For most teams, a 9-7 season would not be a source of disappointment. For the New York Giants, however, a nine-win campaign and a failure to make the playoffs leaves the organization wondering what it could have done differently to change the outcome.
With the core of talent still largely in place from the franchise's Super Bowl victory of a year ago, the window of success is far from closed for this squad. New challenges within the division, though, will force the Giants to adapt to remain competitive.
The one sure thing is, change is coming to the team. Some of the changes, including player departures, seem inevitable; some of the changes will be tweaks made by management to try to return the team to the postseason and mount another championship run.
We've narrowed it down to these seven questions the New York Giants must answer this offseason.
When Osi Umenyiora walked off the field on December 30 after the game with the Philadelphia Eagles, most fans assumed they had seen Osi in a Giants uniform for the last time. With free agency looming after a long stay in New York, Umenyiora seemed primed to leave.
Co-owner John Mara, however, did not seem ready to see him go.
According to a story by Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com, Mara had this to say of Umenyiora while speaking to reporters:
We'll see what happens. I would love to have him back. He's been a great player for us. He's a great guy. He's been a huge part of our two Super Bowl wins, but there are economic considerations and we'll just have to see what happens.
Despite his sentiment, a path for Osi's return seems hard to find. He'll almost certainly be seeking a deal more generous than the Giants will be looking to offer him in both years and dollars.
Despite the important role he has played for the franchise, expect to see Umenyiora sign elsewhere.
Justin Tuck is experiencing a bit of role reversal at this stage in his career.
Much as he exploded onto the scene during the twilight of Michael Strahan's career, he is now watching the evolution of Jason Pierre-Paul as a premier defensive player. However, the Giants were still counting on productive seasons from Tuck, and last year, he did not deliver.
Largely ineffective this year, Tuck only registered four sacks. New York was hoping for a bounce-back season after seeing Tuck miss four games to injury in 2011, but got just the opposite.
Still a capable run defender, Tuck is not yet rendered a liability on the defensive line. However, with a team and a defense which had based a large part of its success on the pass rush, the Giants would definitely like to see Tuck get to the quarterback more frequently this coming year.
What we will have to wait and find out is whether or not Tuck is still capable of doing so. Nearing 30 years old, age and a few nagging injuries have taken their toll. What Tuck has left in the tank remains to be seen.
When Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are both playing to their full potential, the New York Giants have one of the most formidable receiving tandems in the NFL. Without a marquee tight end, however, Eli Manning has not had a third option that could play with the consistency of his two favorite weapons.
Rueben Randle could change all that.
With Domenic Hixon headed for free agency, this rookie out of LSU is poised to see more snaps in three wide receiver sets in the coming season. While his pure physical talents are unmistakable, he adjusted slowly to the game at the professional level and only saw more playing time much later in the season.
Manning seemed to be developing a much better rapport with Randle as the year progressed, and the Giants will have to hope that a full offseason will provide plenty of time for the quarterback to work with Randle. If Hixon does indeed sign elsewhere before next season, the Giants will be leaning heavily on Randle to become an effective third option.
Eli Manning placed himself among the league's elite quarterbacks last season, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and claiming his second Super Bowl ring.
In 2012, he took a major step back. He threw for nearly 1,000 yards less than last season, and his play was marred by bad decisions and inconsistency throughout the year.
While he is still operating in Kevin Gilbride's offense, it is worth noting that Manning truly flourished with Mike Sullivan as his quarterbacks coach in 2009 and 2010.
Sullivan, who left before this season to become Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator, gave way to new position coach Sean Ryan, who had been the receivers coach. While the change may be inconsequential, especially for a veteran like Manning, it may be something to keep an eye on.
The franchise knows that, at only 31 years old, Manning is its quarterback of the foreseeable future. However, with his Jekyll and Hyde past well documented, it would be fair for the team to wonder if there is anything it can do to ensure Eli plays better this coming season.
David Wilson is fast. His speed was a huge help to the team this year, with Wilson setting a franchise record of 1,533 kickoff return yards to reward the Giants for spending their first-round draft pick on him.
When pressed into service as a running back, however, things started a bit shakier. Wilson fumbled on his second career carry, a problem that plagued him in his college career as well.
Wilson consistently gained ground while carrying the ball, averaging five yards per attempt, but his ball-security issues and inconsistent ability to pass block made him too dangerous a liability to receive substantial playing time.
The Giants need to spend this offseason working with Wilson to improve the facets of the game he struggles with. The team prefers a multiple back system in its running game, and all too often were forced to lean on the injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw with unappealing options playing behind him.
Bradshaw, while a talented runner, seems to benefit from taking fewer snaps and hits over the course of a season. Wilson has all the physical tools to join him in the backfield as a consistent, effective runner. He put that on clear display during his spectacular game against New Orleans in December.
It's up to the Giants to make sure, in his second year as a pro, he's prepared to do so.
The Giants secondary this past season was, in a word, atrocious.
Plagued by injuries, and ineffective when it was able to play, the squad was exposed when New York's front four was unable to pressure the quarterback as well as it has in the past. Opposing quarterbacks, with their newly found comfort in the pocket, proceeded to pick them apart.
Prince Amukamara, the team's top draft choice before the 2011 season, was the one bright spot, showing signs of continued improvement. Additionally, Stevie Brown earned two NFC Defensive Player of the Week awards during his eight-interception year.
It was not nearly enough, however, as the Giants placed 28th in pass defense.
Most culpable might be Corey Webster. Webster played poorly through most of the season, and was often targeted as a weakness by opposing offenses.
New York is not the type of franchise to make a splashy offseason acquisition to shore up weaknesses, so look for the Giants to add secondary depth during the draft.
However, if the Giants continue to struggle to bring pressure with the front four, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell may be forced to make schematic changes to his team's defense to guard against the pass.
The New York Giants are a talented team, but there are plenty of cracks to fill. In addition to the secondary struggles, the team also played a very poor run defense, allowing 129 yards per game on the ground.
With Randle and Wilson as promising rookies, you have to imagine the franchise will look to build on the defensive side of the ball.
Umenyiora's imminent departure and Tuck's rapid aging could force them to seek out younger pass-rushers, or the more immediate problem of the secondary could lead the team toward drafting a young safety. The anemic run defense would lend itself toward drafting a linebacker.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese, who has guided this team quite capably since taking over in 2007, will have to examine his options. He may make these decisions based on which positions have the best crop of reliable, inexpensive veteran free agents to plug the holes until the team can draft long-term solutions.
Reese's track record of success buys him time, even in New York, to develop his roster as he sees best fit. With two Super Bowls in his five years, he'd be tough to argue with.