We are approaching the midpoint of the 2010 NFL season and we are starting to get a good picture of which teams are truly contenders for the Lombardi Trophy.
This year has been full of surprises—the Cowboys' woes, Romo's injury, the Vikings' struggles, the Saints' home upsets by the Browns and Cardinals plus the Buccaneers 5-2 start. But one "shocker" that has the NFC upside-down is the rise of the New York Giants to the top of the NFC East.
Personally, I don't think its that surprising that Big Blue got off to a great start. They have a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball and a group of coaches led by Tom Coughlin that preach a disciplined, hard-nosed style of football. They demand that you earn your respect on the field and don't let the game play you.
Bradshaw has been especially impressive, rushing for 708 yards on 134 carries, which is good for a 5.3. yard average. His fumbles are cause for concern—he's lost four already—but Tiki Barber had the same problem early in his career and TC fixed that for him quickly and effectively.
New York has the fourth-ranked rushing offense and the ninth-ranked passing offense. They can beat you both ways and have shown that they can be dependent on one more than the other in order to exploit weaknesses. When they are healthy and running on all cylinders, they are a top-five offense in the NFL. Hakeem Nicks is budding into a star, leading all wide receivers in touchdowns with eight while hauling in 45 passes for 525 yards in the Giants first seven games.
Steve Smith is the epitome of consistency and continues to make a big impact week-in and week-out. His 42 catches, 471 yards and two touchdowns put him on pace for around 100 and 1,000 yards and when you have two receivers as dynamic and Smith and Nicks, not to mention a maturing Mario Manningham in the slot, it makes for a long day for opposing secondaries.
The G-Men have had their fair share of troubles when in possession of the pigskin as Manning has thrown 11 interceptions and the Bradshaw-Jacobs have accounted for five lost fumbles. A number of Eli's picks have been balls that have been dropped by a receiver and tipped into a defenders waiting hands.
I know this means that Eli has been playing a lot better than what his touchdown to interception ratio indicate, but it also means the promising wide receivers have a hole in their game they need to patch up, and hopefully eliminate come playoff time.
Despite the turnovers, New York sits at 5-2 and has averaged 25 points per game, tied for eighth in the NFL.
On defense, Perry Fewell's unit has bought into his system and looks better than ever. After an auspicious start to the season, the Big Blue defense has been the best in football, ranking second in pass defense and third in stopping the run.
Osi Umenyiora has put last year's disaster behind him and is on pace for over 20 sacks, which hasn't been accomplished by a Giant since Michael Strahan broke Mark Gastineau's single-season record of 22 sacks with 22.5 in 2001. Having Justin Tuck opposite Osi on the defensive line, along with Barry Coefield and Chris Canty, this line can get to the quarterback and get to him often.
The linebackers, who were expected to be the glaring weakness of this defensive unit, have played very sound football. Even without free agent acquisition Keith Bulluck, who has been battling injury throughout the season, the linebacking corp has proved they belong on the field.
Led by Jonathan Goff, who has matured into a fine young player for Fewell, these guys fly to the ball, can support for the run and play decent coverage.
The secondary is a group who could be the best in the NFL when they are healthy. New arrival Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips are a killer combination at safety, playing the run and the pass both very well. Corey Webster has been totally shutting down opposing receivers and Terrell Thomas reminds me of a young Antoine Winfield with the way he attacks the ball carrier.
The special teams are a big question and rookie punter Matt Dodge has been shaky, but with such an electric offense and one of the most fierce defenses in football, this New York team is the real deal.
New York has been playing very inspired football and if they stick to their game plan and maintain balanced play calling, they are virtually impossible to contain.
The Falcons, Saints and Packers seem to pose the biggest threat to the Giants, but they all have big problems with certain aspects of their football teams—Atlanta's pass defense, the Saints and Packers injuries—and I don't think they quite matchup with the G-Men.
So, I want to be the first one to say that the New York Giants are the team to beat in the NFC. They are going to have a target on their heads for the rest of the season and teams are going to be chomping at the bit to knock them off their high horse.
I know I've probably mentioned the word balance a million times already in this article, but there really is no team is as balanced on both sides of the ball as Coughlin's crew and this team is very reminiscent of the 2007 bunch that held up that Super Bowl trophy at the end of the year.
Smile Giants fans, we are in for one hell of a show for the next nine weeks, and hopefully that success can lead to a playoff berth and a championship run.
Phil Lombardo is a Bleacher Report writing intern and a senior journalism/mass communications major at St. Bonaventure University.
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