|Despite a second Lombardi Trophy, Eli can't get no respect. (Getty Images)|
Eli Manning went onto CNN the other day. Naturally, the Giants quarterback and two-time Super Bowl winner was asked a question about ... Tim Tebow? Of course he was, because that's the kind of respect he and the Giants command in the town they play football. Which might be less respect than they command in the NFC East, where you're unlikely to see many pundits pick them to win the division.
It's beyond foolish (not to mention disrespectful). But Eli and Co. are OK by that.
"It's one of those deals, in New York you win a Super Bowl but I'm the third most talked about quarterback between Mark [Sanchez] and Tim," Manning said. "But that's the way I like it."
This wasn't the first time Manning's had to say that. He repeated the mantra on another national news show around NFL Draft time. Knowing that people would rather talk Tebow and Sanchez than Manning and his rings, and knowing that the Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins all had "big" offseasons, should it be any surprise that people aren't picking the Giants to win the NFC East ... again?
Of course not. But in the land of offseason champs, the Giants are still king, because they have a proven formula for winning, continuity across the board and an easier schedule this season.
|Tuck might do more of this in 2012. (Getty Images)|
It's nearly impossible to predict a championship-winning hot streak in the NFL, although they're happening more and more in recent years. But there are two things you need to generate one: an elite quarterback who thrives late in games and a pass rush capable of taking over on the defensive end and generating turnovers. (Look at the Steelers of 2008, the Packers of 2010 and, of course, the Giants of 2007 and 2011.)
The Giants return both of those things in 2012 and, honestly, there's no reason to think the G-men won't get better in each area next season. Eli took a monster step forward in 2011 after we all scoffed at his "elite" comments and should be poised to continue that success in 2012. Jason Pierre-Paul is still scratching the surface on his terrifying potential. Osi Umenyiora is playing for a contract (finally!).
And Justin Tuck, as he told me during a recent podcast, is taking steps this offseason to be completely healthy next year. I also pointed out to Tuck that, in Vegas, the Eagles are currently favored to win the NFC East.
"I should go bet something in Vegas," Tuck said about the Giants odds to win the division. "If I was a betting man I'd probably go put some money in Vegas."
One more thing on Tuck: he talked about building a dynasty at the Giants recent ring ceremony. Whether or not you classify dynasties by division titles (the Giants have three in the past 10 years) or Super Bowl rings (two in the last five) is beside the point. To build a dynasty in any sport one thing is paramount: continuity.
The Giants have that in spades, especially as they transition from last year's title team to 2012's hopeful repeat defenders. Are there losses? Sure. Aaron Ross is gone to Jacksonville, but Terrell Thomas is an upgrade if he's healthy. The secondary's overall statistics don't look great from last season, but they were dominant down the stretch. If they perform at that same level in 2012, watch out.
Mario Manningham took the money and ran, but his production was overvalued based on a big catch at the right moment; Rueben Randle was a steal in the second round and along with <span data-shortcode=es Barden" data-canon="Ramses Barden" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_PLAYER" id="shortcode0"> can fill that void. Brandon Jacobs joined Mario by the bay, but the addition of David Wilson to the running game is an upgrade as well. To say that the offensive line isn't a strength is stating the obvious; the Giants have done just fine for a while with plug-n-play linemen though.
|Cruz torches Nnamdi. Nuff said. (Getty Images)|
All of this is happening while the rest of the division is in flux -- the Cowboys are rebooting their defensive scheme and the Redskins are trying to slam the manhole on the Rex Grossman/John Beck Era. The Eagles are just trying to live up to the hype (again), only this time they're keeping all their flashy offseason signings in-house. Good for them.
The one concern for the Giants -- at least at the moment -- is the schedule next year. They currently have the hardest strength of schedule in the NFL for 2012, but the Eagles are tops in terms of quality opponents (teams with at least nine wins in 2011) they have to play, with eight. The difference is the Eagles appear to have a softer spot at the back end of 2012; you might be able to find a soft spot for the Giants early in the year. Maybe.
Here's the thing though. People believe the Giants limped into the playoffs because of their 9-7 record. The reality is that Tom Coughlin's squad was 6-2 after beating the Patriots in Week 9. Then they embarked on a portion of the schedule that saw them play the Packers, 49ers, Saints, Eagles, Cowboys (twice) and Jets down the stretch.
They weren't in the middle of any kind of "swoon," despite what fans thought and despite what the local press pushed as a narrative. They were grinding through an impossible late-season schedule that ultimately prepared them for a hot run in the playoffs.
In other words, they were tested. And they'll be tested again next year; if they don't suffer the ridiculous slew of early season injuries they dealt with in 2011, expect them to improve on last season's results. The running game will be better, the secondary is improved and -- gulp -- the pass rush might be even better.
It's a formula that worked last year and it's a formula that will work again in 2012. That everyone else is busy lauding the rest of the division for their offseason "wins" is all the better.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Will Brinson on Twitter here: @willbrinson.