New York Giants' Biggest Reasons for Optimism Heading Out of 2012 Season
However, with Sunday's embarrassing loss extinguishing New York's ability to control its postseason destiny and rendering its playoff chances remote, now is a great time to look forward to next season.
In these depressing times, Giants fans need reasons to be optimistic for 2013. Here are three reasons that are sure to raise your spirits.
1. The Makings of a Young, Explosive Offensive Attack Are Still in Place
The Giants' offense has been atrocious the last two weeks, scoring only 14 points and accumulating a measly 442 yards combined.
Even with this recent anemic production, they are still one of the NFL's better offenses, ranking ninth in points scored and 14th in total yards per game.
This offense should once again be a strength in 2013. Eli Manning is having a down year but is still one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL and will only be 32 years old at the start of next season. His weapons on offense figure to be young and plentiful. Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle and David Wilson are all under contract and under the age of 25.
Victor Cruz is 26 and a restricted free agent. But it appears that his re-signing with Big Blue is a foregone conclusion. Martellus Bennett, who is only 25 years old, is an unrestricted free agent and is a threat to get a big contract on the open market given his strong season (611 receiving yards and five TDs).
At the same time, I expect the Giants to make it a priority to re-sign him since the tight end position is a key part of their offense and they do not have an obvious replacement on their roster.
When you throw in 26-year-old Ahmad Bradshaw, who is signed with New York for two more seasons, the Giants could potentially have six skill-position players on offense who are all approaching or in their prime.
Keys to turning this talent into a juggernaut attack will be healthier seasons from Nicks and Bradshaw, the continued development of Randle and Wilson and, most importantly, a better performance from the offensive line.
The line has struggled to run block all season and has seen its pass protection suffer over the last two season-crushing games, allowing four sacks and numerous hits and hurries of Manning.
2. Young Talent at Key Defensive Positions
Let's be honest, this defense is a mess.
It can't stop the run, doesn't cover underneath routes effectively and gives up too many big plays. It never did any of these things particularly well last season, but was able to cover its deficiencies with a fearsome pass rush. That pass rush has gone into hibernation, however, with only 32 sacks, tied with Detroit and Tennessee for 19th in the NFL.
There is some hope, though, in the trio of Jason Pierre-Paul, Prince Amukamara and Linval Joseph, who are 23, 23 and 24 years old, respectively, and all under contract in 2013.
Pierre-Paul has had a disappointing season by his standards, with only 6.5 sacks, including none in the last six games. He has struggled in the role of marked man after his 16.5-sack performance in 2011. The third-year superstar regularly faces double-teams and is routinely chipped by a running back staying in for pass protection on third-down plays.
Every great pass-rusher must adjust to being the opposition's main focus and I believe that Pierre-Paul will do just that next year. He showed that he has the work ethic and mindset to turn raw talent coming out of college into significant NFL results.
I think he will take his talent to the next level in 2013 and dominate the NFL, even when the opposition knows he's coming.
Amukamara has remained relatively healthy this season after an injury-riddled rookie season, playing in 12 of 15 games. With some experience under his belt, he has quickly turned into the Giants' best cornerback. Compared to the rest of the NFL, he is slightly below average, given his -1.7 Pro Football Focus rating. But he is talented player with the potential to be an elite corner.
Joseph largely flies under the radar, but he has had a fine season at defensive tackle. The third-year player has 54 tackles, four sacks and a solid 4.1 PFF rating. Along with Pierre-Paul, he is a building block to help improve New York's ability to stop the run.
3. What Appears to Be an Easier Schedule
The Giants' schedule this season was not as hard as it was billed to be in the offseason, but it was still pretty tough. The Giants had nine games against teams that head into Week 17 with a winning record, including six games against current division leaders.
Next season appears to be easier for a few reasons. First of all, the Giants will play the AFC West, which looks to have three bad teams in the Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers. They also get the one elite team in the division, the Broncos, at MetLife Stadium.
Secondly, they get the NFC North, which has beatable teams in the Lions, Bears and Vikings. The one good team in this division, the Packers, also plays the Giants on the road where they got shellacked 38-10 on Nov. 25.
Finally, the two remaining non-division games are guaranteed to not be division winners' San Francisco (the 49ers play Arizona at home this week, so I am giving them the NFC West title) or Atlanta, since the Giants can do no worse (or better considering the way you are looking at it) than second place in the NFC East.
The Giants will play either Seattle or St. Louis at home and either New Orleans, Tampa Bay or Carolina on the road. None of those potential matchups are easy games, but they certainly beat playing in Atlanta again and hosting San Francisco.