The New York Giants, all but counted out a few weeks ago, are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. On paper the Giants are 9-7 underdogs, but in the postseason all slates are wiped clean, as the G-Men proved with their historic run in 2007. Here are five reasons the New York Giants are in prime position to once again go all the way this year:
Momentum never defines an entire season, but once the playoffs start, it can help carry a team the rest of the way. Momentum may sound like a sports cliché, but it's one of the factors that the Giants are riding on heading into this Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. This was an intense season for coach Tom Coughlin's team, which battled injuries and yet another second half skid that left people with a lot of doubts as the playoffs drew near. But for all intents and purposes, the Giants' playoffs began two weeks ago, and they responded with dominant victories in must-wins against the Jets and Cowboys. Big Blue is riding high, and won't be satisfied with anything less than a win in Super Bowl XLVI.
Another hackneyed sports word? Maybe, but don't tell that to the New York Giants, who already went toe-to-toe with the NFC's top 2 seeds this year, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. They didn't win either of those games, but that doesn't seem to phase the likes of defensive end Justin Tuck. "It didn't happen for us, but if history tells you anything about that, maybe we get another shot at them," says Tuck, referring to the New York Giant's Super Bowl win over the undefeated New England Patriots in 2007 after a nail-biting loss to them in the final game of the regular season. The Giants may not be the most talented squad in the league, but no team wants to play them right now, and they know it.
In a league chock full of standout quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers, even the best season of Eli Manning's career was bound to get overshadowed. But growing up with Peyton Manning for a big brother, Eli is used to that. Besides, he considers himself right up there in the same class with big brother and the other "elite" quarterbacks. And this season, even Manning's harshest critics had to take notice. Eli threw for 4,933 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, and over 300 yards per game, while finishing seventh in the NFL with a 92.9 passer rating. With the Giants' offensive line protecting him as well as it has and rookie phenom Victor Cruz as his go-to-guy, Eli Manning is in prime position to prove that his performance in 2007 was no fluke.
The Pass Rush
Facing quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Drew Brees is certainly no easy task, but neither is quarterbacking against the New York Giants pass rush. With Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck healthy and ready to go heading into the playoffs, the Giants defense line bares a striking resemblance to the 2007 unit that made a good team great. Despite Umenyiora and Tuck missing a combined 11 games this season, the Giants recorded 48 sacks (including 16.5 by Jason Pierre-Paul alone), good enough for third best in the NFL. 11 of those came in the final two weeks of the season, and you can bet that the Giants linemen are ready to ride that momentum (there's that word again) right into Indianapolis on February 5th.
A Revitalized Running Game
Let's face it, the Giants' running game stunk this year. With Ahmed Bradshaw battling a foot injury, running back Brandon Jacobs took on the brunt of the responsibility and came up largely empty-handed. Jacobs rushed for just 571 yards on the season, a whopping 518 less than his season best 1,089 in 2008. But with Bradshaw seemingly healthy once again, the Giants have witnessed a resurgence of their ground game over the final weeks of the regular season. That's not to say they excelled by any means. But the same team that finished last in the NFL in rushing yards per game managed to carve out some respectability by gaining at least 100 yards on the ground in four out their last five games. Doesn't sound like much to get excited over, but consider this: The Giants are 7-0 this season when they hit that mark.
Joe lives in New Jersey, and is a die-hard New York Giants fan.