The New York Giants better enjoy their time as Super Bowl champions while they can.
Repeating will not be easy.
The Giants were on the brink of missing the playoffs. Injuries and a tough schedule patch (at 49ers, Eagles, at Saints, Packers) had the Giants left for dead. But a strong finish that included two victories against the Dallas Cowboys put them in a position to duplicate their memorable 2007 season.
The rest is history. The Giants cranked off six straight wins and beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
The road to the Super Bowl wasn't easy for the Giants. The road back will be even tougher.
Winning the Super Bowl back-to-back is easier said than done. The Green Bay Packers, the best team in the regular season, couldn’t repeat. The Steelers, who have won two Super Bowls in the past decade, haven't repeated. In fact, only seven teams have ever won the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons.
There are many factors as to why so many Super Bowl champions fail to make it back to the big game the next year. It's hard to bring the same team back for another year. Players and coaches leave for greener pastures and the players who stay sometimes lose their competitive fire.
The Giants will likely lose a lot of key players in the upcoming free agency.
Money-wise, it's impossible for the Giants to keep both Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham. Manningham is a free agent and Cruz will demand a pay raise from his current low-paying salary. Cruz is scheduled to earn $490,000 this coming season. Saying that Cruz is underpaid is a huge understatement.
Manningham, the man who made the crucial sideline catch in the Super Bowl, wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver. He is the Giants third receiver at best. Don't expect him to be back.
Chase Blackburn and Devin Thomas are also expected to be gone. Brandon Jacobs, the fourth-leading rusher in team history, was recently released after he and the team could not come to an agreement on a reduction in his 2012 salary.
If the Giants are going to return to the Super Bowl, they're going to have to do it with a lot of new faces.
Winning the NFC East won't be a cake walk either. Last season, the NFC East was uncharacteristically weak. The Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles both had disappointing seasons, finishing 8-8. Expect both teams to be significantly better.
And don't forget about the Washington Redskins. They recently agreed to send three first-round picks, including the No. 6 pick this year and a second-round choice, to the St. Louis Rams for the No. 2 overall pick where they are expected to take Robert Griffin III. If Griffin is as good as expected, the Redskins will be a much better team.
Not only will the NFC East get tougher, but also the Giants will have a tougher regular season schedule as a whole. They have to play the Steelers, Packers, Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Bengals, Ravens and 49ers.
Yikes. If the Giants are going to have any chance to make it through this insanely difficult schedule, they're going to need Eli Manning to once again play like a top quarterback.
It's not a given that Manning will be lights out. Yes, he was the best quarterback down the stretch and has turned himself into the most clutch quarterback in the NFL. But Manning has yet to string together two elite seasons in back-to-back years. Just a year ago he threw a career high 25 interceptions.
There are also factors outside of the team that could prevent the Giants from repeating. Peyton Manning's new team (assuming he's healthy) could become the new Super Bowl favorites and teams like the 49ers, Texans and Patriots will all be better.
There are a lot of reasons to like the Giants as well. Despite the fact that Manning hasn't proved that he can string together two MVP-caliber seasons in a row, he still proved that he has what it takes to be the best quarterback in the NFL. He's the only quarterback that can say he has out-shined the "Golden Boy," Tom Brady, in the Super Bowl. Twice.
The Giants are also returning their vaunted defensive line. As long as those guys are healthy, the Giants will always be a serious threat.
What the Giants did by winning the Super Bowl last season was incredible. They should relish this moment, because once next season starts they will have a target tattooed onto their helmets. Every team gets up to play the defending Super Bowl champions. If the Giants thought that last season was difficult, they need to be ready for next year. It will only be tougher.