The New York Giants will enter the 2012 NFL season with a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Odds are, however, that they will fall short, just as every other defending champion has since the New England Patriots after the 2004 season.
If they are the first team to repeat in nearly a decade, they will have to navigate a minefield of potential problems waiting to derail a team too self-assured with their own success.
The first issue is the current quality of the league itself. As any Dallas Cowboy fan would like to forget, the Giants only made the playoffs last season because they beat the Cowboys on New Year’s night to win the NFC East with a pedestrian 9-7 record.
If the Cowboys had won, there would have been no postseason at all for the Giants. Any team hoping to repeat first has to make it back to the playoffs.
On paper, it seemed that the NFC East was the Philadelphia Eagles' to lose last season. Going into this season, the Eagles are probably favored again. All four teams can make strong cases for winning that division.
As long as the Eagles can keep quarterback Michael Vick healthy, they have a chance to score points early and often. Dallas came within a game themselves last year and could squeeze out one or two more wins if Tony Romo and Co. can execute better.
The Washington Redskins traded the farm for the chance to take Robert Griffin III with the second pick of the NFL draft. If last year’s Heisman Trophy-winner has the same impact as Cam Newton had in Carolina last year, then the Skins could seriously contend.
With the quality of that division, there do not appear to be any easy games, so a 10- or 11-win season is probably the best that any of those teams could hope for. If the Giants are to repeat, they cannot rely on 9-7 being good enough—even for a wild-card spot.
They also need to stay healthy all year. From the current OTA, to training camp in Albany, to the regular season itself, losing someone like Eli Manning for any serious stretch of time will doom them, and injuries will happen.
Two years ago, the New Orleans Saints started a playoff game with a running back who had not started a regular season game all year. Injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush turned what could have been a successful defense into a surprise upset in the Wild Card Round to a weak Seattle Seahawks team.
There are only so many spare parts that can fit into the puzzle before it can no longer be solved. No team has the luxury of All-Pro-caliber players just sitting on the bench waiting their turn.
The Giants also have to be lucky. New York was not favored to win either the divisional game in Green Bay or the championship game in San Francisco.
They pounded the Packers into the ground, as Green Bay seemed to be out of sorts coming off the bye week it earned with the NFC’s best record. It also helped that those two teams played an epic game late in the season in New York. The Giants' coaching staff is very good at learning from its mistakes and, like it did with the Patriots on the last week of the 2007 season, it turned a close loss into a win in the postseason.
With the Niners, the Giants took full advantage of those two muffed punts—the second coming in overtime—to beat a team that seemingly improved every game.
In the end, the Giants made fewer mistakes and took advantage of their opportunities to finish the trifecta and upset New England in the Super Bowl.
Lastly, there truly is a deep parity in the league. Realistically, not every team has a chance to make the playoffs, but probably half the league could win the championship, given absolutely everything goes their way.
Being a regular-season top dog like the Packers last season means nothing if the other team is hungry enough, or that just happens to be the week a really good team throws up a stinker.
When the Giants tried to defend in 2008, they suffered from a literally self-inflicted injury when wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg, and later blew the home-field advantage they had earned by playing an all-time dud against the Eagles.
The best way to repeat is to forget everything that happened the previous year. The less news we hear from Albany this summer and this season, the better. It can be done, but one should not be going to Vegas to bet on it.