Going into the 2011 NFL regular season, there are several question marks surrounding the New York Giants' chances of making the playoffs. With the lockout shortening preseason training and workouts, as well as a huge free-agent market, the Giants did not improve as much as their key NFC opponents in the offseason.
To add to it all, Eli Manning is coming off a season in which he threw 25 interceptions to go along with 31 touchdowns, yet he believes he should be in the upper echelon of QBs among the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and his brother Peyton.
If Eli and the rest of the Giants want to prove themselves in 2011, there are some huge games they are going to need to win.
The Giants' upcoming matchup with division rival Washington Redskins in the very first game of the 2011 season could be the biggest indicator of how their season is going to go. The Redskins are coming off a tumultuous season with QB controversy and just overall bad play.
With the Redskins' distractions seemingly set to rest going into 2011, they will be a much tougher opponent than the team the Giants beat twice in 2010 (31-7 and 17-14). The Giants are also a different team, though, having lost offensive weapon Steve Smith to Philadelphia, and having a lot of new faces on the offensive line could burn the team and allow more than the 2010 O-line's league-best of just 16 sacks allowed.
The Redskins secondary is mostly unchanged, except for some new rookie starters. It ranked last in the league in 2010 in pass defense, and if it is unimproved Eli Manning has the opportunity to light up the 'Skins.
The Giants are a new team in 2010 and this game will surely be a tight one, but if it isn't, fans should be able to predict how the rest of the season is going to go.
Another key divisional matchup, the Giants face the Philadelphia Eagles, aka "The Dream Team," in Week 3. Although their play in preseason didn't really live up to the whole "Dream Team" name, they will still be one of the Giants' most difficult challenges in 2011.
If anything, the Eagles have improved vastly on 2010 going into the 2011 year, and the secondary duo of Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel are going to be a lot for Eli Manning to handle. Thankfully for the Giants, running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have the potential to tear up the field against the Eagles and their dismal rush defense.
For the Giants, the ultimate task in this game is going to be stopping Michael Vick and the terrific passing game of the Eagles. DeSean Jackson will lead the Eagles into the game with former Giant Steve Smith by his side. The Giants ranked seventh in total defense in 2010 and will look to Justin Tuck to take a lot of the heat while Osi Umenyiora is expected to miss the game as he is still rehabbing from injury.
Cause for concern should be at the CB position, where both starters are injured and will not play. If the newcomers can not step up, the Giants could be torched by the long ball.
Games between the Giants and Eagles always seem to end up very entertaining, and this game should be no different.
In Week 9, the Giants find themselves facing a familiar foe, and the same team they beat in 2008 to win Super Bowl XLII. Okay, so not exactly the same team after the 2011 offseason, but nonetheless the Giants will go into Foxborough to take on the dynasty that is the New England Patriots.
The Patriots had a big offseason, bringing in the likes of WR Chad Ochocinco, DE Shaun Ellis and the infamous DT Albert Haynesworth, and are looking to get back to the glory days. The task of taming the mighty Patriots will be difficult for the Giants, but most will be tuning into this one for the steady rivalry and intensity seen when these two teams meet.
The coaching battle between the Giants' Tom Coughlin and Patriots Bill Belichick should be intriguing as well. The Giants aren't expected to win this game, but expect an entertaining battle with many story lines.
If the Giants are still in contention come Week 13, their biggest test of the entire season will be the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. The Packers come into the year with all of their significant pieces from the championship team and will undoubtedly be the ultimate test for the Giants in 2011.
The Giants will have their fair share of tests to try and prove they are indeed a top contender in the NFC, but they can't say it until they defeat the defending NFC champions. The Giants got absolutely clobbered in 2010, losing 45-17 to the Packers, and will be aiming to redeem themselves in 2011, whether it be to try and make the postseason or play spoiler. Late-season games are always entertaining.
In their second-to-last game of the season, the Giants will face off against the Jets in the battle of New York. Although it is a rare matchup, with the teams meeting just 11 times since the Jets' inception into the NFL in 1970, both teams come in with a different sense of pride, and both believe their team is the true representative of New York when it comes to football.
Expect a raucous crowd of New Yorkers representing both sides and a lot of passion on the field. They won't be meeting in prime-time, but they may as well be. Both teams will be battling for a postseason spot in their conferences and surely all eyes in the football world will be on New York for the game.