In the coming days and weeks, we're sure to hear a lot about what the Giants hope to improve on in 2012. Sure, they won the Super Bowl last season, but they were also 9-7 in the regular season, the last team invited to the NFC playoffs, and staring at a .500 record as late as Christmas Eve. There wasn't a day during the 2011 season -- besides the last one, the one that counts -- when the Giants could make an indisputable case for being the best team in the NFL.
Naturally they'd like to change that this season. Which begs an important question: Why?
It's been a long time since the team that rode through the regular season as the odds-on favorite to win a Super Bowl actually won a Super Bowl. The Patriots came within a game of completing a perfect season in 2007, as Giants fans recall fondly. The following year the Giants were the NFL's top team for three months before Plaxico Burress popped himself in the leg and also popped their dreams of repeating. When the Packers won their most recent Super Bowl, they did it as a wild card team. The following season, which was last season, they were the league's most dominant machine. They were bounced in their first playoff game by the Giants.
Of the last eight Super Bowl champions, only one has been the top seed in its conference: the 2009 Saints. And that team was overshadowed for much of the year by the nearly perfect Colts, the team they eventually beat in Super Bowl XLIV.
If recent history has shown anything, it's that teams are much better off heading into the playoffs unburdened by expectations from a stellar regular season. Maybe as the Giants head to training camp in Albany -- practices begin Friday -- their goal this year should be to get 10 wins, win the division or even a wild card, and just get into the postseason as quietly as a defending champion can. Last year's theme was "Finish." This year's theme should drop the "Fini" and just be "Shhh!"
Of course that's not what they're shooting for. The Giants finished 2011 winning six straight games. They'd like to continue that streak for as long as possible.
"We weren't as consistent as we needed to be last year," Eli Manning said in a radio interview this week. "When we needed to play well we did, we beat a lot of very good teams and we played unbelievable football those last six weeks of the year . . . We have to keep that state of mind, that mentality, whether it's a focus or a desire, whatever that was we have to find that and try to keep that for a full season and make sure we're playing to our potential week in and week out."
"There's no question we were the best team in football last year at the end," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "I need to let my teammates understand that we are the Super Bowl champions. We are the best team in football until someone knocks us off that mantle . . . It's just letting everybody else on our football team understand that what we did last year wasn't a fluke, what we did last year was real, and we can do that again this year."
Clearly it's silly to think that the Giants wouldn't want to win as many games as possible in 2012. And there's no reason to think they won't. The last time the Giants were in this position as defending champions, they started their season hangover-free at 11-1. The Giants want to wear that "best team in football" crown again, and this season for more than just the one day.
So go ahead, Giants. Roll the dice. See what happens.