The New York Giants went on a magical run to the Super Bowl in 2007 that nobody expected. That year in the playoffs, the team was clicking on all cylinders and could do no wrong.
So what do they need to do to get back to the promised land?
So many things have gone wrong for the Giants the past three seasons. They looked ready to defend their title in 2008 with an 11-1 start before the Plaxico Burress incident derailed the season.
In 2009 and 2010, they started the seasons 5-0 and 6-2, respectively, and were crowned the league's most complete team in both seasons by many analysts.
A rash of injuries to the defensive side of the ball in 2009 and the same to the offensive side in 2010 caused those seasons to go up in flames, so what do the Giants need to do to ensure they make the playoffs again in 2011?
Well, I'll tell you.
This is a hard point to get across when the current Super Bowl champs went through the worst run of injuries I've ever seen, with 15 players on injured reserve at the end of the regular season.
However, the Giants have had injuries at positions they just couldn't afford to the last two years. Kenny Phillips went down after two games in 2009, and the team was not ready for that. C.C. Brown was forced to play safety; it was not a pretty sight.
This past season the Giants were rolling along fine, and then Steve Smith got hurt. This really killed the Giants as he was Eli Manning's security blanket on third down.
He's also a topic of the next slide.
The Giants' franchise leader for receptions in a season is a free agent this offseason, albeit a restricted one, and the team has to re-sign him regardless of the knee injury he suffered at the end of last season.
His rehab is ahead of schedule, and he is supposed to start running as early as May, so he might be ready for the 2011 season earlier than we thought.
Eli Manning was a different quarterback without Smith last season, and I'm not sure the Giants have the personnel to replace him at the moment.
I don't care if it's round one, two or three (hopefully not), but the Giants need to find a starting outside linebacker in the draft.
The linebackers were a weak spot on the defense last season, although they actually played above expectations. They are a couple of players away from being one of the best defenses in the league, and it starts with finding a linebacker.
Come to think of it, the Giants need to re-sign most of their current free agents. There are some they can afford to let go (Michael Johnson, Gerris Wilkinson), but the others they can't.
Mathias Kiwanuka, Barry Cofield, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kevin Boss are all free agents tendered by the Giants this offseason, meaning they could walk unless the Giants met offers from other teams.
They would do well to match most offers, unless the opposing team just offers the guy top dollar; the Giants already have multiple high-salary players.
Something has to be done about the 42 turnovers the Giants committed last season. As much as the defense was great at collecting turnovers—39 of them—the offense seemed to either not capitalize on them or turn the ball right back over.
At first, the interceptions Eli Manning were throwing were his receivers' fault, for the most part. They got a bad case of the butter fingers last season and were questioning far too often why they ate popcorn before the game.
However, that only accounted for 10 of Eli's interceptions. Towards the end of the year, when the Giants were pulling guys off the couch to play receiver, Eli tried to force the issue too often, and it resulted in games like the five-turnover game against the Eagles In November.
Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride was recently asked about those interceptions.
"A combination of poor judgment and trying to force some things," Gilbride said. "Where he’s under duress a couple of times and you see him with the poor judgment, he’s spinning around and trying to make a play. You have to sometimes accept the sack. He protects the line and there’s not as many sacks statistically. But would you rather have a sack or would you rather have a turnover? That’s the way you have to look at it."
It's a hard pill Manning to swallow when the Giants' OC and head coach both say he should take more sacks. A quarterback never likes to purposely take a sack when he thinks he can make a play, but that is part of the maturation process, and Eli has to step up and do what's right for the team.
Assuming the Giants retain Brandon Jacobs, and with the lockout they probably will, they need to get back to the power running attack that worked so well in the 2007 season.
Eli Manning has seen a boost in both yards and touchdowns the past two seasons and played some of his best football, but the team is at its best when they run the ball, use clock and methodically move down the field.
The best defense is a well-rested one, and the main way to ensure that the defense is well-rested is to keep them off the field.
Especially with the explosive offenses of the Eagles and Cowboys in their own division, they would do well to keep the ball out of Michael Vick's and Tony Romo's hands.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are one of the best one-two punches in the NFL at the running back position; Tom Coughlin even admitted after the season that he wished they got the ball to Jacobs more often.
This is because Jacobs wears down the defense early on, so by the time the fourth quarter rolls around, the Giants can impose their will.
This is how it worked in the 2008 season when they finished 12-4 and No. 1 in the NFC. Perhaps they need to find someone to come in and be the "Wind" of the famous "Earth, Wind and Fire" running back trio of Bradshaw, Jacobs and Derrick Ward.
They actually ran the ball very well with just Jacobs and Bradshaw this season, but they didn't sustain it all season long. It took them a while to get going and often disappeared in games, especially in the first game against the Eagles.
A lot of that had to do with the offensive line always in flux with injuries, so that goes back to slide one. It also brings me to the next and final slide.
Rich Seubert is coming off major knee surgery to repair a dislocated kneecap—same injury that ended Blake Griffin's entire rookie season—and entering his would be 11th season. Shaun O'Hara has had two surgeries to fix problems with both of his feet. Hence, the Giants need to find an insurance policy early in the draft.
They have already been linked to Mike Pouncey, guard/center from the University of Florida, several times.
Tom Coughlin mentioned the Giants were in desperate need of a center at the NFL scouting combine, and Kevin Gilbride told a group of high school coaches at an awards banquet that they were looking to possibly draft Pouncey.
That may be a little too transparent in my book, but it does feel good to know the Giants' coaches understand their needs.
Now that said, they don't necessarily need to draft an interior lineman early, but they should consider drafting an offensive tackle early on if they don't take Pouncey.
That way, the rookie can compete with David Diehl for the left tackle spot and possibly win it, allowing Diehl to move inside to his natural position of left guard.
At the moment, Nate Solder or Gabe Carimi look like the best options where the Giants are picking.
The Week 1 starting offensive linemen would all be 28 and older, so the time to start adding youth to the line is now.