On February 4, 2008 the New York Giants were the toast of the nation. They had just upset the “evil empire” New England Patriots in Superbowl XLII the night before, beating them 17-14 in a game in which few gave them a chance to even stay close.
New York fans gladly boasted in the faces of their dumb-founded, multi-sport nemeses, savoring every second of Bostonian pain. The media was madly clamoring to punch out reams of David versus Goliath stories depicting the untimely demise of the Patriots’ perfect season. And all anybody could talk about was how effective Eli Manning was in the postseason.
It seems nobody even remembered that five weeks earlier Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and the entire Giants organization had their feet to the flames in the face of another late season sputter as they finished a season 4-4 that they had started at 6-2.
The Giants of the Tom Coughlin era have been notoriously underachieving in the second half of seasons, usually skidding into the playoffs at the end only to suffer a familiar early-round exit.
These Giants have never had the makeup to consistently perform at a high level. They have always flashed glimpses of dominance, which they clearly exhibited throughout their Superbowl winning playoff run.
However, a seemingly more important indicator is their alarming inability to maintain this level of performance throughout the course of an entire season. Surely, nobody ever expects perfection from any team, and ten wins in any season is a record to be proud of. However, it is the games which the Giants should win, but don’t, which are the tell-tale sign that they are yet to arrive as a serious NFL powerhouse.
Last year, Eli Manning and the Giants were dominated by a mediocre Minnesota Vikings team in week 12. In that game, Eli Manning was picked-off four times, with three of those INT”s being returned for touchdowns as Minnesota cruised to a 41-17 romp.
This kind of humiliation does not occur to teams with the makeup to achieve repeat Superbowl appearances. Instead, it is more indicative of a one-year wonder team which, though impressive, is likely to be short-lived.
Even more exhibitive of New York’s inability to consistently win like a champion is their 2-6 finish to the 2006 season in which they started 6-2.
It is these kinds of Jekyll and Hyde performances that make it highly unlikely that the Giants will again reach the Superbowl. That is if they even make the playoffs at all.
The NFC East is possibly the most competitive division in all of football. Three of the four teams from that division made the playoffs last year, and a case can be made for at least the same number to achieve that level of success in the upcoming year.
The Cowboys are undoubtedly the cream of the crop, in the regular season anyway. The Eagles are always a contender, and with a well-groomed Asante Samuel set to join a healthy Donovan McNabb and the uber-productive Brian Westbrook, they will likely push the Cowboys for the division crown. That will likely leave the Giants to battle with the Redskins for third place and hoping to secure a wild-card spot.
The two NFC wild-card spots may be at a premium this year, however. Outside of the NFC East, from which at least one wild-card team will undoubtedly emerge, a resurgent Vikings team looks to push the Packers for the North title. The always unpredictable South could see the Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers all return to their dominant forms. And the classically under-achieving West may finally get its act together enough for the Cardinals to post a playoff-worthy performance. Consequently, the final wild-card spot is sure to enjoy no shortage of suitors.
All this translates into a more competitive playoff race. And with the Giants facing the toughest intra-division opponents, a 10 win season may not realized; especially if the Giants and Tom Coughlin continue their inconsistent ways.