Are Defending Super Bowl Champ Giants the NFL's Best Team Entering 2012 Season?

Lou RomContributor IAugust 23, 2012

Aug. 18, 2011; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) yells out the plays as center David Baas (64) waits to snap the ball against the New York Jets against the New York Jets during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Are the New York Giants the best team in the NFL?

Their shiny new Super Bowl XLVI rings say so.

But their record-worst regular season record of 9-7 for a Super Bowl winner says maybe not.

The Giants surely own bragging rights as the best team in the NFL last year. But are they truly the best team headed into opening day?

That can be asked and answered in two ways—on paper or on the field.

Last year, on paper, the Giants were nowhere near the best team in the NFL, eking into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. But from that first playoff game they came on like gangbusters, routing Atlanta and Green Bay, then handling the San Francisco 49ers before beating the New England Patriots for a second time in five years.

Last year, the Giants ranked eighth in total offense, pulling a double-Maris with 6,161yards (pardon the baseball reference, I couldn't help myself).

Four playoff teams ranked higher than the G-Men, and the team they beat in the first round, the Falcons, ranked 10th in total offense. It's amazing that the Giants offense fared that well, given it had the worst running attack in the NFL, gaining only 1,427 yards.

On defense, expected to be their strength last year, the Giants finished a paltry 27th. The only playoff team with a worse defense? The Packers, who the Giants exposed in the playoffs.

As bad as their run defense was—19th in the league—the G-Men's passing defense was even worse, ranking 29th out of 32 teams.

Of course, the Giants were ravaged by injuries last season on defense, losing starting cornerback Terrell Thomas for the season before ultimately losing five, yes, five cornerbacks to season-ending injuries. Frankly, the Giants' IR looked more like a who's who for much of the season with stars like Osi Umenyiora, Brandon Jacobs, and Ahmad Bradshaw.

The Giants had a solid draft, working hard to patch up the holes and put together the pieces needed for a more successful 2012.

On offense, the departure of Brandon Jacobs and the arrival of Virginia Tech standout David Wilson gives the G-Men a much needed boost behind the line. Wilson has fared well in camp and shined against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the preseason opener.

But the Giants have done little to improve a porous offensive line that failed to open holes for the running game and kept Eli Manning scrambling much more than his season statistics would suggest. Last year, starting center David Baas made only 11 starts. Will Beatty made only 10 starts at left tackle, and Kareem McKenzie was not much of a factor.

The acquisitions of Matt McCants and Sean Locklear add depth, but there's still no shutdown lineman or tackle on the team.

Big Blue's receiving corps was one of the best in the league last year and looks to be even better this year. It has more depth with the addition of Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan and very likely, David Douglas.

On defense, the G-Men are—at the moment—much more healthy than last season.

Cornerback Terrell Thomas looks ready to return from his second ACL injury in two seasons, and Jayron Hosley is all but assured to crack the starting lineup. The secondary is bound to improve on last year's performance.

But this year's injury bug moved from the secondary to the line. Big Blue lost tackle Shaun Rogers for the season to a blood clot, and Chris Canty and Marvin Austin are currently down with injuries.

Looking to opening day, it's hard to say the Giants are much better than last year.

Their biggest improvement comes at a position where they were already solid—wide receiver. They are improved at running back, but still lack a great blocker.

Their offensive line, at this point, is marginally improved, if at all, with no big answer coming in through the draft or free agency.

Their secondary should see the most improvement with Thomas back and Hosley (if you couldn't tell by now, I expect him to line up opposite Thomas) knocking balls down and hopefully pulling out a few more pick sixes.

So, are the Giants the best team in the NFL?

Well, they won the Lombardi Trophy last year, they have an elite quarterback in Eli Manning and they have improved at most every skill position—cornerback, wide receiver and running back. But their line, on both sides of the ball, has seen little improvement.

Still, the Giants should emerge as NFC East champions and will be tested again by the 49ers and the Packers in the playoffs. Lucky for them, it looks like the New Orleans Saints—rocked by the bounty scandal—are a longshot to get a home playoff game, let alone get into the playoffs.

Should they reach the Super Bowl again, expect them to repeat. Last year's foe, the New England Patriots, remain their staunchest test. Baltimore, Houston and Pittsburgh have better defenses, but Bill Belichick remains the best coach in the AFC and almost always gets the best of those three contenders.