The New York Giants are the most intriguing team in the NFL this season. While the defending champions remain in first place in the NFC East, there are plenty of question marks still facing Tom Coughlin's club.
With three tough opponents on the horizon, New York must play with a sense of urgency in order to contend for a coveted fifth Lombardi Trophy.
The Giants are a riveting squad because of their uncanny ability to play at erratically high or low levels each week. After scoring only three second-half points against Washington on Monday Night Football last week, New York thumped New Orleans to the tune of 52 points on Sunday.
Although inconsistent performances have marred the Giants’ repeat campaign at times, there is one constant which cannot be ignored: New York is the most dominant team in the league when they play at their best.
Here are five things the defending champions can discover about themselves as we approach playoff football.
David Wilson has shown he can break away at any moment
David Wilson could not have broken out at a better time than Sunday against the Saints. With New York’s backfield hobbling on the ailing feet of Ahmad Bradshaw, there has been a glaring need for a running back to share the load.
Wilson proved he can shoulder plenty of that burden, even with his slight 5’9’’ frame.
The 32nd overall pick in 2012 possesses a dynamic skill set which will be increasingly implemented into offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s game plan.
A former Virginia Tech track standout, Wilson was a relatively untapped commodity until he erupted for a team-record 327 all-purpose yards on Sunday afternoon. Wilson provides the Giants with a luxury they have never had in Tom Coughlin’s nine seasons at the helm: a game-changing returner on special teams.
David Wilson’s emergence in the final three weeks of the season will be the X-Factor that catapults New York back into the playoffs.
In New York's five losses this season, Eli Manning has been sacked 10 times. Despite having an adept pocket presence, the two-time Super Bowl MVP is most effective when throwing out of a clean pocket.
Guard's Kevin Boothe and Chris Snee have warranted Pro Bowl consideration thus far in 2012. Both of these players have epitomized consistency during the year and are pivotal in the running game.
The one caveat to the line's success is the season-ending ACL injury suffered by Sean Locklear in Week 13. The nine-year veteran was a tremendous addition to the offensive line this past offseason.
If New York's offensive line can continue protecting at this torrid pace, look for the Giants to sustain long drives in games and wear out their opponents down the stretch.
Hakeem Nicks has been battling through knee and foot injuries all season long. The four-year veteran out of UNC has only caught three touchdowns this year.
Nicks' health in the coming weeks will be a large barometer of how successful the offense can be. In the Wild Card and Divisional rounds of the 2011 playoffs, Nicks caught 13 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns.
Having barely practiced all season, Nicks is finally beginning to redevelop his rapport with Eli Manning.
There is no question that when Nicks is healthy, the Giants have two top-10 receivers in the NFL. Victor Cruz and Nicks will cause defensive coordinators nightmares if they are able to play at 100 percent during these last three weeks.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has had great success deploying three safeties on defense over the years. While Kenny Phillips' nagging MCL injury has hindered New York's ability to consistently implement this look, his likely return in Week 15 will revitalize a menacing defensive package.
Using only two linebackers in your base formation is rare for NFL defenses, but Fewell is unwaveringly playing to his strengths with this personnel grouping.
Having Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Stevie Brown on the field at the same time is a critical component of Fewell's defense. All three players can be positioned on different parts of the field in order to confuse opposing quarterbacks and exploit mismatches.
A perpetual return to the three safety defense will enable the Giants to rediscover their identity as a unit.
In each of the past two championship seasons, the Giants have been able to manufacture a play which has left an indelible mark on the team and its fanbase.
These unforgettable moments have propelled New York in the past, and they just may do the same this year. Whether its a goal-line stand, a blocked punt or an explosive touchdown run, players and fans alike will instantly know when that critical turning point has taken place.