On the surface, the New York Giants look like a team bound for a second consecutive playoff appearance and a Super Bowl champion that won’t be dethroned easily once they reach the postseason.
They have all the ingredients necessary to be successful in today’s NFL landscape. Elite quarterback? Check. Explosive weapons in the passing game? Check. A ferocious pass rush that can pressure the opposing quarterback with only their front four? Check.
Even complacency, which has been an issue for recent Giants teams, shouldn’t be a problem in 2012. Besides the motivation to be the first repeat champions since the 2003 and 2004 Patriots, Big Blue is largely getting overlooked due to a brutal schedule that, according to theredzone.org, is the toughest in the NFL.
Anytime the Giants feel like they aren’t getting respect, they tend play their best football. Their two recent Super Bowl runs are great examples of this trend.
So the question shouldn’t be will the Giants make the playoffs but rather will they get a first-round bye, right? Not so fast.
The schedule is one significant reason to temper expectations. They face seven 2011 playoff teams plus four games against the good-on-paper Cowboys (aren’t they always good “on paper”?) and what figures to be a much-improved Eagles team.
Other games against the Redskins (which beat New York twice last season), Bucs and Panthers aren’t exactly automatic wins, either. In reality, only the Browns at home in Week 5 looks like a sure victory at this point.
There are also problems with two unheralded but important units, the offensive line and secondary. We’ll start with the O-line, which was bad last year and looks to be worse in 2012. The Giants had the NFL’s least-effective rushing offense last season by most accounts. They were last in the league in both yards per game (89.2) and yards per carry (3.5). They did manage to score 17 TDs on the ground, but that was largely the product of a strong passing attack that continually moved the offense into the red zone (according to teamrankings.com, the Giants ranked sixth in the NFL with 3.6 red-zone scoring attempts per game).
To be fair, last season’s running back tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs isn’t exactly the second coming of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Still, they certainly aren’t bad enough though to produce the NFL’s worst rushing attack all by themselves.
The O-line was much better in pass protection, allowing Eli Manning to be sacked only 28 times, good for seventh-fewest in the NFL. This area was still a disappointment, however, considering that Manning was sacked a mere 16 times in 2010.
The big offseason addition to this unit was the signing of 31-year-old Sean Locklear, who was only good enough to start four games for the Redskins last season. With starting left tackle Will Beatty in danger of missing the season opener against the Cowboys due to a back injury, Locklear is first in line to protect Manning’s blind side in that game—not exactly the ideal way to keep your franchise QB upright.
Speaking of offensive linemen who are on the wrong side of 30, the Giants have three of them in their starting lineup—David Baas, Chris Snee and David Diehl. These also happen to be their best three linemen.
Injuries are once again the major concern for the secondary, as they were in 2011. Terrell Thomas missed all of last season due to a torn right ACL (he also tore the same ACL while at USC in 2005) and nearly tore it again when he aggravated it at the beginning of training camp. He is targeting a return against Dallas, but given his injury history on the same ACL it would be a miracle if he is both healthy and effective for a majority of the season. His replacement last season, Prince Amukamara, suffered a high ankle sprain in last Friday’s preseason game against the Bears and is questionable for Week 1.
The suddenly thin Giants secondary means that the unproven cornerback trio of Michael Coe, Justin Tyron and Bruce Johnson will likely get significant playing time. It also means that the Giants linebackers will have to do a better job of covering the tight end to take pressure off the secondary, which is something they have been terrible at for a majority of the Tom Coughlin era. The Giants were 29th in pass defense in 2011, and it doesn’t figure to be much better for 2012.
Despite these issues, the Giants are still a good team. They just aren’t a lock for the playoffs. Their postseason destiny will likely once again be decided in the last few games of the regular season. Nothing ever comes easy for this team, and that is not about to change in 2012.