5 Dark Horses Most Likely to Kill New York Giants' Dream of a Repeat

Jeremy Fuchs@@jaf78Correspondent IIIJuly 9, 2012

5 Dark Horses Most Likely to Kill New York Giants' Dream of a Repeat

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    The New York Giants are Super Bowl Champs, but there are plenty of teams looking to knock them off the throne.

    The Giants are still talented. But they will be the hunted by teams like Green Bay, Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans.

    Still, every year, football fans witness surprise teams that come out of nowhere to contend. San Francisco did that last year.

    Which teams in the NFC will rise up and take out not only the expected contenders, but the Giants as well?

    Read on to find out.

Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions were a bit of an enigma last season.

    They finished 10-6, good enough to make the playoffs before being bounced in the first round.

    They had the fourth-ranked passing attack in the league but the 22nd-ranked passing defense.

    Then there's the matter of their off-field culture. They have six arrests this offseason.

    As football fans, we'd like to see teams be clean. Come in, work hard and do the right thing on and off the field.

    The Lions are truly dangerous on and off the field.

    Discipline is a real problem. If it was only one player, that's one thing. But six players indicates a culture that is failing and an organization that is crumbling. The Lions will have to overcome that.

    Still, they have the talent. They have a top quarterback in Matthew Stafford. They have Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew. 

    On defense, they have a ton of talent. On the defensive line, they feature Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

    While their pass defense struggled, they drafted two cornerbacks and three linebackers to help shore that up.

    The Lions are a troubled team, but one that is insanely talented. They can score anytime they want. If their defense improves, they can beat any team in the league. 

Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears added a lot of talent this offseason.

    They finally gave Jay Cutler a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall.

    They then drafted Alshon Jeffery in the second round to make the receiving corps even better.

    Mike Martz is out and Mike Tice is in, which should mean that their offensive line improves.

    Matt Forte is an elite running back. He's in contract limbo, according to ESPN, but he should be given a new deal at some point. 

    On defense, they have Julius Peppers, one of the best players in the game. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are still excellent at linebacker.

    Their offense should be much more explosive and balanced this season.

    Their defense should improve as well, as they signed a few cornerbacks for more depth.

    They also feature Devin Hester, who is always a threat to take it to the house. 

    The Bears have all the talent to challenge the Giants. If Cutler can stay healthy—which is a big if—then they will be in contention for the Super Bowl. 

Carolina Panthers

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    A star was born in Carolina.

    Cam Newton, who is one of the best young quarterbacks I have ever seen, had a tremendous season.

    He threw for 4,501 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also had 706 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.

    And that was in his rookie season with no offseason. The sky is the limit for Newton.

    His continued success will make Carolina a contender. They have a very good offense, with Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

    On defense, they are still a work in progress. They have a good linebacker unit, and newly drafted Luke Kuechly projects to be a star. They did add depth in the secondary in the draft as well.

    The Panthers will go as far as Newton takes them. Now that he has a full offseason to work with, Newton should get only better.

    If Newton continues his meteoric rise, the Panthers could find themselves in the playoffs. 

Washington Redskins

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    The Washington Redskins got their man in Robert Griffin III in the draft.

    They then wanted to get him weapons.

    They signed receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan on offense. On defense, they signed Brandon Meriweather, Cedric Griffin, Jonathan Goff and Leigh Torrence.

    The Redskins will benefit from RG3. He is a huge upgrade over Rex Grossman. Along with Garcon and Morgan, he should improve the 14th-ranked passing offense.

    The Redskins had the 12th-ranked passing defense and 18th-ranked rushing defense. With their free-agent additions, those numbers will go up.

    It's all up to RG3. He was a great college quarterback and won the Heisman Trophy deservedly. 

    But while Griffin is a tremendous talent, he's still yet to play a down in the NFL.  He faces a tough transition from the spread offense.

    For every Cam Newton, there's an Alex Smith. Smith took a long time to get used to the NFL and has still not lived up to expectations.

    If Griffin can play like everyone expects him to, the Redskins will compete in the tough NFC East. If not, the Redskins will be in trouble. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Greg Schiano is changing the culture in Tampa Bay.

    After going 4-12, the Bucs needed a change, and Schiano is bringing it.

    As offensive tackle Donald Penn told NFL.com:

    "That was one of the first things Coach Schiano said when he got here: The sooner everybody buys in, the faster we'll start winning," Penn said Thursday. "And I think everybody is buying in."

    The Bucs have a talented quarterback in Josh Freeman. This offseason, they went on a spending spree. They signed Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright. They also drafted Mark Barron and Doug Martin in the first round.

    If the team "buys in," then the Bucs could be a surprise playoff team.

    There's a lot of talent, and Schiano proved at Rutgers that he can turn a program around.