When it comes to respect, the New York Giants as a team don’t get it very easily, while their quarterback seems to get it without any difficulty whatsoever. While Eli Manning is extolled as an elite quarterback without ever having an MVP-caliber season, the Giants can win two Super Bowls in five years and still trail the Eagles and Cowboys in their own division in the hype department—not to mention the crosstown Jets. Will Eli produce a MVP-level year in 2012? Will the Giants win another NFC East crown? TheSportsNotebook takes a look at last year’s champs…
OFFENSE: Look, I’m not as down on Eli Manning as my opening comments might suggest. But elite quarterback means putting up MVP numbers, or at the very least, producing a great start-to-finish season that ends with a Super Bowl run. Instead, Eli’s reputation is built on the fact his team has two magical Januarys, one of which (2007) saw him ride the defense and last year, where he dinked around for three-plus quarters against a New England defense that every quarterback in the league torched all year long. So yes, he’s good. But elite? Let’s get a grip.
Manning has two good receivers to throw to, starting with Victor Cruz and his 1,500 yard breakout year of 2011, and Hakeem Nicks on the other side. Mario Manningham is gone to San Francisco, so there’s an opening for a third receiver. Reuben Randle, a rookie out of LSU, will get every chance at the job.
The running game found its legs, no pun intended, in the playoffs, but was terrible from September through January. That won’t hack it this year and that means the offensive line needs to step it up. With David Baas a steady rock at center and Chris Snee solid at guard, New York can run inside. Will Beatty and David Diehl are pretty good, albeit not standouts at the tackles. Overall, this is a line that can get it done if they stay healthy and cohesive, but they aren’t going to come out and start blasting people off the ball.
DEFENSE: A good pass rush from a four-man front is the formula for success in New York and Jason Pierre-Paul registered 16.5 sacks as a 23-year-old defensive end. The Giants have a special talent in Pierre-Paul and he should settle in for several years of terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. The team could use a better year from Justin Tuck, who still gets high grades from ESPN’s Scouts Inc. for his overall game, but had only five sacks. Linval Joseph holds down the middle against the run. The other tackle is weak, as is middle linebacker, so if you want to beat this team there’s a very narrow window where you might be able to run at the middle. But given the quality of outside linebackers Mathis Kiawnuka and Michael Boley, I’d emphasize the “narrow” element of that window.
The secondary is in good hands. Corey Webster is a solid at one corner, and while Price Amakumara is a significant weakness on the other side, the quality of the safeties ensures plenty of help, with Antrell Rolle in centerfield and Kenny Phillips at strong safety. Overall, there’s quality up and down and at every level of this defense.
LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN PROJECTION: 9—This is really a low number for a Super Bowl champ with all the strengths outlined above, although the fact they went 9-7 a year ago does give some obvious credibility to the line. But I would still have to go Over.