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Myers: Defending champs, circus Jets

Gang Green a fascinating tale; which Giants team will show up?
08/30/2012 10:00 AM ET
By Gary Myers

Eli Manning's QB counterparts have received the attention, but Manning leads the defending champs.(AP)
The Giants have just won their second Super Bowl title in the last five seasons and Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP, but it’s Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow and the Jets who don’t allow football fans to take their eyes off them for one second.

“New York Giants just won a championship yet I’m still the third-most talked about quarterback in my own city,” Manning said at an appearance in the offseason.

Knowing Manning, that really doesn’t bother him. And he’s right. The Giants are the Super Bowl champs, but the Jets have this must-watch fascination to them. Maybe it’s because they were already a circus before they brought in Tebow, the most popular player in the NFL who will back up Sanchez and run the Wildcat offense, and now they are clearly the most entertaining team in the league – at least off the field.

The biggest issue the Giants face as they begin defense of their fourth Super Bowl championship is whether they are the team that was 7-7 last season and endured a four-game losing streak or are they the team that beat the Jets in the 15th game of the season to put them in position to win the NFC East when they defeated the Cowboys in the final game. They then went on to defeat the Falcons, Packers and 49ers in the NFC playoffs and then beat the Patriots again in the Super Bowl.

Let’s deal with the Giants first.

At the halfway point last season, they were 6-2, which seems to be an annual event for Tom Coughlin. But then they lost a tough game to the 49ers, lost to Eagles backup quarterback Vince Young, were embarrassed in New Orleans then lost a last-second heartbreaker to the Packers, the best team in the NFL during the regular season.

The season was on the verge of completely falling apart before they rallied in the last five minutes to beat the Cowboys in Dallas. They lost to the Redskins, leaving themselves no margin for error in the final two games of the season against the Jets and Cowboys. They won them both and then went on a playoff run reminiscent of 2007.

So, the issue: Do the Giants pick up where they left off last season or are they really the team that struggled during that losing streak?

There have been enough people disrespecting what the Giants accomplished last season that it has provided them motivation. The doubters were saying the same things four years ago after they got hot and beat the Bucs, Cowboys and Packers in the playoffs and the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The Giants failed to repeat as Super Bowl champions the first three times they won the title. In 1987, the 24-day players strike ruined their season when GM George Young didn’t want to insult his veterans and as a result put no effort into assembling a replacement team during the walkout. The Giants were 0-2 before the strike, then the fake Giants were 0-5 and by the time the veterans returned, the season was lost.

The Giants had no chance in 1991. Bill Parcells resigned in May following the Super Bowl victory over the Bills and Young replaced him with little-known running backs coach Ray Handley. The Giants finished 8-8 and Handley was fired after two seasons.

The 2008 Giants were the best team in the league and looked to be on their way to repeating when they reached Thanksgiving at 10-1. But on the night after the holiday, Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg at a midtown Manhattan nightclub. The Giants went out two days later and beat the Redskins to get to 11-1, but lost three of their last four regular season games, Manning suffered without Burress and the Giants lost in the divisional round at home to the Eagles.

I think the Giants have an excellent chance to repeat this season if they can avoid all huge distractions. They are set at every position, especially if Hakeem Nicks makes a full recovery from his broken foot (he played in the final preseason game Wednesday night against the Patriots) and is close to 100 percent early in the season. That would take a lot of pressure off Victor Cruz, who is coming off a breakout season when he came out of nowhere to catch 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 18.7 yards per catch, which is outstanding.

Running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Mario Manningham signed with the 49ers. Ahmad Bradshaw, who split carries with Jacobs last season, now will be assisted by first-round pick David Wilson, who has great speed and quickness. Second-round pick Rueben Randle will make up for Manningham as will the return of Domenik Hixon.

Besides Manning, the strength of the Giants is the pressure they put on quarterbacks. Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora give the Giants the best pass rush in the league. On any play, two of the three will be on the field and on passing downs, Tuck is effective when he slides inside to tackle and all three are getting after the quarterback.

The pass rush will help hide the problems at cornerback opposite Corey Webster. Aaron Ross signed with the Jaguars, Terrell Thomas hurt his surgically repaired knee again and Prince Amukamara suffered a high ankle sprain late in the summer.

But if the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw the ball, then it won’t matter much.

Giants Prediction: 11-5, NFC East champs, lose in NFC Championship Game

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It’s not quite as easy to say what the Jets are going to do this season. They could compete for the Patriots for the AFC East title or they could challenge the Dolphins for last place in the division.

The Jets finished 8-8 last year with a three-game losing streak finishing up a disappointing season. They were dysfunctional at the end of the season which bottomed out with Santonio Holmes getting thrown out of the huddle in Miami.

Rex Ryan admitted he didn’t have the pulse of the team like he usually does, and spent a good deal of the offseason and training camp making sure that does not happen again.

The biggest mystery surrounding the Jets is what kind of impact Tebow will have. The Broncos traded him to the Jets a couple of days after they signed Peyton Manning. It culminated an interesting couple of weeks for Sanchez. The Jets were already in contract extension talks with him when they made a quick run at Manning after the Colts released him. Then, when they realized Manning had no interest, they finished off the deal with Sanchez. Less than two weeks later, they traded for Tebow.

Ryan has been emphatic that Sanchez is his starter and Tebow is the backup and the Wildcat quarterback. The Jets didn’t use any of the Wildcat in the preseason – they did not want to put any of it on tape that would help the Bills prepare for the first game.

But the Jets also became the first team in 35 years not to score a touchdown in their first three preseason games.

Do they have enough weapons for Sanchez?

Holmes is their only accomplished receiver. They are hoping second-round pick Stephen Hill adapts quickly, holds onto the ball and can contribute early. They have never utilized tight end Dustin Keller enough. Can Shonn Greene be a reliable 1,200 yard back? If he falters, the Jets don’t have a running game.

If Sanchez gets off to a slow start, then you know the fans will be calling for Tebow. That’s how it works in the NFL. Besides, Sanchez used up a lot of his benefit of the doubt with his career-high 26 turnovers last season. He did throw a career-high 26 touchdowns. If he throws an interception against the Bills, will the fans start chanting for Tebow?

Really, the best thing the Jets have going for them is cornerback Darrelle Revis, the No. 1 defensive player in the league. Ryan’s defense should keep the Jets in a lot of games, but the problem is whether the offense will score enough.

Prediction: 8-8 again, no playoffs again. But lots of people watching to see what happens next.

Follow Gary Myers on Twitter: @garymyersNYDN

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