In the wake of the Giants' Week 16 loss to the Ravens, you won't find a shortage of people trying to break down what has gone wrong with the defending champions.
Barnwell: They might have the "Super Bowl hangover," as Terry Bradshaw claimed yesterday, but that doesn't really jibe with their performance; if they really had a hangover, why did they start 6-2 before struggling?
Carpenter: Since the roster hasn't changed enough from the players who were essential to last season's championship, the answer has to lie in desire. It's not as if the league has discovered a secret way to beat the Giants. They didn't suddenly get bad.
What they're both missing is that absolutely nothing has gone wrong with the Giants when compared to last season, at least when looking at things that are in their control.
Let's actually take a look at the raw statistics of the two teams.
|Record Through 15 Games||8-7||8-7|
|Record Through First 8 Games||6-2||6-2|
|Points Scored Through 15 Games||363||387|
|Points Allowed Through 15 Games||386||337|
So, when evaluating the team's body of work rather than one game or an individual player's season, the 2012 team is actually better than the 2011 version.
The only thing that's gone wrong for the Giants this year is that the NFC East is a little better at the top, which is not really in their control. The slight difference in the division is why the Giants controlled their own destiny to win the division at this point in 2011, and need four games to go their way in Week 17 of 2012 to even earn a wild-card berth.
The Giants are just a 9-7 team. Nothing more, nothing less. Mind you, I'm not saying that they're a 4-12 team. I know that the Giants have talent, but they also have some glaring flaws, such as a poor running game, a turnover-prone quarterback (say what you will about Eli Manning, but if he doesn't throw a pick against the Eagles, he will have fewer interceptions in 2012 than in 2011) and a mediocre defense other than a strong front four.
So, they can beat anyone. We saw that against teams like the 49ers and Packers. But they can't be counted on to beat a single team, which is why they're 8-7.
Ironically, the same thing that helped the Giants win the Super Bowl in 2011 (and 2007, for that matter), is what will likely keep them out of the playoffs this year, despite being a more complete team, and that's parity.
See, the NFL doesn't really have great teams anymore. The 2011 Giants were one of only three Super Bowl champions that didn't win 10 games. One was the 1967 Packers, who won nine in a 14-game season. the other was the 1982 Redskins, who won eight in a strike-shortened nine-game season. They were also the only Super Bowl champions in history to be outscored during the regular season.
But because of parity, the final three teams they beat in the playoffs last year (15-1 Packers, 13-3 49ers, 13-3 Patriots) weren't nearly as good as their records suggested. No team is. So, a 9-7 team can certainly get to the playoffs and make a run. The 2011 Giants were the first to do so, but they weren't a fluke and they won't be the last. That's where parity is a good thing to the teams with mediocre records.
Where it's not so good is when it comes to getting to the playoffs. The league is so cluttered today that there are a lot of teams sitting somewhere between 8-8 and 10-6 in a given season. There are only six playoff spots available per league, so those are likely to be decided by one game, or even tiebreakers.
The Giants being a 9-7 team have a chance to win the Super Bowl, but also could well be shut out of the playoffs. That's why they are a better team in 2012 but are almost certain to have a much weaker result.
If anything has gone wrong in 2012 that the Giants could have controlled, it's that they maybe overreacted to their Super Bowl win in 2011. Yes, a Super Bowl title is a great thing, but the Giants didn't really improve their team enough to jump to the next level, notably on defense.
So as a result, they're stuck with the same record, hoping the fates smile on them and allow them into the playoffs at 9-7 again. In this era, that's nothing more than a 50-50 shot.
When a team goes 9-7 two years in a row, it's not a fluke, they're just a 9-7 team. Nothing has gone wrong in 2012, they just put a performance out there worthy of the talent on the field.