I’m 1-0 in my football pick-’em league this season after trusting my gut and picking the Cowboys, and I’m damn proud of myself this morning. That shouldn’t (and wouldn’t) be such an amazing feat, but I’m having a hard time finding anyone else who did. 95% of my pick ‘em league went G-Men. The experts here, here and here were unanimous for New York. This was the sports hype machine in full motion, and it scooped up everyone as it sped past. So why did I stay off the track and take the Cowboys? Well, for one thing, and this was semi-confirmed last night (granted, it’s only one game): the Giants aren’t that good.
That might be a little strong. A better way to put it would be that the Giants aren’t that great. They never were; not this iteration of the Giants, in any case. Yet they were feted by the known football universe to steamroll the Cowboys, a team that, on paper, has just as much if not more talent than the Giants. Now, they are facing morning-after headlines like this one.
None of this is fair to the Giants, really, but it’s a problem of their own making. It’s a problem of somewhat unexpected success, twice, in five seasons. But in those five seasons, sandwiched in between two Lombardi hoistings against better Patriots teams, the Giants have merely survived the regular season. Tom Coughlin took over the reins of the Giants in 2004. In that time, his regular season record (including the loss last night) is 74-55 (.574). Not bad, but not exponentially better than his record in Jacksonville over 8 seasons (68-60, including a four year run where the team went 45-19). So is Coughlin a great coach? Well yes, in the playoffs, where his Giants teams are 8-3 in eight years, but that success has been interlaced with struggles, mediocrity, and even multiple suggestions that Coughlin should be fired; some as late as December of last season.Tom Coughlin is a survivor.
It is only natural when an underdog wins a championship, in any sport, to project their ascent into the next seasons elite grouping of teams. In the four major sports, currently three reigning champions had to take the path of most resistance to win their respecitve playoff (in addition to the Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals were a Wild Card team last season, and the NHL’s Kings barely qualified for the playoffs before decimating the competition as an 8th seeded team). The Cardinals will likely make the playoffs as the NL’s second wild card team this year, and the Kings may have to wait until 2013 to defend their title (sigh), but what of the Giants? If last night was any indication, they face an uphill battle. Among some of their weaknesses:
1. They can’t run the ball very well. The Giants were stuffed last night against the run, with their final tally of 82 rushing yards was augmented by one 33 yard Ahmad Bradshaw in the fourth quarter, when New York caught Dallas napping with a shotgun draw. The G-men were last in the NFL in rushing last season, and last night showed no signs of improvement. They may not get away with that twice.
2. Their secondary is atrocious. Granted, they are decimated at the corner position by injuries right now, but they were stretched so thin trying to cover Miles Austin and Dez Bryant that Kevin Ogletree looked like a hall-of-famer. What good is the Giants’ excellent pass rush if they can’t get three seconds of coverage behind them?
3. Eli Manning is still Eli Manning. After the Giants won the Super Bowl, a hot topic was Eli now owning more titles than big brother, and of course that meant he is the “better” quarterback. Eli is not as bad as those who hate him say he is, but he’s still not great. He throws too many ugly passes, and puts his team in too many awkward spots. His upside is that he gets his team out of a lot of awkward spots. He is a survivor of the highest order.
Plain and simple, on aggregate, the Cowboys were the more talented team on the field last night, and they deserved to win. The Giants may well be on their way to another playoff season this year, and we all know what they can do when they are underestimated, but underestimating the Giants, at least heading into week 1, was not the problem. They have been thouroughly overestimated for a team that is not great, or necessarily always very good. The Giants are simply a bunch of survivors. Let’s see how long they last this time around.