The first step toward a Super Bowl at home: Can Giants or Jets make it?
And so we begin another NFL season, another delightfully maddening exercise in watching the unpredictable twists and turns unfold before our eyes. But this one's a little different for those of us who call the New York metropolitan area home. With the Super Bowl coming to town for the first time in the XLVIII-year history of the sports extravaganza, the intrigue will become that much more special in the coming months.
It's also a time for the naysayers to throw cold water -- or a blizzard -- on the idea of the first outdoor Super Bowl in a northern city, with the latest prediction of doom coming from the Farmer's Almanac. The publication calls for a massive snowstorm in our area Feb. 2.
But after what we've been through around here for a little more than the last decade, somehow, someway, we'll manage to deal with whatever comes to MetLife Stadium.
A blizzard that may or may not happen? Please.
Regardless of the weather, this will be one special ending to yet another special season. And if it does snow or the temperatures are below freezing for the game? Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but some of the greatest moments in NFL history have come in inclement weather. A Super Bowl would be no exception.
Giants and Jets fans surely would love to cap the season with their teams making the five-month journey right back to their MetLife Stadium home, but that might be asking a bit much. Or, in the Jets' case, asking the impossible.
The Giants have a puncher's chance of fighting their way to the Super Bowl, but Jets fans will have to settle for a grin-and-bear-it season that could be among the most difficult to watch in quite some time.
And that's saying something, given the collapses they've endured since Joe Namath wagged his right index finger at the Orange Bowl nearly half a century ago. After a training-camp competition in which neither Mark Sanchez nor Geno Smith delivered a performance worthy of an outright victory, and after Sanchez's shoulder injury in the third preseason game made things even worse, there's little reason to believe that either quarterback is capable of running this offense with any kind of consistency.
And the schedulemakers didn't do them any favors. The Jets are likely to be the underdog in all but one of their first nine games -- Week 3 against the Bills. They'll have to deal with the Patriots twice, the improved Bucs and Darrelle Revis on Sunday, then the Falcons, Steelers and Saints before they get to their bye in Week 10 in early November.
The only hope for the Jets is that the defense will play well, they somehow can manufacture a decent running game, and the quarterback -- Smith or Sanchez (and you'd expect to see them both) -- can manage the game just well enough to give themselves a chance. They have the makings of a solid defense, but a strong running game and solid quarterback play? Not happening.
Sorry, but this season for the Jets is all about seeing what Smith has, seeing whether Rex Ryan makes it to next year (not likely) and seeing how high they draft in 2014 (likely very high).
The Giants, meanwhile, are in far, far better position to think realistically about a Super Bowl run. If you stand anywhere in or around the team's practice facility, you'll see daily reminders of their task: MetLife Stadium is just a few football fields away, a constant reminder of their ultimate goal.
Are they good enough to get there? Only if Eli Manning has another big year and the defense plays demonstrably better than last season, when it nearly bottomed out.
Manning reasonably can be expected to put in a championship-caliber season, given that he's been the Super Bowl MVP twice. But unless he gets some help from the other side of the ball, the only way they get to the big game is with a ticket.
Translation: Justin Tuck needs to recapture his form as one of the most effective defensive linemen in the league a few years back. Jason Pierre-Paul needs to have a healthy year. They need to square away a linebacker situation that looks tenuous at best. And they need to defend the pass as well as they did in their Super Bowl years.
In a conference stacked with contenders -- from the 49ers, Seahawks and Falcons to the Packers, Saints and Redskins -- that's no small task. Then again, the last two times they won it all, the Giants were barely on the radar of contending teams.
A championship run this year, and they'll become the first team to play a Super Bowl on its home field.
Big dream. Long odds.
But at least they have the one thing the Jets don't: a chance.