The New York Giants started 3-2 in each of their recent Super Bowl-winning seasons. This year, they're 3-2 again despite a slew of injuries to key players, giving life to the possibility that they might have yet another championship run in them.
Then again, they followed up their last Super Bowl with an 11-1 start before fading down the stretch and going one-and-done in the playoffs, so I guess these things are sort of hard to predict this early.
Regardless, here's a state of the union breakdown of where Tom Coughlin's team sits through five weeks.
What They Should be Thinking
We're still not in first place and find ourselves 0-2 within the division. Considering how competitive the NFC East is, that could cost us dearly come December.
Plus, it might only be a matter of time before these injuries catch up with us. Kenny Phillips, Hakeem Nicks, David Diehl, Keith Rivers, Jayron Hosley, Will Hill (suspended), Ramses Barden. Those players aren't easily replaceable. Sure, we've survived without them thus far, but the schedule's about to toughen up. We won't get to take advantage of teams like Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Carolina any longer.Those are the three teams we've beaten, and they're a combined 2-12.
It's also worrisome that three of our most important defensive veterans have disappeared for the first month of the year. Does anyone expect Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora or Corey Webster to remove themselves from the witness protection program any time soon? With those guys struggling, it's putting a lot of pressure on our depleted/talent-deprived secondary, which has surrendered 8.8 yards per pass attempt (31st in the league).
We weren't really expected to beat the Eagles anyway and can even that up with a home win against them later in the year. Besides, we only dropped that one by a single point on the road. The loss to Dallas was rough, but the Cowboys are struggling now and might not be good enough to make that a factor come the end of the season.
None of our key injuries are of the long-term variety. Nicks and Barden should return this week, Phillips and Hosley aren't far off and the offensive line has been better off without Diehl. Most importantly, though, it appears we'll be getting Chris Canty back next week, just as the schedule becomes extremely difficult.
Who do the Giants miss most?
There's a chance a healthy Canty will get our pass rush back on track by giving guys like Tuck and Umenyiora more opportunities to provide support for Jason Pierre-Paul, who's been fantastic. And if that's the case, it'll ease things up on our struggling secondary. Under those circumstances, Webster should be able to excel again as our top corner.
The offensive line has performed significantly better this year, while the running game is rejuvenated with Ahmad Bradshaw coming off a 200-yard effort and Andre Brown and David Wilson emerging. Eli Manning is still Eli Manning, and Victor Cruz is proving that last year wasn't a fluke. As we get healthier and keep building momentum, we'll continue to be the most mentally strong team in this league. No reason we can't overcome our daunting schedule.
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Ahmad Bradshaw
Credit has to go to the offensive line here too, but the key point is that a running game that averaged a league-low 3.5 yards per carry is running at a 4.8 clip (sixth in football) thus far in 2012. Bradshaw's coming off the best game of his career and Pro Football Focus ranks the O-line a respectable 13th in run blocking. Super Bowl teams have to get better to stay the same, and the Giants have become better by establishing more offensive balance, with Bradshaw leading the way.
Stock Rising (defense): Prince Amukamara
With injuries playing a big role in the secondary and Webster struggling, Amukamara has saved the day by flourishing in his first full season. In fact, the 2011 first-round pick has already become the most consistent and effective player in New York's defensive backfield. He's given up only four completions in three games since returning from injury, according to PFF. Maybe the cold tub dunk was just what the doctor ordered.
Stop Dropping (offense): Hakeem Nicks
I hate to pile on Nicks for being hurt, but it's very hard to find an offensive player on this team who isn't living up to expectations. When Nicks has been on the field, he's been superb. But the main criticism he's faced during his short career has been his inability to stay healthy. This year, he's already been forced to miss time due to two separate injuries.
Stop Dropping (defense): Corey Webster
It would be easy to go with Tuck or Umenyiora, but there was less of an onus on them. Plus, while those two have been bad, Webster's been a special kind of bad. Strictly in terms of coverage ability, PFF ranks him 99th out of 100 cornerbacks who have taken at least 25 percent of their team's snaps this season. Last year, he was ranked 31st out of 109 in the same category.
The Giants knew they had the toughest schedule in the league entering this season, but the worst is yet to come. The Eagles and Cowboys don't have it a lot easier, but New York also has a championship-sized target on its back.
Still, you have to consider the Giants to be the clear favorite to win the division right now. The good drastically outweighs the bad, and this is the best-coached team in football. They've discovered of late that they have a lot more depth than anyone realized, and so, another Super Bowl charge could be in the cards.
The next three games are crucial. A win in San Fran would send a big statement, and then they absolutely have to battle back and start winning some divisional games with the Redskins and Cowboys waiting in line after the Niners. If they can survive that stretch, they should be healthier and ready to make a run.