The 2012 NFL Opening Day is finally here! NFL fans across the country have waited for this day to occur so that they can cheer for their team during its quest for a Super Bowl championship.
With that being said, the defending champion New York Giants will open their season later today against one of their biggest rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. It should be a very exciting game to watch and the whole season itself should be exciting as well.
Barring any significant injuries, the Giants will be rolling on all cylinders and have a great chance to become the first team since the 2004 and 2005 Patriots to win consecutive Super Bowl championships. With the vast majority of the championship core still around, the Giants can definitely continue what could be the next NFL dynasty. Winning three, four or even five consecutive championships would be no easy task, but if any team right now could so, it is the Giants.
Here are ten reasons why the Giants will repeat as Super Bowl champions.
This statement alone is sure to raise quite a few eyebrows, but when it's all said and done, Eli Manning is the most dependable quarterback right now.
Manning has stats that are pretty much comparable to anyone in the league. Last season, he threw for 4,933 yards, fourth in the league. However, the yardage total was rather close to everyone else, except for Drew Brees, who of course demolished the single-season record for passing yards.
Manning's other stats are also up there with the rest of the competition. He completed 61 percent of his pass attempts, threw 29 touchdowns, had a 92.9 passer rating and led the league with eight game-winning drives and seven fourth quarter comebacks.
More importantly though, Manning shows leadership on the field beyond that of any other quarterback. He is as clutch as any quarterback in NFL history has ever been and whenever the Giants are down by a close margin late in the game, fans can expect Manning to produce a touchdown or two to win. He has done that throughout his career and will continue to do so until he retires.
Manning also has two Super Bowl rings. Only Ben Roethlisberger (two) and Tom Brady (three) have won multiple championships among active quarterbacks. Also, unlike Brady, Manning has never lost a Super Bowl and defeated the Patriots twice. In both Super Bowls, the Patriots were heavily favored but choked miserably and lost.
Plus, Roethlisberger has often been plagued with injuries and that Brady has become a choke artist. The Giants are built to last a long time and Manning has the best shot of any of the three to pass Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw's record of four Super Bowl championships.
A few more things to keep in mind are that Manning plays in New York, which is by far the sports media capital of the world and has more pressure on him by a longshot than any other quarterback.
In a city like New York, the Giants are expected to win every single year and Manning is expected to become the greatest quarterback of all time. So far, he has not disappointed and if he wins two or three more championships, he could very well become the greatest quarterback of all time. It's not out of the question just yet.
Furthermore, Manning will still have a solid offensive line to protect him, including guard Chris Snee and tackle David Diehl, both of whom have been mainstays throughout Manning's career.
All in all, after the Giants repeat as champions in February, everyone that does not believe that Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL will soon agree that he is. Honestly, what more does he really have to do to be considered the best?
Yet another reason why Eli Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL is that he has two of the league's best weapons among his receivers: Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Living up to his billing as a first-round draft pick, Nicks has become one of the best and most explosive receivers in the game. He may not have the same skills as Calvin Johnson but he is without question one of the five best receivers around.
With his massive hands, Nicks has shown in the past two years why he is such a dangerous weapon. In 2010, he had 79 receptions, 11 touchdown catches and 1,052 receiving yards. Last season, he had 76 receptions, seven touchdown catches and 1,192 receiving yards. He also averaged 15.7 yards per catch last year, which was an improvement from 13.3 yards per catch in 2010.
Nicks was also clutch throughout the postseason. In the divisional round against the Packers, he had seven receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns. In the Super Bowl, Nicks had ten receptions for 109 yards.
Although Nicks has yet to receive a deserving Pro Bowl nomination, he was named the 2011 NFL Alumni Wide Receiver of the Year. He should be earning more hardware in years to come.
Nicks, in fact, is such a dangerous weapon that opposing defenses often used double coverage against him, which led to teammate Victor Cruz having a breakout season.
Speaking of Cruz, he is another elite NFL receiver, but unlike Nicks, who was a highly touted coming out of college, Cruz was signed as an undrafted free agent and burst onto the scene last year.
Cruz was not even supposed to be the team's second-best receiver last year. It was the injuries to Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon that led to Cruz getting more playing time than expected. He certainly made the most of it.
Cruz finished the season with 82 receptions for 1,536 receiving yards—a new Giants record—18.7 yards per catch and nine touchdown catches. He was named as a Pro Bowl alternate as he became more explosive than anyone could have predicted. He even had a 99-yard touchdown reception against the Jets in Week 16, tying the NFL record.
Cruz also became very well known for his salsa dance following each of his touchdown receptions, which attracted a lot of media attention.
It will be fascinating to see how opposing defenses will play against Nicks and Cruz and whether they cover Nicks more tightly than Cruz, or vice versa. However, they are not the only options that Manning will have.
Domenik Hixon will be a solid receiver if he can finally stay healthy, and rookie Reuben Randle could be a great third receiver as well. There is also the new tight end Martellus Bennett, who will be in a starting role for the first time in his career. Bear Pascoe and Travis Beckum are other tight end options as well.
All in all, Manning will have plenty of weapons, including two of the most elite receivers, as the Giants' offense tries to be as good as or better than it was in 2011.
Despite being Super Bowl champions and having a top 10 offense in 2011, the Giants had the league's worst running game.
The Giants ran a lot of passing plays not just because of the presence of Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz; the running game itself was not solid at all. Brandon Jacobs had only gotten worse and was not as explosive as he was three years ago. Thankfully, he is now a member of the 49ers.
This leaves Ahmad Bradshaw as the main running back. Hopefully, he can stay healthy this year, as a fractured foot hampered him throughout the season and limited his productivity. After a 1,235 rushing yards in 2010, Bradshaw only had 659 rushing yards last season. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and 54.9 yards per game.
If Bradshaw can find a way to stay healthy and can get enough attempts to run the ball, he should be able to rush for another 1,000-plus yard season. He is an explosive runner and a workhouse that the Giants can lean on if opposing defenses provide intense pass coverages.
Bradshaw though is not the only reason why the Giants' running game will improve. First-round pick David Wilson will add to the improved running game as well. He is explosive in his own way and has even better speed than Bradshaw. He could definitely be useful in third down situations in order to give the Giants a new look and, hopefully, he can contribute in a big way this year.
The Giants' running game will not go from last in the league to first in the league in just one season but it will improve significantly if everyone stays healthy.
Leading the Giants' defense is arguably the best defensive line in the NFL and possibly one of the best in NFL history. A team with three elite defensive ends does not happen too often, but the Giants have just that with Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul.
The face of the Giant's defense itself, Tuck did not have a huge statistical season in 2011. He only had 41 total tackles and just five sacks in 12 regular season games but he was more of a leader now than he had been before. In fact, one reason why Tuck likely did not get as many sacks could be because opposing offensive lines may have double teamed him due to his skill. As a result, this opened the door for his teammates to shine.
The young teammate that really broke out last year was Jason Pierre-Paul. After getting just 4.5 sacks in his rookie season in 2010, Pierre-Paul got 16.5 sacks last year and 86 total tackles. He was rewarded with a Pro Bowl nomination, but due to the fact that he was on a Super Bowl team, he could not participate. Pierre-Paul has made a name for himself already, as "JPP" chants can be heard throughout MetLife Stadium during games.
Last but not least, the veteran Umenyiora restructured his contract to return to the Giants and be a great pass-rush threat once again. He had nine sacks last year, as well as 29 total tackles. Umenyiora is no longer a "starter" per se, but he will get just as much playing time as Tuck and Pierre-Paul to keep everyone fresh. With a few more solid seasons, Umenyiora could be looking at a Hall of Fame induction in the near future.
Not to be outdone, the Giants' defensive tackles are pretty good as well. They will miss Chris Canty for the first six games as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. In his absence, the Giants will have to count on veteran Rocky Bernard and the younger Linval Joseph. Bernard had 31 total tackles last season in a backup role, while Joseph had 52.
The Giants clearly have the best defensive line in the league and it will show with all the sacks and pass deflections they will rack up.
The one weak link in the Giants' defense last season was their linebackers. With another season under their belts, the goal is for this group to continue to take steps in the right direction.
The middle linebacker will be veteran Chase Blackburn. Blackburn has not been a starter for much of his career but has been a critical component of both the defense and special teams. He will be backed up by Mark Herzlich.
The outside linebackers will once again be Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley. Both are versatile in that they can cover their gaps but also are great at pass rushing to create more pressure on the quarterback.
As the most well-known veteran of the group, Boley will be expected to lead the Giants' defense and improve upon its 27th rank among NFL teams in 2011.
The Giants' defensive backs have been criticized for their lack of pass coverage in the past few seasons. However, they improved a lot last year and should do even better this season.
Despite the loss of Aaron Ross, the Giants' defensive backs are rather solid overall. Veteran Corey Webster and the young Prince Amukamara should provide great pass coverage and make the occasional interception—if both can stay healthy.
Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle return as the two safeties. Rolle, in particular, had a big season last year with 100 total tackles and two interceptions. Phillips in the past has had injury issues, so it's critical that he stays healthy this season.
Michael Coe and Jayron Hosley are two other defensive backs who expect to make significant contributions this year.
If the Giants' defensive backs do their jobs and stay healthy, they will hopefully limit the number of points that opposing offenses will score.
Not everyone out there thinks that the Giants will win their division or even make the playoffs. On the other hand, the Giants will simply win the division by default because the other three teams are all not particularly good.
Quite a few people predict that the Cowboys instead will win the division. How they think this is rather interesting because it's well known that the Cowboys have consistently choked at some point each season in the last decade. In fact, they missed the playoffs last year because they lost to the Giants in the final regular season game.
Tony Romo is a decent quarterback but until he gets over the hump and wins multiple playoff games in one season, he will forever remain the most unreliable quarterback in clutch situations. DeMarco Murray should be a decent running back, but against the Giants' world-class defensive line, he will likely stand no chance to have a big game.
Romo also does not have the same receivers he once had. His tight end Jason Witten has been banged up the last few years and has not put the same numbers as before. Wideout Miles Austin remains a good, but not great, threat. As for Dez Bryant, he will have to overcome a tumultuous offseason that led to legal problems. Cowboys players sure know how to put themselves in newspaper headlines.
The Cowboys' defense is a solid group, but will have to improve their pass coverage significantly in order to even have a chance to win a good number of games. DeMarcus Ware though is still one of the best pass-rushers around.
The Giants other main rival is the Eagles, who were projected to do very well last year, only to finish a very disappointing 8-8. Quarterback Michael Vick showed explosiveness but battled injuries, while his favorite target DeSean Jackson spent more time complaining about his contract than catching passes.
Their one bright spot was LeSean McCoy, who out of nowhere turned into a very good running back and will play a big role in the Eagles' season this year. However, it will be Vick's arm that will have the biggest effect on how well the Eagles do. Due to his injury history, don't count on him to be healthy for the entire season.
The Eagles still have a solid defense but they will have trouble covering star receivers like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Furthermore, like the Cowboys, the Eagles always find a way to fall apart at some point in the season. This year will not be any different as their Super Bowl drought continues.
Last but not least, the Redskins will almost certainly finish last in the division once again. Despite the arrival of Robert Griffin III, the Redskins have issues at just about every other position. It will take at least three or four years before they'll be ready to actually compete.
The Redskins will need to rebuild their offensive line, find a running back that can actually perform and a new middle linebacker to replace the aging London Fletcher, among other things. This process will not get completed in one year.
The Giants should not have any problems winning the NFC East title once again this year. In addition, due to the weaknesses of the other three teams, the Giants should be able to win the division by at least two or three games. With all the talent in the NFC North, the Giants cannot afford to rely on a wild card berth to get into the postseason.
Outside the NFC East, there really aren't too many other NFC teams that are as good as the Giants.
The NFC North is the only other division that has multiple teams that will make the postseason. The Packers, of course, are one of the teams to beat and the division favorite, with their quarterback Aaron Rodgers leading one of the best passing offenses in the league. The Lions can make some noise and definitely get into the playoffs as well. Even the Bears could sneak into the postseason, especially if Jay Cutler has a solid season.
In the NFC South, the Falcons remain the favorite there with their own passing attack that includes quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. The Saints should be good once again, but their offseason issues with the Bounty Scandal could affect them in the long run. The Panthers have Cam Newton, but it will be another few years until they will be able to compete for the postseason.
There won't be much of a race at all in the NFC West. The 49ers will dominate their division once again as they look to get past the NFC Championship Game this year with their great defense and improving offense.
Altogether, the only teams in the NFC that could really challenge the Giants to get back to the Super Bowl are the Packers and 49ers. Not surprisingly, those were the second and third teams the Giants had to beat to get to the Super Bowl last season.
The Giants should be able to secure a first-round bye if they can win at least 12 games in the regular season. However, as seen in recent years, teams with byes have not always been successful in the postseason.
In the AFC, the Patriots are the favorite to get back to the Super Bowl yet again. But this time, they won't be challenged in their division. The Jets' personnel, quarterback and off-field issues will likely get the best of them this year, while the Dolphins and Bills are both likely to struggle.
Another team that could definitely reach the Super Bowl are the Ravens. With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed only getting older, their window of opportunity is nearing its end, which means that the Ravens will make another run towards a Super Bowl appearance and could very well play the Giants in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV.
Unlike the AFC North, the AFC South won't be as much of a competition. The Texans should easily get back to the postseason and could possibly get to the Super Bowl if Matt Schaub stays healthy.
The AFC West is a toss-up among all four teams in what is arguably the weakest overall division. The winner could possibly get to the postseason with a losing record. The Broncos though should finish on top if Peyton Manning gets back to his winning ways.
If the Giants get back to the Super Bowl, they will likely face either the Patriots or the Ravens again. The Steelers could get there as well, but their season will probably hinge on whether Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy and plays well. Their defense also isn't getting any younger.
The Giants know how to beat the Patriots. After all, they have upset the Patriots in both of their last two Super Bowl appearances. However, if they end up facing the Ravens, it would be great to see the Giants get revenge on their loss in Super Bowl XXXV. And if they play the Steelers, it would be a great showdown between two quarterbacks that have each won two Super Bowl championships.
Regardless of the match up though, the Giants will not face as many AFC threats in the Super Bowl this year.
It may look like he's on the hot seat every year, but Tom Coughlin is still the best coach in the league as he continues his Hall of Fame career.
Coughlin has been the Giants' head coach since 2004 and already has added two Super Bowl Championships to his resume. The hot-seat rumors have mostly been a byproduct of the demanding New York media that expects greatness at all times.
If he ends up winning another championship or two, he will have to be considered among the greatest head coaches to ever live. He would then be put in the same sentence as Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Don Shula and Jimmie Johnson, among others.
Coughlin just might get to that level once his Giants hoist another championship trophy this February and will certainly remain the Giants' head coach until the day he decides to retire.
The Giants' front office has always believed in him, and so have his players. The team chemistry is very good among the Giants players as well, and it starts with great leadership from Coughlin.
Tom Coughlin is already a Hall of Fame coach, but he will become even more of a living legend once he and the Giants win their third Super Bowl championship in the last six years.