New York Giants: 5 Big Tests for Big Blue in 2012
When you are the defending Super Bowl Champions, you enter the following season with a huge bullseye on your back.
And when you play in the biggest media market in New York, teams usually gear up to play their best against you.
The New York Giants have both of those tasks ahead of them entering the 2012 season.
The Giants had one of the most improbable seasons in 2011, starting out 6-2, dropping to 7-7, but finishing at 9-7 and winning the NFC East to enter the playoffs.
And pretty soon, it'll be time to put on the helmets and pads and get back to playing some football.
What are the biggest tests that the Giants will face in 2012?
I see five of them.
Avoiding the Super Bowl Hangover
It's really easy for a team to get into that comfort zone.
They're the defending champions, the hunger just isn't there, and next thing you know, you just finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
It can happen. Super Bowl hangovers have happened before to teams.
After the Giants won Super Bowl XLII back in February of 2008, the Giants didn't experience that hangover and started out 11-1 in the 2008 season.
They just didn't expect Plaxico Burress to shoot himself in the leg and put a big damper on their season.
As long as Tom Coughlin is coaching this team, I doubt the Giants will lose any type of focus or passion for winning and shouldn't expect any type of hangover from February.
Sept. 5, 2012: The Home Opener Against the Cowboys
As a reward for winning the Super Bowl, the Giants got the opening game of the 2012 season.
And what a way to open up the year against perhaps their biggest division rival in the Dallas Cowboys.
Because of President Barack Obama's Democratic National Convention speech, the game was moved from Thursday night to Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012.
All eyes will be on MetLife Stadium to watch a classic NFC East grudge match.
The Giants want to open the 2012 season in their own building with a huge win, while the Cowboys would love nothing more than to spoil the Giants' championship banner-raising party.
The Giants were 2-0 in their games with Dallas in 2011, so when the season begins in September, opening night is going to be a lot of fun on that Wednesday.
Can Victor Cruz Repeat His 2011 Performance
Victor Cruz was one of the biggest difference-makers for the Giants in 2012.
He has made it well known that he would love a pay raise, but he's not sitting out and pouting about it like some players would.
Cruz had 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns for the Giants and caught an important touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots.
If Cruz can come anywhere close to those numbers again for the Giants in 2012, then general manager Jerry Reese will have no choice but to give Cruz a contract extension with a nice raise.
I was all for giving Cruz an extension now since he is their biggest breakout star, but if the Giants wait until the end of 2012 and Cruz duplicates his superstar-like numbers, then it'll be worth it.
But the question remains, can he live up to what he did in 2011?
Dec. 30, 2012: The Season Finale Against the Eagles
Mark this date down on your calendar, Giants fans. Dec. 30, 2012.
Not only is it the Week 17 and final game of the regular season, but it's at MetLife Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Giants have not won a game against the Eagles at home since 2007.
The Giants are 0-5 since then, which includes the 23-11 playoff loss from January of 2009 and a 17-10 loss back in November of 2011.
For some reason, the Giants have had their struggles against the Eagles at home and really need to snap that streak.
Last year, the Giants had to win the division in Week 17. What if the division hangs on the outcome of this game as well?
Don't be surprised if this game gets moved from the 1 p.m. start to the Sunday night game at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.
Avoiding the Second-Half Collapse
The Giants under head coach Tom Coughlin are a tale of two teams.
There is the first-half team, which comes out of the gates playing very well.
Then there is the second-half team, which tends to have awful collapses.
And you can look at the 2011 team that started out 6-2 and finished at 9-7. Their second half of their schedule was one of the most brutal schedules in the NFL.
When they plummeted to 6-6, the Giants were in severe trouble and Coughlin's job was in serious jeopardy.
In the 2012 season, their second-half schedule is no picnic.
That's not an easy schedule for the final eight weeks of the season.
If the Giants want any chance of defending their title in 2012, they must avoid the second-half collapse, keep their poise and play with championship confidence on the field.