Eli Manning had a disappointing season last year. He led the league in interceptions, fumbled the ball in crucial spots and failed to bring the Giants to the playoffs for the second straight season.
Is he right? No, but what do you want him to say? Manning has always been too humble for a man who has a Super Bowl MVP on his resume.
Manning has to improve this year for the Giants to have any chance at the playoffs. He has to make better decisions and play like he did in 2008, when he led the Giants to a 12-4 regular season record.
The Giants have a team that can make the playoffs, and if Manning can have a productive season, he may get to add another award to his resume: Comeback Player of the Year.
The Giants have great depth at wide receiver. It is probably their biggest strength. Aside from Hakeem Nicks, who is going to turn into a star this season—if people don't already consider him a star—what other big-name receiver do they have?
People have heard about how the Giants have lost Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, two of Manning's favorite targets. If Manning can step up, people will forget the Giants lost those two players because quarterbacks can make average receivers into good receivers. Manning has a good receiving corp, so he should make them great.
Mario Manningham's speed has to be respected by defenses. Ramses Barden and Victor Cruz need to step up, and Domenik Hixon has to prove he can play with the Giants like he has in the past before getting hurt.
The depth of the receiving corp should spread out the defense. Aside from Nicks, who is a constant threat, the Giants receive by committee. If Manning can spread the ball around, he should have a big year, and the passing game should be successful.
Eli Manning led the NFL in interceptions last year with 25. It is pretty amazing that the Giants finished 10-6 with a quarterback who threw 25 interceptions. Manning will cut down on his interceptions this year because last year was a fluke year.
Yes, he did have deflected interceptions (but all quarterbacks do), and that shovel pass was maybe his worst decision in his career, but he'll make up for it this year.
Remember, Manning still did throw for 31 touchdowns. He did play without Steve Smith last year for multiple games so he has experience with the receiving corp without Smith. Better decision making will make the Giants better, and more people will recognize the decision ability of Manning.
The Giants still rely on the ground game when their offense is working. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw make up one of the premier backfields of the NFL. Together, it is realistic to expect 2,000 or more yards from these two this season.
So if the Giants running game is successful, defenses will have to guard against that, leaving Manning with more options. If a defense has to bring six, seven or eight guys into the box to guard against the run, that leaves man-to-man coverage for Manning on the outside. This screams mismatch, especially for Nicks.
The Giants reliance on the running game opens up the field for Manning. If he improves his decision making and has some bounces go his way, the running game will leave Manning with space to operate, and this is when he becomes really dangerous.
Eli Manning is probably the second-best quarterback in the NFC East right now, behind Michael Vick. Vick and Tony Romo have the capability to take over a game, while Manning has not shown that skill recently.
The Eagles go into this season as the favorites in the NFC East with their "dream team," while the Giants and Cowboys should be competing for a wild card spot this season. The Cowboys may have a better all-around team than the Giants if Romo can be an effective quarterback.
The Giants have a Super Bowl MVP quarterback who has been in big spots before. If the Giants have any chance of the playoffs, Manning has to put the team on his back and carry them.
With all of the attention placed on Vick's all-around game and Romo's comeback from injury, Manning may fly under the radar, which is just the way he likes it. Playing in a tough division every year should bring out the best from Manning, especially this year with the Eagles' big-name players and the Cowboys being the Cowboys.
Eli Manning definitely dug himself into a hole with his comments about being in the same "class" as Tom Brady. Every game this season, his stats will be compared to Brady's because of his comments. Almost every week, Brady is going to outperform Manning.
Hopefully, his comments will inspire Manning to bring his best game every single week. He doesn't want to be made to look like a fool, so he's fighting for his ego.
Manning can silence his critics by leading the Giants to victories. If he plays well and gives the Giants a chance to win, there will be no need to compare stats because quarterbacks are judged on wins. Trent Dilfer can forever put on his resume "Super Bowl Champion," and nobody will care that he was probably the worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
Manning probably regrets making those comments about Brady, but if he puts up wins and good numbers, those comments could be a blessing in disguise for the Giants.
The Comeback Player of the Year award is given to a player who has a good year after overcoming a serious injury, not playing in the NFL the year before or bouncing back from a poor year. Manning did not have a good season for a top 10 quarterback in 2010.
If Manning can put up solid numbers and lead the Giants to a playoff spot, he could take home the prize for Comeback Player of the Year in 2011.
If he doesn't win it and leads the Giants to the playoffs, I think Giants fans will be happy with that, too.
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