When the 2010 NFL season began, few people were giving the New York Giants credit. Their stumbles at the end of last season were cited and many expected the Giants to finish in the NFC East cellar. Instead, the Giants have had a phenomenal season. After staggering following a 6-2 start, the Giants have bounced back with two big wins and look ahead to an unplanned Monday Night showdown with the Minnesota Vikings, and maybe Brett Favre.
Just a few weeks ago, the Giants were being crowned Super Bowl champions, but many quickly turned their backs on them following a disappointing loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Now, with many still refusing to look at the Giants like a legit competitor, there might not be a bigger sleeper looking ahead to the playoffs than the New York Football Giants!
The New York Giants have always been a run-first team, but last season, the running game did not exist at any point during the year. Because of that, the Giants stumbled down the stretch and ultimately removed themselves from playoff contention by finishing 8-8 in a strong NFC.
This season, the Giants' run game has been one of the best in the league. They rank sixth in the NFL in rushing while starter Ahmad Bradshaw ranks fourth in the NFC, topping 1,000 yards this past week vs. the Washington Redskins.
With the resurgence of Brandon Jacobs in recent weeks, the Giants look primed for a big rush to and through the playoffs. If Bradshaw can hold on to the ball, the run game could very well carry them all the way to the Super Bowl.
His interceptions may be a bit high, but a lot of that has had nothing to do with him. The Giants' receivers have been hanging out with Santonio Holmes too much this year and seem to have caught the dropsies. Unfortunately for Eli, those drops have resulted in a handful of interceptions by the defense.
Still, Eli is having a great year and one that is arguably better than that of his brother, Peyton Manning. He is poised for his sixth consecutive 3,000 yard passing season, has passed for 23 touchdowns and is on pace to set a career high in completion percentage; he currently sits at 64.8 percent.
Eli kept the passing game strong without his two top receivers, Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks, and was benefited by a surging ground game that has opened up a lot of new opportunities that were not available to Eli midseason as well as last season.
Eli has done great as the silent leader of the Giants, guiding them to an 8-4 record and putting them in great position for another playoff berth this season. As long as Eli can keep doing what he's done all year, the Giants should fare well the rest of the way.
The so-called "disciplinarian" has yet to prove as such during his stint as the head coach of the New York Giants and his team's struggles in the second half are well-documented. Nonetheless, Tom Coughlin has proven time and time again that in the face of adversity, he doesn't quit. This season, the Giants seem more focused than ever.
Just when everyone though the G-Men were ready to crash and burn again this year, Coughlin kicked his team into gear and guided them back. As a result, the Giants have won two straight heading into Minnesota (Detroit, rather). The penalties have cut down dramatically and the Giants are keeping their heads, something they failed to do in earlier contests with the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys.
If the Giants can keep it going, it will be a big statement to the coach that Tom Coughlin is. An even bigger statement would be guiding the Giants to their second Super Bowl behind his leadership.
It's arguable that nothing was killing the New York Giants more than special teams. There are certain aspects that could be improved, such as punter Matt Dodge and his two-second hang time, but things are looking up.
That is, of course, because of DJ Ware. Ware missed two games with a concussion earlier in the season and sat behind Darius Reynaud and Will Blackmon on the return team. When Reynaud and Blackmon went down with injury, Ware took over kick return duties and has fared much better than the others.
A slight two-yard boost per return has given the Giants a much needed addition to a field position battle they'd been losing for much of the year. To this point, Ware's numbers are not outstanding, but they are an improvement and just so happen to coincide with the Giants' return to success.
To top it off, the not-so-automatic Lawrence Tynes has been surprisingly, well, automatic. Tynes hasn't missed a scoring chance since Week 4, even tying a career-long in Week 7 against the Cowboys.
Many people take the special teams group for granted, seemingly the Giants did to start the season, but field position is one of the most important things in a football game. If you can control field position, you can control your opponent almost every game.
The Giants defense has almost always been one of the league's best, but in the second half of 2009, it turned into a laughing stock. They allowed more than 40 points in three of their last four games, including 44 to this week's opponent, the Minnesota Vikings. The Giants secondary was exposed all season and the inability to rush the passer gave each opposing quarterback an opportunity to feast on that secondary every week.
This season, the Giants have turned it around. The Giants are the second-best passing defense in the league, allowing just 192.8 yards per game. They are seventh in sacks, with 35, and are tied atop the league in takeaways with the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers with 30.
The Giants have been a terror for opposing offenses in every facet of the game. They've quickly regained the reputation for being physical and have had no problem knocking out opposing quarterbacks, injuring five thus far this season.
It's no secret that defense wins championships. The 2007 team won because of the defense and if the Giants plan to win the Lombardi Trophy once again, it's going to be because of this physical defense they've put on display this season.
His tactics have been questioned for years by Giants fans, but this year he's doing everything right. Once thought to have his job in jeopardy, like the rest of the Giants staff, it's fair to assume if things don't fall apart, he'll be around again next season.
The offense is balanced and everyone is making plays. Everyone seems to know what they're doing and with the exception of some minor mishaps following the bye, the Giants offense has been very focused. The Giants are sixth in scoring in the NFL and fourth-ranked overall in total offense. There are still some pieces of the offense, such as their third-conversion percentage of 36.5 percent, that could use some work, but at 8-4 and as one of the top offenses in the league it is hard to complain.
With the Giants' best receiving duo of Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks both out with injuries, you would think Big Blue would have struggled offensively. Instead, the opposite has happened. Now with the duo returning and the ground game finally kicking into gear, it's very possible the Giants could turn into the most dangerous offense in the NFL.
The ground game should open up some more play-action passes and force the defensive backs to the line, thus opening up some big opportunities for Smith and Nicks deep. Nicks won't finish the year with the numbers he was on pace for and Smith won't finish with the numbers he had last season, but they'll happily take a Super Bowl ring instead.
As aforementioned, the Giants' defense has evolved into ballhawks with the help of their new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. It was said last year that Fewell was a turnover-minded coach with his defenses allowing some yardage, but not the points to go with it due to turnovers.
Thus far, the Giants have managed to do both. The Giants have forced 30 takeaways and are a concern for quarterbacks when they're in the pocket as well as when they've let the ball go.
Perhaps the most responsible for all those previously mentioned quarterback injuries? Why defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, of course!
Umenyiora and Tuck have combined for 17.5 of the Giants' 34 sacks this season. To go along with the sacks, they've learned how to knock the ball loose on almost every sack. Osi has had much more luck forcing the fumbles while Justin Tuck has made the recoveries with four on the season.
With a threat on both ends, it's tough for teams to keep up. When teams think they've stopped this duo, they then have to worry about the men come from the inside, such as rookie Jason Pierre-Paul and Barry Cofield. The constant pressure on the quarterback has in turn benefited the secondary who have had no trouble picking off 13 passes this season.
The biggest surprise this year? The lack of characters on this New York Giants team. Players like Brandon Jacobs and Osi Umenyiora have learned their place on the team, accepting it and performing as expected. It's amazing have fewer issues a team can have when a guy like Plaxico Burress is long gone from their minds.
The loudmouth Jacobs has had no issues splitting carries and even surrendering his starting job to Ahmad Bradshaw while Osi, who spent the offseason disgruntled, appears to be much more pleased now with the team and his place within it.
No one is demanding the ball. No one is complaining in the locker room. This is a team determined to win and determined to have fun while doing it. They're doing it together and succeeding in doing so. Each and every individual understands that they are a unit, one team and can only succeed as such. As this team, they are 8-4 and playing well heading into tonight. There's no reason to believe that things can't continue with injured starters returning and struggling players starting to turn it around.
While the Patriots, Falcons, Steelers and Eagles grab everyone's attention, the Giants happily take their place as the underdog; a position that grew rather fond of in 2007. If the Giants can keep it up, there's no reason to believe they can't fight their way into the Super Bowl. And with everyone comparing the Patriots to their 2007 counterparts, we might just get to see history repeat itself this February!