The Giants' Super Bowl defense has not gone as planned over the first 4 games of 2012
What does the autumn of 2008 have in common with this autumn? Well, not that much. However, there are two clear places of overlap: a presidential election and the New York Giants defending a Super Bowl title won against the New England Patriots the previous February.
The Giants looked to be the best team in the NFC East again this year after they retained the main pieces of their Super Bowl-winning roster and added talent through the draft, such as rookie RB David Wilson from Virginia Tech and rookie WR Rueben Randle from LSU.
However, the Giants have had a rocky start to the beginning of the season, starting out at 2-2 (0-2 against NFC East teams). They have not looked exactly like the dominant force that tore through the likes of the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots en route to their second Super Bowl title in five years.
Despite their early-season struggles, the Giants are still very capable of winning the NFC East. Ahead are six reasons why the Giants will overcome their early-season struggles and win the division crown for the second straight year.
The younger Manning has matured into one of the league's top quarterbacks over the last two seasons.
Raise your hand if your favorite team's starting quarterback has two Super Bowl MVP awards. Unless you are a Patriots fan or a Giants fan, put your hand down.
At the outset of the 2011 season, Eli Manning, coming off of a down year in which the Giants missed the playoffs and he threw a career-high 25 interceptions, declared himself elite, among the likes of Tom Brady.
Little did we know at the time just how right Manning would become over the course of the 2011 season.
As was made clear above, Manning and Brady are the only two active quarterbacks with two Super Bowl MVP awards, but Manning reached a new level of play before achieving that feat in the closing game of the 2011-2012 season. He threw for 4,933 yards, beating his previous career high by 912 yards.
He posted the second-highest passer rating of his career while also throwing 80 more attempts than his career-high passer rating season (2010).
On top of the very impressive statistics he put up, Manning was one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the NFL in 2011. He broke the single-season record for touchdown passes in the fourth quarter with 15 and led six comeback wins in the fourth quarter or overtime.
All in all, as long as Eli is under center, Giants fans will know that they have one of the league's best at the league's most important position. If nothing else, that will continue to keep them in the Super Bowl discussion.
Jason Pierre-Paul (left) and Justin Tuck (right) are just part of the NFL's scariest pass rush.
A friend once pointed out to me that the teams that win in football consistently year in and year out have two things in common. These teams are elite at protecting their quarterback, while also being elite at attacking the other team's quarterback.
As Tom Brady (among countless others, including Cam Newton) can attest, no team is better than the Giants at getting to the opposing team's quarterback.
They have unparalleled depth along the defensive line with Pro Bowlers Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. Standout defensive end/outside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka would be the best pass-rusher on a lot of teams, and he is fourth on the depth chart.
Pierre-Paul has emerged into one of the league's best pass-rushers, and his athleticism leaves him almost no ceiling—a fearsome thought for future opponents. Tuck, Umenyiora and Kiwanuka are veterans of both Super Bowl teams and will continue to knock opposing quarterbacks off of their feet.
That's a necessity for the Giants defense and a defensive style that has proved to win important games in the past.
Coughlin has been an important mainstay in the Giants' locker room over the past five years.
Maintaining success over the course of an entire season is a difficult task, and the importance of a head coach is always understated.
Take the New Orleans Saints, for example, who now sit at 0-4 after being heralded as Super Bowl favorites last year because of the suspension of head coach Sean Payton. Or look at the Giants' roommates, the New York Jets, whose meltdown last season was largely attributable to head coach Rex Ryan's lack of control over or respect from his players.
These issues have never been problems for Coughlin, and it is clear that his Giants teams are cohesive units with chemistry, discipline and respect.
Despite shaky play-calling and personnel moves at times, he does not get the respect he deserves for leading the Giants to two Super Bowls and being the most seasoned playoff head coach in the NFC East (other than maybe Mike Shanahan, but his last real big run was over 10 years ago with John Elway and the Broncos).
Michael Vick and the first-place Eagles have a lot to prove after a disappointing 2011 season.
Yes, the Eagles outdueled the Giants on Sunday night, but four games is only one quarter of the season, meaning there are three quarters left to play. The Eagles may be in first place, but they are by no means out of the woods from what was a complete letdown of a 2011 season.
At 3-1, they could just as easily be 0-4. They won their three games by a combined four points, edging out the lowly Cleveland Browns, 17-16, in the final two minutes, beating the Baltimore Ravens, 24-23, despite turning the ball over four times and beating the Giants on Sunday night after a game-winning field-goal try by New York kicker Lawrence Tynes fell short.
And need I mention the 24-6 beatdown handed to them by the Arizona Cardinals?
The Cowboys looked pretty good in the season opener, but my faith in Tony Romo as the man who will carry America's team back to greatness has waned. He is the anti-Eli Manning in that he never seems to show up for the big game and never seems to make the big play to put his team over the edge.
Since their opening win against the Giants, Dallas has lost by 20 to the rejuvenated Seahawks, edged out the Bucs by six points and got embarrassed by the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, 34-18.
The Redskins have been a nice story so far, with Robert Griffin III proving to be this year's Cam Newton, but he's still a rookie quarterback with a questionable supporting cast.
For all of their early-season struggles, the Giants remain tied at 2-2 with the Redskins and Cowboys and sit one game behind the Eagles.
Andre Brown has been a revelation spelling and filling in for Ahmad Bradshaw.
For all of the praise they receive on defense, the Giants have incredible depth on offense. Depth is one of the most important factors of maintaining success over the course of a season, as injuries are inevitable in a football season.
That being said, the Giants show great depth at their skill positions on offense.
Beyond stars Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz at receiver, Domenik Hixon has proved to be a reliable third option, while rookie Rueben Randle is very talented and fourth-year receiver Ramses Barden broke out filling in for Nicks in Week 3.
At running back, Andre Brown also broke out against Carolina filling in for Ahmad Bradshaw, and rookie David Wilson figures to be the running back of the future. Starter Ahmad Bradshaw is a tested veteran and will thrive in pass-blocking situations, third downs and in the receiving game.
Martellus Bennett has been a revelation at tight end after the loss of Jake Ballard to the New England Patriots, and backup Bear Pascoe has proved to be a reliable blocker and a clutch receiver.
In more irrelevant depth (because the loss of Eli Manning would surely doom the Giants' season), backup David Carr is one of the more steady and reliable backups in the NFL and in small samples has seemed to mature from his erratic days as a Houston Texan.
The Giants know how to win in important games, plain and simple.
The most important trait in sports that goes unrecognized in box scores is the intangibles that certain players have in big games. Derek Jeter has them. Michael Jordan had them. And most of the Giants' current roster has proved to have them as well.
Even in their two Super Bowls in five years run, the Giants have not really been a dominant team over 16 games of the regular season. However, when the games get important at the end of the year, they seem to always be able to turn it up and come through in big situations.
A shaky offensive line seemed to come together in the closing games of the regular season in 2011. Wide receiver Victor Cruz made clutch catch after clutch catch, Eli Manning's decision-making always gets better as the year goes on and the defensive line gets fired up and takes their play to another level.
It's one thing to have a talented roster, a potent offense and brick wall defense in the regular season. It's quite another thing to have been in big games and proved over and over again that there is no situation or amount of pressure that will rattle the New York Giants.
At the end of the season, when the race for the NFC East is close, it will be the New York Giants who come up with the clutch game and lock up the division.
It is not time to panic in East Rutherford after just four games. Looking at the big picture, the Giants still have a great chance to come away with their second straight NFC East title.