The New York Giants open the NFL season Wednesday night.
The Giants have returned all of their star players from their Super Bowl winning roster, including Pierre-Paul, Manning, Tuck, Nicks, Cruz and more. Nevertheless, the Giants are viewed widely as underdogs in the NFC.
The NFC East will be tough as always, and the Giants will need to have another strong season in order to win the division and/or make the playoffs.
Here is a look at the Giants' 2012 regular season schedule, along with predictions for each game.
Week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys (Win 1-0)
As the defending Super Bowl champions, the Giants have earned the traditional opening home game. Defending champs are 8-0 since the 2004 invention of the Week 1 defending champ game. New York will face the Dallas Cowboys, arguably their best division rival. However, the Cowboys' wide receivers will not be at full strength, the Giants defense is healthy, and the Giants will start their year with a win to make it 9-0.
Week 2 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Win 2-0)
The Buccaneers had one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2011, setting a franchise record by giving up more than 30 points per game. The Bucs are likely to again be the worst team in the NFC South. This will be an easy win for the Giants, who will get their year off to a good start.
What will happen on opening night?
Week 3 at Carolina Panthers (Loss 2-1)
After getting an extra long rest before Week 2, the Giants will travel to Charlotte on short rest to play the Panthers on a Thursday. The combination of playing on the road, playing on short rest, and playing against a dramatically improved Panthers team will be too much for the Giants. They will get their first loss of the season and fall to 2-1.
Week 4 at Philadelphia Eagles (Loss 2-2)
The Eagles and Giants split road and road in 2011. The Eagles are still far from being a "dream team." However, they are a team that can give the Giants trouble. This game will be on the road, and this early in the season quarterback Michael Vick is likely to still be in one piece. This should be a very close game, but I have the Eagles knocking the Giants back down to .500 in Week 4.
Week 5 vs. Cleveland Browns (Win 3-2)
This will be one of the Giants' easiest games of 2012. The Browns will be starting rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. Playing against one of the best and most aggressive defensive lines in the NFL will be a nice introduction to the NFL for Weeden. In Week 5, the Giants will go above .500 and stay there for the rest of the year.
Week 6 at San Francisco 49ers (Win 4-2)
At San Francisco is one of the hardest games in the NFL. However, this will be a repeat of the 2011 NFC Championship game. This will be an extremely close game, with a big factor being quarterback Eli Manning's ability to make quick decisions and not be forced into mistakes by the 49ers pass rush. The Giants will improve to 4-2 with the win.
Week 7 vs. Washington Redskins (Win 5-2)
This is a potential trap game for the Giants and will be closer than some people might think. The Redskins swept the Giants last year and added rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III this offseason. Even coming off a two game winning streak, the Giants will need to be fully prepared for Washington. Griffin is likely to have a strong season, and this will be a close game.
Nevertheless, the Giants will eke out a victory to make it a three game streak.
Week 8 at Dallas Cowboys (Loss 5-3)
Despite their win in Week 1, I expect the Giants will split this year with the Cowboys. Dallas will be healthier by Week 8, and their defense will be executing better. This game in Dallas will be a close one, but the Cowboys will pull out a victory and end the Giants' winning streak.
Week 9 vs Pittsburgh Steelers (Win 6-3)
In Week 9, the Giants begin a tough two-game stretch against the AFC North. Arguably the strongest division in the NFL this year, the AFC North boasts the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens. The Steelers have the most prestige of those three teams but may be the weakest on the field this year.
With a lot of their star players aging and a new offensive coordinator, the Steelers are a beatable team and will fall to the Giants in Week 9.
Week 10 at Cincinnati Bengals (Loss 6-4)
The Bengals will send the Giants into their bye week on a loss. At Cincinnati is suddenly a very difficult place to play, with the Bengals developing a talented young team. Their offense—led by quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green—will be even better than last year. Their veteran defense should be as good or better.
The Giants and Eli Manning will want to avenge the 23-22 loss they suffered four years ago at the hands of the Bengals. However, the complementary play of the Bengals' defense and offense will be too much; they will pull out a close victory over the Giants.
How will the Giants fare this season?
Week 11 Bye (6-4)
Even coming off a loss, the Giants should feel okay during their bye week. Despite being the defending Super Bowl champs, the Giants have been relatively underrated this offseason. With no other elite teams in the NFC East, there is a good chance that 6-4 will have them in the top position in the NFC East during their bye week.
Week 12 vs. Green Bay Packers (Loss 6-5)
In spite of last year's playoff game, I am picking the Packers to win this one. One thing I would not recommend betting on is quarterback Aaron Rodgers making the same mistake twice. While he played a poor game last year against the Giants, I expect him to be better this year.
The Packers are the biggest favorites to win the Super Bowl this year, and they deserve it. However, the Giants will still be above .500 and in good shape after this loss.
Week 13 at Washington Redskins (Win 7-5)
The Giants were swept by the Redskins in 2011, but that was largely the result of costly mistakes by quarterback Eli Manning. Expect him to be prepared for the division rivals this year and perform much better. After winning this Week 13 game, the Giants will have swept the Redskins, making up in part for last year.
This game will be on Monday night, so it will be a great opportunity for the country to see quarterback Robert Griffin III against a top notch pass rush.
Week 14 vs. New Orleans Saints (Win 8-5)
When the Giants and Saints met in 2011, the Saints dominated the game, sending media perception of the Giants to perhaps its low point of the season. The Saints are likely to be favored in this game, especially if their offense is executing well throughout the season.
My biggest issue with the Saints this year is that they are too focused on one side of the ball, especially if linebacker Jonathan Vilma cannot play or is not prepared. Even in the modern NFL, complementary football beats teams that only play offense. The Giants will play better this time against quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints and will pick up their second straight win.
Week 15 at Atlanta Falcons (Win 9-5)
Falcons fans most likely still remember the 24-2 shellacking they received in the 2012 playoffs. The Falcons have retained their core starters and should be contenders again in the NFC South. The Giants should not write this game off.
Who will win the NFC East?
This has the potential to be a relatively high-scoring affair (by Giants' standards). Nevertheless, it will be a close game. Eli Manning will work some of his fourth quarter magic if necessary, and the Giants will extend their winning streak to three games.
Week 16 at Baltimore Ravens (Loss 9-6)
Playing at Baltimore is one of the hardest challenges in the NFL. Quarterback Joe Flacco will be playing. Star linebacker Terrell Suggs might be back by Week 16, which would be a stroke of bad luck for the Giants. However, even if he is not back, the Ravens will have one of the top defenses in the league.
The Ravens matchup well against all of the Giants' weapons. This will be a tough one and could go either way. However, I am picking Baltimore to end the Giants' winning streak and put pressure on them in Week 17.
Week 17 vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Win 10-6)
This will be an important game to both teams. At 9-6, this game will certainly matter to the Giants, either for the division or the wild card. The Eagles are also likely to be in the mix, making this rivalry game all the more crucial.
This may not be a common opinion, but this game will be a blowout. Despite the mess of a game that happened when Philadelphia came to town in 2011, New York will step it up in Week 17. With the win, they will clinch the NFC East but probably not a first round bye. In order to win another Super Bowl, the Giants will have to repeat what they did in the 2012 playoffs—win four consecutive playoff games.
The Giants' tough schedule this year has a significant impact on predicting the results of their season. New York will have to work hard for their wins this year, but they will manage a respectable 10-6. Here are some breakdowns of where the Giants will get their wins and losses in 2012.
NFC East Position: First
NFC Playoff Position: Third
Final Record: 10-6
Home Record: 7-1
Road Record: 3-5
Giants vs. NFC East: 4-2
Giants vs. NFC South: 3-1
Giants vs. AFC North: 2-2