, "Always go for the best available talent."
The Giants are already stalwarts on the defensive line, but adding a perennial Pro Bowler in Pouha would further stabilize their defense and add another dimension to a formidable pass rush.
Pouha notched 58 tackles for cross-town rival Gang Green in 2011, and at age thirty-three, he would provide a much-needed veteran presence for a run defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league last year.
An invaluable cornerstone of any unit, the Giants will likely try to stockpile talent in the trenches with Pouha.
The criticism of New York's linebacking core circulated through the city like public transit.
Prior to their spectacular postseason performance, the Giants 'backers were a serious liability, throwing defensive coordinator Perry Fewell onto a scorching-hot seat.
Enter David Hawthorne.
Playing in a relatively small market for an average Seahawks team, Hawthorne eluded the spotlight in 2011 despite putting in a tremendous statistical season. Racking in 115 tackles and three interceptions, the fourth-year pro excelled in both run defense and pass coverage.
Following the expiration of his one-year extension in Seattle, Hawthorne will be looking to augment his reputation around the league and join a contending team.
The Giants fit both of those needs, and they would benefit astronomically from his physical, ball-hawking style of play.
Last year, Houston allowed 13 fewer sacks than the Giants. The Texans' protection unit was also fourth in adjusted sack rate, while Big Blue's ranked 28th.
By this measure, the folks from Texas should have been hoisting the Lombardi Trophy last weekend.
Much of Houston's offensive line's success can be attributed to center Chris Myers, a Pro Bowl substitute who propelled halfback Arian Foster to another stellar season. In 2011, Houston ranked third in the league in rushing up the middle (Myers' jurisdiction) with 4.57 yards per carry.
New York, on the flip side, struggled to find a dependable ground game all year. Coming in at a paltry 32nd—dead last in the league—in total rushing, Bradshaw and Jacobs could bounce back with the addition of a dominant center like Myers.
David Baas still has four years remaining on his newly-signed contract, but his immensely inconsistent and injury-plagued season raises questions about his future with the team.
Myers provides depth and flexibility along the line, and he will surely be a hot commodity this winter.
While DT Ndamukong Suh garnered headlines for the stout Lions defense, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch was quietly building his case as one of the unit's best pure talents.
Tulloch ranked 10th in the NFL in linebacker win probability (a statistic that measures how 'backers impact games and improve their team's chances of victory).
He recorded 111 tackles, two picks and three sacks, but what's far more salient is the fact that he started all 16 games. Health was a huge issue for the Giants linebackers in 2011.
Chase Blackburn was a savior for the G-Men; his Super Bowl interception will live on in Empire State sports history. But can he be relied upon in 2012?
Meanwhile, Jonathan Goff remains unproven as a starter and will be coming off of surgery on a torn ACL.
With such uncertainty lingering around the Giants' middle linebackers, Tulloch would be a sensible free agent to pursue.
Recent history shows that the Giants will shy away from controversial corner Cortland Finnegan. Since the downfall of wideout Plaxico Burress, Jerry Reese has turned his back on loud-mouthed stars and troubled talents.
But the acquisition of Finnegan would send shock waves through an already electric defense.
True, New York's pass coverage was horrid in the regular season, but come playoff time, it was practically impermeable. With the return of CB Terrell Thomas in 2012, the Giants will boast a very intimidating secondary.
Still, Aaron Ross is now an unrestricted free agent, Prince Amukamara is developing slowly, and Corey Webster isn't getting any younger.
Finnegan had a relatively off year statistically, notching just one interception, and perhaps he can be a steal in this year's free-agent frenzy. Tom Coughlin has a knack for taming those with disciplinary issues, and Finnegan's physicality will be immediately welcomed at MetLife Stadium.
What's astounding about Eli Manning's career year in 2011 was the fact that he succeeded without a dominant tight end.
Brees had Jimmy Graham, Brady had Rob Gronkowski and Rodgers had Jermichael Finley, yet Eli was forced to make something out of nothing with Jake Ballard.
With both Ballard's and Bear Pascoe's contracts set to expire this year, expect the G-Men to heavily pursue Finley, a playmaking tight end with a knack for the deep ball.
Finley is also a threat on mid-routes, a perfect complement to vertical dynamos Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Ballard superseded expectations in 2011, but with the addition of Jermichael Finley from Green Bay, Eli's potential becomes limitless.