The New York Giants 2012 schedule has received plenty of publicity, since it was released back in April, as being arguably the toughest slate of games in the NFL for the upcoming season. Giants fans are probably not happy that their team has a difficult road back to the playoffs, but the tough schedule does present some intriguing, must-see matchups.
Here are the five games on the Giants schedule that diehards and casual fans alike should have circled on their calendars.
Clay Matthews made it clear in early August that the Giants didn't get the Packers best effort in their Divisional Playoff game loss last season. Well Green Bay will get a shot to prove Matthews right the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
The Packers have had the Giants' number in the regular season in recent years, winning three straight games, including two at the Meadowlands. This game could also factor into playoff seeding at the top of the NFC as both teams, along with the San Francisco 49ers, are considered the class of the conference.
A game so nice, you have to play it twice. It's a rematch of one of the most physical, nasty playoff matchups in recent memory, as the 49ers get a second crack at the Giants after they fumbled away an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl last January.
The Giants sure have traveled to San Francisco a lot over the past decade, as this will be their sixth road game in seven contests, including the postseason, against the 49ers since the infamous Trey Junkin Wild Card game in January 2003.
This game could also catapult the Giants into a strong first half. New York's first five games of the season are all against teams that were at or below .500 in 2011.
Big Blue could easily enter the 49ers tilt 4-1 or possibly even 5-0. A win in Candlestick Park would likely put the Giants in excellent playoff position heading into the final 10 games of the regular season.
The Saints were the one team no Giants fan wanted to see in the playoffs last season. Why? Because New Orleans has pummeled New York in recent years, winning four of the last five games while outscoring Big Blue 182-92 in those contests.
This is the Giants' chance to get a measure of revenge. The Bountygate scandal promises to make the Saints 2012 season a difficult one. Come Week 14, when this game will be played, New Orleans may be simply trying to play out the string.
In addition, the Giants get the Saints at home for the first time since 2006. No deafening dome crowd and track meet passing attack to try and slow down with the game outside in New York on a late afternoon in mid-December (the game is scheduled to start at 4:25 p.m.).
After this game, Giants fans may be wishing that New Orleans is on their schedule every year.
Remember how fun it was anticipating the Giants/Cowboys New Year's Day regular season finale during the last week of 2011? The winner got a ticket to the playoffs and a home game in the Wild Card round. The loser went home.
It could be deja vu 363 days later, with the Eagles playing the role of the Cowboys in the 2012 version.
Philadelphia should bounce back from a disappointing 8-8 record last season. I fully expect them to win 10-11 games this year. While the Giants may be the better team, they have a more difficult schedule, which means that 10-11 wins seems like a realistic range.
If Dallas disappoints, as they have most years since President Clinton's first term, and Washington is—well Washington—than the Giants and Eagles figure to battle it out for the NFC East title.
If this game does crown a division winner, unlike last season, I do expect the loser to also make the playoffs as a wild card. Not as dramatic but still a lot of fun, and just the possibility of this scenario playing out is good enough for No. 2 on this list.
There are a lot of reasons to put this game No. 1. Division opponent, a rematch of last year's aforementioned regular season "playoff game"—the first game of the NFL season, and the first real game since the Giants captured their second Super Bowl title in four years.
The biggest reason, however, is that we know for certain what the stakes will be in this matchup. Each of the first four games on this list seem intriguing on paper but a lot can happen during the unpredictable NFL season.
We know both the Cowboys and Giants will be 0-0 come Wednesday night and hungry to get their 2012 campaign off to a strong start. It should be another great chapter in a rivalry that has gained a lot of steam in the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning era.