Key Questions Heading into the 2008 New York Giants Training Camp
The New York Giants are the World Champions! Hell yeah baby! Some say enough is enough and it is time to move on. I can’t. I won’t. What the Giants did last year will influence my outlook for the foreseeable future. The stars were aligned for Dallas to go to the Super Bowl and the Giants ruined their season. Even if Dallas were to win a Championship in its near future, it won’t change that fact. Then the Giants went into storied Lambeau Field and upset the Packers in the third-coldest game in NFL history with Bart Starr and the old Packer greats looking on. Revenge might have been 45 years late (1961 and 1962 Championship Games), but it was sweet all the same. Then the Giants did the unthinkable. They beat the unbeatable, almost-perfect New England Patriots in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played. Three great games that ended in dramatic fashion!
I’m convinced that fans won’t truly digest and appreciate all of this until years from now. It was something special.
So what if the Giants don’t repeat in 2008? I won’t like it, but it won’t change the fact that the Giants won their seventh World Championship in 2007. They can’t take that away from the team or its fans. Even if the Giants were widely regarded as favorites (they clearly are not), the odds would be stacked against them. Repeating is extremely difficult. Heck, I’ve yet to see the Giants make the playoffs after winning a Super Bowl. So as I approach 2008 as a fan, I do so in a very satisfied manner. I am very excited to see the Giants in 2008 because I think they can even be better, but last season removed a lot of the angst I have had in recent years with this team.
Unlike all of the New York Giants training camp previews I have written for this site since the mid-1990’s, this one will not have a lot of questions. Why? Because this is a very good football team. The Giants have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, despite what the national media thinks. And the Giants are also fairly deep at most positions. The exciting thing about the Giants is that they are still a fairly young football team. And now they have the experience of having played in the most pressure-packed playoff games. Talent, youth, and experience. What more could you want? If the Giants stay healthy and focused, another Championship could be in the picture sometime during the next few seasons.
(1) What Version of Eli Manning Will We See in 2008? Will Eli revert back to regular season form? During the 2007 regular season, Manning turned the football over 27 times (interceptions and fumbles). But during the playoffs, he committed one turnover (and that wasn’t his fault). That was the biggest difference in his play between the regular and post-season. If Manning can continue to protect the football and improve his decision making and accuracy, the Giants will be in excellent shape. Manning was one very confident, poised quarterback during the playoffs. He became the guy the Giants had hoped for when they drafted him. But if Eli reverts back to his inconsistent form, the Giants will have to battle tooth-and-nail just to make it to the playoffs again. This is the most important question the team faces.
(2) How Much Will the Giants Miss Michael Strahan? Had he played in 2008, Strahan still would have been one of the best defensive ends in the game. Not only because he is a very good pass rusher, but because he is one of the best run defenders at the position. On talent alone, even despite the Giants’ wealth of talent at defensive end, he will be missed. But the biggest area where Strahan will be missed is the leadership he provided. I have never really bought into rah-rah pre-game histrionics and that the players needed Strahan to get them fired up. But what he did do – particularly in the playoffs last season – is keep the team focused. He also helped to keep the team poised. He was rock in the middle of the storm. What Giants will now serve in that capacity? And will they be as effective?
(3) Will the Team Stay Healthy? Injuries happen. And the Giants will lose players for significant stretches, including the season. Who will get hurt? How long will they be hurt? In the ultra-competitive NFC East, the injury status of each team is often decisive.
(4) How Hungry is the Team? The players say they are still hungry. But those are just words. Time and time again, in all sports, we see Championship teams lose that edge. And that is usually all it takes. The players are human beings. Since February, they have been told how great they are and what a tremendous feat they accomplished. They have been treated like heroes. The offseason has been shorter for them. Are they ready for the grind again? Are they ready for the pain and adversity that is sure to come?
My gut tells me that the Giants are not going to repeat in 2008. It’s not because I think they will be weaker. I actually think they will be a better team. But the NFC East is tough. And every team they face will be giving their best. The Giants may not win their division again. But if Manning continues to progress, new leaders step up, and the team stays relatively healthy and hungry, this team is capable of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl again.