The New York Giants and ninth-year quarterback Eli Manning have just kicked off their 2012 season, with less than favorable results—a 24-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Don't let one game hamper your Big Blue expectations, however. Manning will be leading the G-Men back to the Super Bowl in 2012.
The Giants appear to be a better team from top to bottom this season, and a more experienced—and more decorated—Eli Manning is manning the controls once again, with his doubters nowhere to be found besides the rear-view mirror.
Here's why Manning will have the Giants back to the game's biggest stage in 2012.
Eli Manning's receiving weapons have changed since last season and are now a much better fit for the offense.
Speedy Mario Manningham departed for San Francisco over the summer. Manningham will forever go down in Giants lore for his heroic grab late in Super Bowl XLVI, but overall, his unreliable hands were too much of a liability for him to be dependable.
Receiver and return man Domenik Hixon has returned for this season after a second consecutive year down the tubes due to a knee injury. Manning and Hixon have already gotten reacquainted, as Hixon hauled in three receptions for 55 yards in Week 1 Vs. Dallas.
The team drafted receiver Rueben Randle out of LSU in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. Randle was on the heels of an eight-touchdown season for the Tigers last year, and despite being a non-factor in Week 1, he looks to be a factor for the Giants this season.
Tight end Jake Ballard is no longer in the fold following a knee injury in the Super Bowl and is now ironically a New England Patriot. Backup Travis Beckum suffered the same injury in the same game and is still on the road to recovery.
To fill the void at the end position, Jerry Reese scooped up former Cowboy Martellus Bennett. Bennett has immediately made an impact for Manning and New York by scoring a touchdown late in the game versus Dallas.
Oh yeah, and Eli still has Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to help him out. The two combined for 10 catches in the team's 2012 debut, but Cruz's three drops played huge in the team's loss.
For as long as Eli Manning has been a Giant, he's had to concede the spotlight to his offense's running game. In 2012, the Giants will look to feature Manning's talents.
Manning first experienced this last season when Ahmad Bradshaw battled nagging foot injuries, and Brandon Jacobs proved ineffective when healthy. In his first taste of stardom, Eli fell just short of becoming the first Giants quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season.
In 2012, Manning looks to come back stronger. In the team's first game Vs. Dallas, he attempting 32 passes and completed 21. He tossed just one touchdown pass, however, in the loss to the division rival.
As this season progresses, expect Manning to become more of a focal point in Kevin Gilbride's offense. 2011 was just the beginning in Manning's quest to be recognized among the Bradys and Rodgers of the NFL.
If the Giants were able to win a championship in the season without a training camp, what will they be able to muster with the benefit of a full offseason?
The lockout that shortened the 2011 NFL offseason restricted Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants from contact with team personnel. Training camp was abbreviated and teams were forced to create chemistry quickly.
In 2012 though, Manning and Big Blue have had all offseason to prepare. They completed training camp at the University at Albany last month and spent all preseason prepping to defend their title.
Common sense leads you to believe that this year's Giants squad will be much more prepared to face the tests of a tougher NFC East.
Last year's Giants defenders were uncharacteristically shaky. The linebacking corps was unreliable and the secondary was soft. This season, the Giants hope, will be a new beginning for their heart and soul.
New addition at linebacker Keith Rivers played a large role in the defense in just his first game in blue, as he totaled for seven tackles against Dallas. Michael Boley picked off a Tony Romo pass early in the game against Dallas and returned it 51 yards.
The team's front four will clearly be a strength as it was in 2011. Jason Pierre-Paul appeared just as lethal as he did last year, and Justin Tuck looks to bounce back from an off-year. Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph contributed the first two sacks of the Giants season on Wednesday.
The cornerback position will likely be a project for New York this season. Prince Amukamara has fought injuries for a second straight season, and while backup Michael Coe looked solid in his place Wednesday, he too was unable to finish the game due to injury.
As a whole, however, the New York defense will be more dominant than it was a year ago. They should allow less points on the board, translating to more wins. And, we all know more wins translates to more confidence. That's where this traces back to Eli Manning.
A better defense puts teams in better positions to win. The more games Eli Manning wins, the better the performances will get.