The New York Giants are off and running at SUNY Albany, taking their first reps of training camp and eliciting a subsequent buzz around the Empire State. After the G-Men claimed a ring at Super Bowl XLII last February, they'll look to become the eighth NFL franchise to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in consecutive years.
Of course, it won't be easy.
Still, the Giants create a few favorable mismatches against each division rival. Be it their pass-rushing prowess, their dynamic receiving corps or the standout play of quarterback Eli Manning, the East's defending champs find a way to get a leg up on the competition.
Check out where Big Blue trumps the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins in 2012.
Dallas Cowboys—Vertical Passing Game
The Cowboys have dealt with woebegone secondary play for years now. Last year, shoddy pass defense cost Big D two games—and a division title—against the Giants.
Dallas ranked 23rd in passing yards allowed in 2011. In two bouts with the 'Boys, Manning threw for an average of 373 yards a game, tallying five touchdowns and just one pick. Receiver Victor Cruz, meanwhile, racked up over 250 yards and turned in a scintillant catch-and-run score.
When the Giants host the Cowboys to kick off the regular season on September 5th, they'll be heavily reliant on the long ball. New York averaged 40 passes a night against Dallas last year. With the loss of tailback Brandon Jacobs, that number may spike even higher.
Granted, a good portion of Manning's game is predicated on the play-action pass, and Dallas' stifling front seven will be tough to run on this season. Still, the Giants should have no problem airing it out against their archrivals.
The Cowboys made ostensible upgrades at the cornerback position, signing former Chief Brandon Carr to a five-year deal and drafting touted prospect Morris Claiborne in the first round of April's NFL draft.
But Claiborne's inexperience coupled with Carr's bust factor (his .46 win probability from 2011 ranked a paltry 79th for eligible corners) leaves too many question marks here.
The additions of wideout Rueben Randle and tight end Martellus Bennett improve an already lethal passing attack. Dallas will be in trouble with Manning under center.
Washington Redskins—An Inexperienced Offense
The paragon of a Dan Synder offseason, the Redskins completely revamped their roster through free agency and the draft. Now, they boast a new-look offense that will have to keep pace in the ever-competitive East from the get-go.
With rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III at the helm, nobody knows what Washington's offense will look like. A dual threat under center usually requires nuanced play-calling and unique personnel packages, bringing innumerable growing pains to a young 'Skins system.
The Giants' ferocious front four will wreak havoc on a Washington offensive line that gave up 108 quarterback hits in 2011—good for third-worst in the league. Griffin III, wide receiver Pierre Garcon and the new Redskins offense should struggle against New York's D.
Admittedly, the Redskins routed the Giants twice last year, to the tune of a combined 51-24 score. However, the 'Skins face a formidable challenge in readying a first-year QB to a changing system.
Factor in the return of cornerback Terrell Thomas, and New York has a definite advantage.
True, "intangibles" in sports are maddeningly vague and arbitrary, but whatever "it" is, Philly simply doesn't have it.
Philadelphia flaunts a star-studded lineup, but its minus-14 turnover margin in 2011 was a key reason for a disappointing season. The Giants, meanwhile, tied for fifth in takeaways last year.
No matter how good running back LeSean McCoy and the Eagles offense may be, it won't make much of an impact if possessions are spewed out left and right.
Moreover, the Eagles' well-documented struggles in close games give the Giants an edge. In games determined by one possession (a final score differential of seven points or less) last year, Philly was 2-5. The Giants, on the other hand, were the paradigm of clutch in 2011, squeaking out a myriad of nail-biters and thrillers in playoff action.
Michael Vick's career quarterback rating in the month of December is a lowly 74.5 mark. Moreover, in designated "close" situations last season, Vick stood with seven scores to 10 interceptions.
While not as definitive as their advantages over the Cowboys and Redskins, the Giants do more with the football when it matters most. They're more fit for late-game competition than the Eagles are.
The NFC East is set to be one of football's most enticing divisions. Expect the Giants to exploit Dallas' suspect secondary, Washington's nascent offense and Philly's penchant for throwing away ballgames.