The NFL is not a friendly league for defending champions. Football's short season, constant risk of injury and competition-friendly parity combine to make the road to a Super Bowl repeat one of the hardest in all of pro sports.
For a 9-7 team like the New York Giants, who had to catch fire in December to spark their magical title run, a repeat is an even less likely prospect than normal.
A team that has seen a storm of bad luck in every recent offseason with injuries and departures, the Giants will need to catch a few breaks in late 2012 if they plan to hoist the Lombardi trophy in early 2013.
For Victor Cruz to continue his salsa-rific ways would be a nice boon for Giants fans, but the next break the G-Men need is to not miss a beat at the third wide receiver spot.
The job is essentially in a four-way heat between Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan, Ruben Randle and Domenik Hixon.
Whoever wins the job in training camp, they need to be able to fill Mario Manningham's now-heroic shoes.
Hixon is perpetually injured, Barden has been a disappointment, and nobody has seen Randle take an NFL snap.
For the Giants to have a chance at making a splash in 2012, one of these guys will have to prove he can make consistent plays when Cruz and Hakeem Nicks draw the coverage.
Eli carried Big Blue to the playoffs with his 5,000 yard season. That won't happen again unless a No. 3 receiver is able to put up 700-800 yards receiving with limited opportunities.
The road to the playoffs runs through your division no matter who you are. Six games are designed to test a team's mettle in the toughest possible way; if a team fails in its divisional games, don't expect a playoff appearance.
The entire NFC East has drastically improved: Dallas has new stud cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. The Eagles have shored up a suspect defense and offensive line, and the Redskins have likely found their franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III.
As it is, the 2011 Giants were 0-2 against Washington, 2-0 against Dallas, and 1-1 against a severely underachieving Philadelphia.
With the division improving all around them, the Giants need to hope that Dallas has not learned to defend Eli Manning, that Michael Vick's "dynasty" collapses like the "Dream Team" and that Griffin somehow plays the Giants worse than Rex Grossman did.
Or, you know, injuries could work.
Splitting these series will not be enough. Big Blue will need to sweep at least one of these teams, and maybe even win a playoff game against one, to advance back to the Super Bowl.
The 2011 Giants were a team of destiny; there is no denying that. However, The San Francisco 49ers came as close as anybody to halting their magical run.
After defeating them in the regular season, the 49ers fought the Giants into an overtime NFC Championship, a game that could have easily gone either way.
While the Giants have mostly remained the same since the Super Bowl, through various departures and acquisitions, the 49ers have kept their all-star defense intact and drastically improved the offense.
Two of those major offensive additions include Brandon Jacobs and Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham.
With the offensive weapons the 49ers plan to put on the field, they clearly intend to return to the NFC title game and this time reach the Super Bowl.
As constructed on paper, the Giants will need a break from San Francisco to ensure a rematch doesn't go the wrong way.
Whether it be Alex Smith falling on his face, failure for new pieces to mesh offensively or a rash of injuries, the entire NFC could use some help against the Niners.
Big Blue are the unquestioned defending champs, but the San Francisco 49ers represent the greatest threat to their power in the entire NFL.
The Giants have not had good luck with injuries in recent years.
The summer of 2011 saw one of the most horrific injury plagues in recent memory. The injured list last season included Johnathan Goff, Terrell Thomas, Justin Tuck, David Baas, Osi Umenyiora, Domenik Hixon and others.
Tight ends Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum BOTH tore their ACLs in the Super Bowl, and just this summer, Hakeem Nicks suffered a broken foot (he'll likely play Week 1)
The G-Men got lucky once, but this season has a lot less room for a full infirmary.
Some previous injuries will need a full recovery too, namely Thomas. New York re-signed him and divorced Aaron Ross, banking on the notion that he'll be the same as he was before his ACL tear. If he stumbles out of the gate, Big Blue is suddenly very thin at cornerback.
For 2012 to be a successful and possible repeat season, the injury bug has to go sting somebody else, because this roster is not constructed for massive numbers of severe injuries.