Big Blue has a target on their backs and they love it. After being called a fluke after their stunning win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, the New York Giants have proved all critics wrong with an aggressive, merciless defense and a near mistake-free offense quarterbacked by Pro Bowl candidate Eli Manning, the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
The Giants were expected to lose a step or two after the retirement of fan favorite defensive end Michael Strahan and a season-ending injury to defensive lineman Osi Umenyoira. But, the champs have pressed on with the top record in the NFC, and the NFL's second best, at 7-1.
Now comes the Giants' real test. Although they are favored to get the home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs in January, the second-half of their season gets very tough. A lot of talk on New York sports radio suggests that if the Giants get through this second-half with an impressive record, they will be the odds-on favorite to get back to the Super Bowl.
From here on out, the Giants have no bye-week and face these teams: Eagles (twice), Ravens, Cardinals, Redskins, Cowboys, Panthers, finishing at home against the Vikings. In those seven games, five are on the road, including all NFC East opponents. Of the seven opponents, six have a winning record, are playoff contenders, lead their division, or are in the thick of the wild card race.
Any of these final games could be a preview of a potential playoff game, so the champions will have to be on their toes at all times.
For the Giants to continue their success, they must keep their overall team prowess. In doing a little research, I found the following stats:
Manning has thrown 12 touchdowns and five interceptions so far this season and nine of the touchdowns have come within the red zone. In the shotgun formation is where Manning thrives, especially in three and four wide receiver sets. He has a quarterback rating of almost 100 when he spreads the field and only 71.1 when he does not. He also does not perform well under a blitz, as he only has a 72.2 rating when the defense sends extra defenders.
Another measure of a quarterback is how he performs in the clutch. Manning has an astounding 101.1 rating in the fourth quarter and an even better rating of 126.0 when the game is tied and his team needs a score to win. He must also rediscover Plaxico Burress, no matter what the star reciever's problems are off the field. Manning has also found one of the heroes of the Super Bowl, tight-end Kevin Boss, who has caught touchdowns in each of the last two games.
Running the football has also become a big part of the Giants offensive machine, as Brandon Jacobs has shown he is not just a goal-line hammer. Of Jacobs' 131 carries, 67 come on first down. He is given the ball more when the team has a large lead. When the Giants are given a chance to end the game, they make teams try and stop them—as we have seen, Jacobs is a hard man to bring down.
Defensively, this team has gotten even better than last year. It ranks first in sacks with 30 and the secondary is one of the best in the NFL with 11 interceptions, with one returned for a touchdown. It ranks third in the NFL in total defense with 260 yards total per game allowed (175 passing, 85 rushing) and 129 total points allowed (16.1 points per game).
The New York Giants felt disrespected at the outset of the season. They have used it as motivation and are now looking to punish the rest of the NFL on their way to a repeat championship.