Last season the New York Giants shocked many people. I'm sure you heard this one before.
It's true though. Not many people picked the New York football Giants as legit Super Bowl contenders. Shoot, not many picked them to get out of the NFC East. With the supposed "Dream Team" over in Philly, the Giants were left as afterthoughts. Too bad the Giants didn't have that same mentality. With the 2012-2013 season on the way, the Giants are once again looked upon as afterthoughts after some other NFC teams have made some improvements.
The New York Giants did the unthinkable last season. After going into Green Bay and San Francisco and upsetting the top two seeds, the Giants then went on to upset the favored New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Deja-blue? I'm pretty sure this happened in 2007 as well, but I digress.
The big difference after this last Super Bowl win is that the Giants have lost many of their key contributors that helped win last year's big game. No Mario Manningham, no Brandon Jacobs, no Jake Ballard and they might miss Hakeem Nicks for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, teams like the wide receiver-hungry Chicago Bears added veteran receiver and Jay Cutler pal, Brandon Marshall. The teams around the Giants are only getting stronger while they seem to be downgrading.
Through the 2012 NFL Draft, they addressed the issues at running back and wide receiver. Now, are those players going to fill the shoes of a Jacobs or a Manningham? No, but they definitely fill voids in the roster. Reuben Randle was on the the Giants big board in the first round. When he fell into their laps in the second, they snatched him up happily. They hope he will compete with players like Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan and Ramses Barden for the third and possibly second receiver slot on the roster. Depending on Hakeem Nicks' health, of course.
The San Francisco 49ers upgraded their roster with the signings of the aforementioned Manningham and Jacobs. Jacobs will help take the load off of Frank Gore's back. The Niners could pound it with either player, which will help sustain Gore late into the season. That's a big thing after seeing Gore struggle at the end of last season with injuries. Manningham will help shore up the receiving core that showed it's true colors in the NFC Title game last season. He'll also help ease Alex Smith's mind, knowing he has a player with the hands of Manningham. If you doubt Manningham's hands, take a gander at that catch during the Super Bowl.
The Green Bay Packers are going to be the Green Bay Packers, and that alone makes them a favorite to win the NFC. As long as Aaron Rodgers is under center for them, they will be among the top seeds in the NFC and a legit Super Bowl contender. The Detroit Lions are hungry and talented. They showed that last season with a big play offense and a talented yet young defense. They learned a lesson last year, and I look for them to make more strides toward another solid season. The Eagles have learned as well from last season. Just because you look great on paper doesn't mean that translates to the field. They started to gel as the season went on and players understood their roles on the team. With a healthy Mike Vick and with players like Desean Jackson playing intelligently, they have unlimited potential. They finished strong at 8-8 last season and I see them being a possible 12-win team.
I don't know how the New Orleans Saints will respond after the whole "Bounty-Gate" situation. They still have the talent to be a 10-11 win team, but without Sean Payton at the helm I can't see them finishing among the top seeds in the NFC. The Falcons to me are like the Atlanta Hawks (no intent on matching cities) of the NFL. They have the strong nucleus, but just don't have that "It" factor. The factor that pushes them over the top, the factor that makes them like the OKC Thunder. From contender to winner.
The two teams I feel have an opportunity to make noise in the NFC are the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have made some changes that could shoot them up the NFC South ladder and possibly the NFC as a whole. They added a dynamic receiver in Vincent Jackson and vets in OL Carl Nicks and CB Eric Wright. Josh Freeman will benefit from another year under his belt, even though he regressed last season, I look for him to have a huge year with the help of Jackson, Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount. New Head Coach Greg Schiano should help along the way as well.
Where do the Giants fit into the NFC? Winning the NFC East will be a challenge within itself. I can see the Giants realistically going 9-7, but I feel they're more destined to be a 7-9 or a 8-8 team. A lot of teams have gone through different changes, some for the better some for the worse. The Giants unfortunately fall into that "worse" spot. Luckily for the Giants, Osi Umenyiora came to an agreement and restructured his deal after he saw the outpouring of affection from his teammates. That helps solidify the already strong defensive line backed by Vet Justin Tuck and Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul. If the rookies they drafted can step up and play key contributing roles and Victor Cruz can continue his salsa throughout the secondaries around the league, than don't be surprised if the Giants make another run at a title.
It doesn't matter if they suffer through injuries, contract disputes or coaches on the hot seat. This team has a knack for getting through tough times and rising through it all. If there's one thing we learned about a Tom Coughlin-coached New York Giants team over the past few years, it's never, never count them out.