There is plenty to be optimistic for if you are the New York Giants heading into this upcoming season. However, recent history tells you the chances of the Giants repeating as Super Bowl champions are highly unlikely.
No team has been able to win the Super Bowl in two consecutive seasons since the New England Patriots were able to do it in the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 seasons.
The Giants made a wide array of improvements this offseason, but there are still plenty of concerns that could be detrimental to their success. Here is a look at seven possibilities that could hinder the Giants’ chances at a repeat in 2012.
It is something that has become a constant from year-to-year, and while the Giants are generally able to squeeze some success out of their daunting schedule, 2012’s agenda does not bode well for the defending champions.
The schedule only gets tougher in the second half of the season, with home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, and road meets with the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens. Six of those final eight games come against playoff teams.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, each team that entered the season with the toughest schedule over the past three years has finished with a losing record.
The Giants are coming off a season in which they finished 29th in pass defense, and unlike their poorly-ranked counterparts, struggled dramatically throughout the year because of it and barely slipped into the playoffs.
While the Giants have bolstered their secondary with the return of talented corner Terrell Thomas and rookie Jayron Hosley, there is no way to be certain what kind of impact either player will make.
Even with a strong pass rush from Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants displayed dismal pass coverage and suffered because of it. Were it not for Eli Manning, the Giants never clinch the NFC East and never win the Super Bowl.
The Giants should receive stellar play from Manning once again this season, but that could all be for naught if the pass defense fails to live up to expectations.
And what if Eli Manning does not play as spectacularly and heroically as he did in 2011?
Without Manning, the Giants would have been a bottom-feeder last season. So what happens if the Manning of 2010 returns in 2012?
The Giants' offensive line was atrocious last season and the running game suffered because of it, finishing dead-last in the NFL.
The defense surrendered 25 points per game—eighth-worst in the NFL.
If Manning reverts to the guy who threw 25 interceptions and had a passer rating of 85.3, the Giants could be in for a very long season. While New York did finish 10-6 in 2010, its run game and defense were substantially better than the units it fielded in 2011.
One man does not make a team, but a distracting contract dispute can affect an entire season—especially in New York.
Osi Umenyiora has been demanding a new contract for quite a while now, and those clamors have only grown this offseason. The talks have grown more vicious in the process and both Umenyiora and general manager Jerry Reese have failed to keep it from being plastered all over the newswires.
Umenyiora is a leader in the Giants locker room. Last season, the talks quieted and—when the veteran defensive end was able to play—there were no distractions.
There are no guarantees that will be the case once again this season and—as evidenced by the devastating incident with Plaxico Burress in 2008—it only takes one bombshell to sidetrack the Giants’ campaign to repeat.
In 2011, the New York Giants' offensive line was riddled with injuries, poor play and aging veterans. As a result, the run game suffered, and though Manning flourished leading their passing attack, he faced a ton of pressure from opposing pass-rushers.
The Giants added two young prospects in the draft, but there is no telling if either player will be ready to contribute this season. Veteran Sean Locklear was added through free agency and could fill the void left by Kareem McKenzie at right tackle.
Though the NFL has shifted to a pass-first league, it is still vital to have a productive running game. The Giants proved that in the postseason when they were able to utilize a more balanced rushing attack than their competitors.
That, of course, ended in a Super Bowl triumph.
If the Giants are unable to churn out positive work from the offensive line, the offense will suffer and could harm their chances at vying for a playoff berth while competing with their fearsome NFC East opponents, such as the Philadelphia Eagles, who boasts one of the NFL’s top rushing games.
There was no greater a breakout star than Victor Cruz in 2011. After a catch-less rookie season, Cruz had a record-setting season with 82 receptions, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns.
The expectations are high for the Giants' salsa-dancing superstar now, but what happens if he plays more like the undrafted free agent than the heroic presence he was last season?
With the departure of Mario Manningham, Cruz’s success will be that much more vital to the Giants’ own success. Should his production take a massive dip—for one reason or another—it could be detrimental to the Giants' chase for another visit to the Super Bowl.
There is no greater threat to a team’s success than injuries.
The New York Giants were hit with many in 2011, but had the depth to account for it. However, the Giants were fortunate that no lengthy injuries ever struck a superstar player the caliber of an Eli Manning, Corey Webster, Antrel Rolle or the duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
This is not wishful thinking, of course, nor is a hopeful jinx. However, injuries are the name of the game and nothing could be more damaging to a team’s chase for a second consecutive Super Bowl victory than a catastrophic injury.