With Training Camps opening, NFL fans everywhere are getting increasingly antsy, as the beginning of the new NFL season draws ever closer. As a new year begins, as do preseason Super Bowl predictions.
In the AFC, there is some debate, but most seem to think the conference crown will come down to a battle between defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh and perennial conference powerhouse New England.
As for the NFC, things are a bit more open. Philadelphia, Carolina, and defending conference champ Arizona are teams whose names are being tossed around, while more adventurous voters are leaning toward teams like Minnesota and Atlanta. But the most popular team I have seen near the top of many a conference list is New York.
Of course, predictions on Aug. 1 are essentially pointless, because it's impossible to predict what hidden factors could deflate a teams run to a championship.
A large group of people end the season looking foolish, and while I could possibly see them contending in '09, it's my belief that one massively incorrect group will be backers of the New York Giants.
Now over the last two years, the Giants have had one of the league's better defenses, and they should boast a solid unit again this year. An already fearsome pass rush led by young stud Justin Tuck, should improve further with the return of Osi Umenyiora, who missed all of last year with a knee injury.
The Giants are also aided by the solid veteran leadership of Middle Linebacker Antonio Pierce, and several newly acquired players like Michael Boley
While talent is the driving force of a good defense, the Giants lost the architect of their solid schemes when coordinator Steve Spagnuolo bolted to take the head coaching job in St. Louis.
The Giants' stunning upset over New England in Super Bowl XLII was largely due to Spagnuolo's brilliantly devised and perfectly executed gameplan, which virtually shut down the most potent offense in NFL history.
While replacement Bill Sheridan has been with the team since 2005, he still has an uphill climb in replacing one of the games premier coordinators.
While they may drop a little, the Giants' defense may be fine. It's their offense that has me envisioning them on the outside looking in when the postseason begins.
New York put a lot of faith in an unproven receiving core this offseason, by releasing troubled wideout Plaxico Burress, not re-signing the franchises all time leading receiver Amani Toomer and making no splashes in free agency. If you ask me, too much faith has been put into this unit which has already proven to be untrustworthy.
The big question in Giants camp is, who will emerge as the number one receiver? Returning players competing for starting roles include Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Sinorce Moss, Mario Manningham and David Tyree among others.
Not only am I not convinced any of these guys could be a No. 1 receiver, I don't think any of them could be a viable No. 2 either.
Now the Giants did bring in new talent for Quarterback Eli Manning in the draft, most notably first round pick, wideout Hakeem Nicks, but if there's any one position that is inconsistent in yielding instant results, it's receiver.
For every rookie who produces a first year like Michael Clayton, there are literally dozens whose neophyte campaigns resemble, well, the rest of Clayton's career. Nicks, along with third rounders, receiver Ramses Barden and Tight End Travis Beckum may have a lot to offer in the future, but counting on them immediately likely won't pay off.
And this isn't just scoffing at an unproven unit. This is a unit whose inability to make plays derailed the season of a team which looked poised to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The Giants were cruising at 11-1, before loosing three of their last four in the regular season, and bowing out against Philly in the NFC Divisional round. In those five games, New York averaged a meager 156.6 passing yards a game.
For them to follow this ineffective stretch by essentially putting the same unit on the field is a bit head-scratching.
The Giants lone win in that span, a 34-28 OT victory against Carolina, was fueled by a 301 yard performance by their rushing attack, the highest ranked rushing attack in the league last year. Sadly for Giant fans, said attack likely won't possess the same luster this season.
Derrick Ward, who accounted for 215 of the 301 yards in the above mentioned game, took some punch out of the ground game when he and his 1,025 yards bolted to Tampa Bay.
I'm sure G-men fans will be quick to point out they still have a very good offensive line, and they are blocking for another 1,000 yard rusher in Brandon Jacobs but that doesn't wipe out all concern. Not at all.
While talented, Jacobs is also one of the greatest injury risks at his position, having missed eight games over the past two seasons. If and when he goes down, the bulk of the workload will go to third-year back Ahmad Bradshaw.
Bradshaw has looked ok when given the opportunity to play, but I haven't seen anything that has sold me on him as a potential feature back, or even someone who come close to duplicating the 1,000 yards Ward accumulated in the backup role last season.
And to go back to the passing game, the Giants also lost their best receiving back when Ward left. The loss of his 384 receiving yards last season seem more notable when considering his counterparts Jacobs and Bradshaw finished '08 with 78 yards receiving combined!
After a drama plagued 2006 season, the Giants became very successful in turning a circus-like organization into a smoothly run powerhouse that brought in a Super Bowl and a Conference best record in back-to-back seasons.
Coach Tom Coughlin and GM Jerry Reece have done great work in removing much of the the distractions that had previously held the organization back, and with them at the helm, it's impossible to write the Giants off as a complete non-contender.
That being said, I see a lot of holes in this years squad. Their defense is in transition, and the loss of his partner-in-crime has put a lot of pressure on Brandon Jacobs to do what he hasn't been able to do since become the Giants' top back: stay healthy.
Even if these situations don't create major problems, it still may not be enough to counteract a weak passing game. Eli Manning is few people's idea of an elite Quarterback, but he can be effective with good weapons around him.
This year, his top weapon is arguably Kevin Boss, an average-at-best Tight End. Come late in the season I think the Giants may be kicking themselves for not making a play at available veteran talent like T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Obviously with many training camps only hours along, all articles like this are merely speculation and many may prove to have no worth by seasons end. If you were to ask me could the Giants make the playoffs? My answer would be, certainly. But if given deep analytical thought, for all the reasons mentioned above, if you asked me will they make the playoffs? My answer would be no.
And as for the "will the Giants reach the Super Bowl?" question, I would put all the supposed integrity I have accumulated by playing journalistic dress-up on this site for the past 10 months into this very confident answer:
Not a chance.