Reasons To Believe
1. One-Two Punch - Hakeem Nicks entered the season as one of the best wideouts in the game and after a few quieter outings to end the season, Nicks erupted in the playoffs with 28 catches for 444 yards and four touchdowns in four games. Playing next to Nicks, Victor Cruz came into his own using his speedy to create space all over the field. Both players have a natural ability to run after the catch and their development was the main reason Eli Manning threw for almost 5,000 yards. Expect more of the same from the dangerous duo in New York.
2. Quarterback Chasers - The Giants' pass rush has been a strength of their defence since their first Super Bowl. Last season they found a whole other gear. Now that Jason Pierre-Paul has realized his potential, their defensive line is downright dominant. Playing in a rotation with and sometimes alongside Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, Pierre-Paul was a beast totalling 17 sacks and being a disruption force on the Giants' line. The scariest part of JPP is that he may still have room to grow.
3. The Book Of Eli - The younger Manning brother has long lived in his brother's shadow, but with Peyton missing the year due to injury it was Eli's time to shine. Eli assaulted the Giants' record books posting 4,933 passing yards and 29 touchdowns and showing that he is one of the more consistent signal callers in the game. Peyton has stolen the spotlight back by signing in Denver, but Eli now has one more Lombardi Trophy than his brother and has carved out his position as a clutch performer both in the regular and post-season.
Reasons To Doubt
1. You Come At The King - In today's NFL it's not easy to defend a title. While the Giants are a skilled club, they barely made it to the post-season and very easily could have missed out on the dance all together. The Giants have won two Super Bowls in the last five years, yet they aren't looked at as a powerhouse like the Patriots were in 2004 and 2005 when they repeated. As a wild card team, the Giants do have a relatively easy schedule, however the champions are always marked men and the Giants will be in every teams sights in 2012.
2. Trouble On The Line - The Giants' defensive line may be one of the best in the league, but their offensive counterpart is in transition. An unproven David Diehl is taking over for Kareem McKenzie at left tackle and Chris Snee, David Baas and Kevin Boothe all had issues with the quality of their play in 2011. An inury to the line would also be a significant blow since the team lacks depth across the board. Manning is surprisingly elusive in the pocket and he will need to use his angles if he is going to have time to look downfield this season.
3. Third Option - After Nicks and Cruz, the Giants have little in the way of a trusted target in the passing game. Rueben Randle and Domenik Hixon are battling to be the third receiver, in a competition where neither has run away with the role. Meanwhile, New York has lost tight end Jake Ballard to the Patriots and Travis Beckum torn his knee ligament in the Super Bowl. Bear Pascoe returns and will compete with former Cowboy Martellus Bennett for snaps. Bennett showed up to camp overweight and is more skilled as a blocker than a receiver. Finding another outlet for Manning will be important early in the season.
What To Expect
If barely making the playoffs equates to a Super Bowl title then the Giants should just focus on making sure the pieces are together near the end of the season. As mentioned, New York is not a dominant team, so they will need to claw their way back to the post-season if they are going to try to win the tournament and raise the Lombardi Trophy again. Expect the Giants to be in the hunt all year long and battling right till the end, but a final month of the Saints, Falcons, Ravens and Eagles may prevent them from another late charge.