With the New York Giants coming off of their second Super Bowl victory in the past four years, and with a ton of key players either injured or returning from injury or being mistakenly waived by the team only to be picked up by the team they've beaten both times in the Super Bowl (if you can't beat them...sign their injured tight end...I guess?) the Giants are facing an obviously uphill battle in their quest to repeat.
When they kick off against the Cowboys September 5, the Giants will begin the arduous march toward defending their crown. Here's one player from each game that the Giants will have to focus on in each matchup.
Everyone and their mother thinks that Tony Romo can't win big games. Since he fumbled that snap against the Seahawks in his first year as the Cowboys starter, it seems like he just can't seem to get it right when it matters most.
But if you think he isn't going to come out in this game with revenge on his mind, you are wrong.
With the division title on the line, the Cowboys came into MetLife Stadium (I don't think I'll ever get used to calling it that) and lost by the not so close margin of 31-14. In a passing glance you say that Good Ol' Tony lame-ducked another huge game.
Not so fast. Romo finished the game 29 of 37 with two touchdowns and an interception. Not exactly Eli Manning-esque numbers (I could definitely get used to saying that) but by no means did he choke that game away.
The Giants fed off the energy of their home crowd and came out defensively and forced the Cowboys into only scoring 14 points. Note that Romo was directly responsible for all of them.
If the Giants want to start the season off on a high note, and not a face plant like last season, Romo is the key. They'll have to pick up where they left off with Eli playing at an MVP level and the defense holding opponents down.
He had a decent enough rookie season and then came out firing on all cylinders in 2010. He led the Bucs to a 10-6 record and almost had them in the playoffs.
However last year it seemed like he regressed. He was interception prone and made a lot of the same mistakes he made as a rookies, even though it seemed he'd grown out of them in his second year.
I think Freeman, much like Romo, will be looking to prove himself this year, and what better opportunity to do just that than to thrash the defending champs in their own building.
Look for Freeman to come out focused and ready to return to his sophomore form.
Is anybody surprise by this pick?
When Cam Newton was coming out of Auburn, I was one of the people saying that I didn't see his college success translating well into the professional game. I didn't think his size and speed would matter that much because he would be going against the strongest and fastest football players that the world had to offer.
I will happily admit that I was dead wrong.
I always get annoyed when draft analysts and scouts describe someone as a once in a generation talent because it seems like there's two in every draft, but they were dead on with Newton. He has such an unbelievable blend of skill, size, speed and just natural ability that he was able to practically have won Offensive Rookie of the Year by week three.
It is important to note though that the Panthers finished 6-10 last season. In games that Newton threw an interception, Carolina was 0-9. In games that he did not throw any interceptions, 6-1.
He may be near super-human but he isn't completely infallible. If the Giants D can force him into mistakes and rattle him early with their pass rush, they stand a great chance to win. If not, he'll probably throw for a pedestrian 375 yards and three touchdowns because that's the kind of talent he has.
I'm not a DeSean Jackson fan, but I'd be an idiot not to recognize his talent and his ability to make plays. He is what people would refer to as a game changer.
The Giants know this better than most.
Last season was a failure for the Eagles, especially after Vince Young called them a "Dream Team." It was an idiotic move by Young, mainly because he had about as much to do with the team's success as the person next in line at Tony Luke's.
Obviously Michael Vick is dangerous, but at this point in his career he's starting to be more careful with his body (slightly) and if you can try to take away his weapons, he may not still be so ready to tuck it and run. Then again he might be just as likely, you never can quite tell what you're going to get with him.
I don't want to hype this too much because at this point in the season, Trent Richardson may still be getting used to playing at the NFL level. He not be ready to totally take over games as he did at Alabama.
However, if he is still the bruising back that he was in college, the Giants need to be ready for a fight. Richardson runs hard in between the tackles and has great speed around the edge.
Last season, the Giants linebacking corps was so plagued with injury that they had a hard time against a lot of feature backs. I don't know if anyone remembers, but the first time they played Dallas last season, they were getting torched by DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones before Murray got hurt. Jones still had over 100 yards.
Look out for Richardson to make his presence felt early in the season.
In this matchup of the NFC Championship game, look for Brandon Jacobs to be an revived version of himself and run rampant on the Giants D.
The big difference maker on the 49ers offense is Vernon Davis. In the NFC Championship game he had only three receptions, but they were for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
I'm not sure there really is a way to control Davis, but if you can simply limit his touches, and get good pressure on Alex Smith, the Giants can walk out San Fran victorious again.
Losing to the Redskins last year was a skidmark in last season's underpants. It was an absolute and utter embarrassment and should never have happened. Unfortunately, it did so there really isn't much point in harping on it too much.
With that said, if the Giants couldn't handle the Redskins last year, I don't know what they're going to do this season. I think that even with zero snaps taken as an NFL player, Robert Griffin III is a far better quarterback then Rex Grossman.
That isn't to say that I don't think he'll have some growing pains because he probably will. But between his accuracy and his mobility, the Giants may have a hard time shutting him down if he comes into his own sooner rather than later.
One thing that I do find encouraging is that he doesn't have outstanding mobility within the pocket and isn't great at sensing the rush. If the Giants can get some back side pressure on him, they may be able to force him into mistakes early and often.
One of the scariest things about the Cowboys to me is that I don't think we've even come close to seeing how dangerous Dez Bryant can be. I think that this may be the year that he breaks out and shows us.
If it is, the Giants will need to find a way to slow him down or they will be in trouble in Dallas.
Ben Roethlisberger is the key to the entire Steeler offensive machine. I know Mike Wallace is definitely their most dangerous weapon, but if the Giants can get to Roethlisberger and put him on his backside a couple times early, they'll have a much better chance at this game.
Since he came into the league practically, the knock on Roethlisberger has been that he holds on to the ball for too long. Pair that with the fact that the Steelers haven't had an elite offensive line and you have the makings for the kind of game the Giants love to play.
They'll pin their ears back and come at Roethlisberger with everything they have.
I was pleasantly surprised by how good A.J. Green and Andy Dalton were last season, and how quickly they developed a relationship with one another.
When the Giants head into Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, they will need to key on Green. They will have to force Dalton to check down and take away the Bengals big play ability.
The obvious choice here is Aaron Rodgers. He's been a top-two quarterback the past two seasons and I'm sure he'll be looking for revenge for last seasons debacle in Lambeau.
Honestly though, it could be anyone in his receiving corps as well. This team is so well balanced in the passing game that it makes it almost impossible to defend. I know the Giants have played them well in recent history, but they will need to continue that if they want to win.
The key to all of that is Rodgers. If the Giants can get pressure on him early, they may be able to force him into the same mistakes he made in the playoffs.
He's been the ageless wonder at receiver for the Redskins, and don't expect that to go away this season.
I think Moss and RGIII will quickly develop a good relationship because Moss runs good routes and finds ways to get himself open.
Besides constant pressure, one way to bother Griffin will be to take away his favorite targets. I'd be interested to see what kind of decisions he makes when he can't go where he wants with the ball.
I don't think the Saints are stupid enough to risk not giving Drew Brees a new contract. With all of the turmoil surrounding that organization at the moment, the Saints need Brees to come in and be the leader that he has been for New Orleans.
If the Giants don't get to Brees often, they will lose. The Saints have absolutely decimated the Giants the last few times they've played because the Giants don't have the team speed on defense to contend with them.
As I said, if the Giants can get enough pressure on Brees to sack him and possibly force a turnover or two, they have a chance to win.
The Giants were able to hold the Falcons to a whopping two points in their wild card matchup last year. Don't expect that to be the case this time around.
I know Matt Ryan is a great quarterback, but the truth of the matter is that if the Giants want to win, they have to stop Michael Turner. He is the key to what Atlanta does on offense. They like to give him the ball and then throw off of that.
If the Giants can limit his production, they'll be able to throw of the Falcons game plan.
Much like Turner is to the Falcons, Ray Rice is the absolute key to the Ravens offense. He is an all-purpose back and a total difference maker in each game he plays in.
The problem I see here is that the Giants don't have the speed at linebacker to keep up with Rice for a whole game. However, if they can contain him to a certain extent, I'll gladly try to let Joe Flacco win the game.
LeSean McCoy is a scary back. He's the kind of guy who you only need to make one mistake against in order for him to completely alter the landscape of a game.
If you watch the games from last year, you'll see that the Giants generally do a good job of bringing in a weak side safety or linebacker to try to limit is cutback opportunities, which is where he gains a ton of his yardage. Notice that I say "generally" do a good job.
You can see a couple of occasions where the weak side guy is either late getting there, gets washed away by a tight end or just plain misses the tackle. That kind of stuff cannot happen if the Giants want to win this game.