After winning the Super Bowl in February, the New York Giants enter the 2012 season as contenders once again, and just like last year, they enter the season with almost nobody talking about them.
Think about it.
People love talking about the New England Patriots and how Brandon Lloyd is going to make a potent offense even stronger this season. No one is talking about the defense that shut them down just eight months ago.
The Philadelphia Eagles, last season's "dream team," are even better this year! Adding DeMeco Ryans in free agency and a host of great draft picks. No one mentions that the Eagles were 8-8 last year and that it was the Giants—no one's dream team—that won the NFC East.
Don't even get me started about that "other" team in New York with America's favorite (read: least favorite) backup quarterback/personal protector. The Giants may share a stadium with the Jets, but they crushed them, 29-14, last year—a drubbing that hasn't stopped ESPN and the New York media from keeping Eli Manning as the third-most popular QB in The Big Apple.
The Giants aren't going anywhere in 2012, and it's about time they started getting the respect and the hype they deserve.
To Be the Best, You Have To Beat the Best
While there are plenty of ways to qualify the Giants' Super Bowl run, all of them are equally ludicrous. Simply, to be the best, you have to beat the best, and the Giants beat the best on their way to the Lombardi Trophy.
In Weeks 16 and 17, Eli Manning caught fire, putting the team on his back for wins against the supposed "kings" of New York (the Jets) and "America's Team," (the Cowboys.) Both games were make-or-break for the Giants, and they came through under pressure.
In the Super Bowl, the Giants and the Patriots met as two teams decimated by a season of injuries, but the narrative was the same as it ever was: the Patriots' high-flying offense and the Giants tenacious defense.
Just like before, the Giants defense won the day, harassing Tom Brady and keeping the Patriots in check.
Yes, the Giants were only 9-7 last year, but they caught fire at the right time. They didn't back into the playoffs, they rushed in—guns ablaze—and showed the NFL who the best team was. They didn't take advantage of easy matchups; they beat the class of the NFL.
This season, if someone wants to claim to be the best, they need to beat the Giants to do it.
The Giants Are Going To Be Healthy this Season
It isn't going to be as easy to beat the Giants this season, because this is an entirely different team.
Last season, the Giants had five cornerbacks on injured reserve, along with two possible starters at linebacker—Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim. In addition, first-round pick Prince Amukamara missed nine games with a broken foot, and second-round pick Marvin Austin went on IR in training camp.
Of those nine players, seven are back for the Giants this season, and eight of them are ready to go. Only Sintim remains on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury.
Amukamara will be a starter. Austin will fight for a starting spot with Chris Canty on the PUP list. Michael Coe and Justin Tyron will provide depth to the defensive backfield that the Giants didn't have last season.
The offense was much healthier.
Left tackle Will Beatty was the Giants' best lineman last season, but he was placed on IR with a detached retina. His return moves David Diehl to the right side, which strengthens a position manned by Kareem McKenzie in the Super Bowl—currently unsigned and one of the worst tackles in football last season.
Receivers Mario Manningham (now with San Francisco) and Domenik Hixon were both expected to contribute heavily to the Giants in 2011, but Hixon tore his ACL in Week 2 and Manningham missed four games with a concussion. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw missed four games as well with foot issues.
Every team has injury problems, but the Giants' burden looked insurmountable. They were written off in the preseason when seemingly all of their linebackers and defensive backs went down. The Giants had every reason to take 2011 off.
Instead, they won the Super Bowl.
There are some minor injury issues the Giants are still dealing with—guys on the PUP list, back troubles due to sleeping arrangements at training camp, etc (via ESPN). It would be nearly impossible, however, for the Giants to suffer the amount of injuries they did last year to as many key positions.
Returning to Their Roots Will Make the Giants Better Than Last Year
Due to a lot of factors—including the aforementioned injuries—the Giants were not all that good during the 2011 regular season. "Not good" being 27th in total defense and dead last in rushing offense. That isn't how Tom Coughlin wants his football teams to run, and it isn't how Jerry Reese built this team.
So, the Giants went out and improved their football team.
That's right, rest of the NFL, the Super Bowl champions got even better.
As fans in Philadelphia, Dallas and Washington point to their respective team's efforts in the offseason, they casually forget that the team that won the division had a good offseason as well. Fans in San Francisco, Green Bay and New England know they got better over the summer, but they don't realize the team that beat them in the playoffs did as well.
On defense, the Giants could have stayed pat. Getting healthy was important and a big reason that defense looked so bad in 2011. Instead, the Giants brought in Keith Rivers, a former first-round pick whose career has been marked more by injuries than accolades.
If Rivers gives the Giants anything this season, the linebacking corps could be scary good.
The Giants also picked up Jayron Hosley in the third round of the NFL draft. Hosley looks to be a rotational player for the Giants right away and could contribute mostly in subpackages. He, along will all of the defensive backs returning from IR, will make depth in the back four a strength instead of a weakness in 2012.
On offense, David Wilson is replacing Brandon Jacobs, giving the Giants a more dynamic player who can consistently cut up big chunks of yardage. Jacobs was often counted on in short-yardage situations, but he never really lived up to his power back expectations.
The receivers, as well, will get a boost from second-round pick Rueben Randle and the return of Hixon. Manningham had some good moments as a Giant, but Randle is a much better fit across from Hakeem Nicks and will keep defenses honest as they try to shut down Victor Cruz.
This team—better on defense and more balanced on offense—is a team more prepared to win the Super Bowl in 2012 than the Giants were in 2011.
The Giants are clearly a contender, maybe even the favorites, this season. While the media and NFL fans focus on the latest flavors of the week, the Giants are quietly planning their trip to New Orleans.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."