By Steve Silverman
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You couldn't draw it up any better than this.
The New York Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions and they have nearly all their core players returning from last year's championship team.
Mario Manningham is in San Francisco and that hurts the receiving crew, but the Giants are still in as good a position to defend their championship and become the first back-to-back Super Bowl winners since the Patriots did it in XXXVIII and XXXIX (that's the 2003 and 2004 seasons for those of us who speak in normal terms).
The Giants have a great chance because they won the Super Bowl last year despite an unimpressive regular season. They caught fire at the right time and that made their 9-7 regular season record seem unimportant.
But it wasn't unimportant to Tom Coughlin. He's so old school that when Hall of Fame football coaches like Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry watch a game from the great beyond, they nod their heads in approval at his methods.
There is little satisfaction in Tom Coughlin. He's not quite the martinet he was when he coached the Jacksonville Jaguars or during the first part of his tenure with the Giants, but you don't have to worry about his players getting away with a less-than-stellar effort on the field or feeling good about their past accomplishments.
Coughlin demands that his players prove themselves on an every-week basis and they have responded in the past. There's no reason to think this won't be the case this season.
Start off with his quarterback. During the early part of his career, Eli Manning had the pedigree and the physical prerequisites to be a top-level quarterback. However, nobody thought he would come close to brother Peyton because he did not prepare in the same manner and simply didn't know the game the way his brother did.
Few would have argued that supposition, including Eli.
But Manning's easy-going manner helped him in the biggest moments. He doesn't let them overwhelm him. The bigger the game, the better he performs. The bigger the moment within the game, the more creative he gets and his execution becomes more precise.
He may have been a bit too relaxed early in his career, but that part of his persona allowed him to lead the team to a win over an undefeated Patriots team in Super Bowl XLII (2007) in a game that few gave the Giants a chance.
That victory allowed his relaxed outlook to give way to full-fledged confidence. He is now firmly ensconced in one of the elite NFL quarterback clubs – the one called Multiple Super Bowl winners.
You know, the one with Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.
Manning is also coming off his best statistical season. He threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns last year, and he did it in the regular season without a running game to help him out.
The Giants were the worst rushing team in the NFL last year (in yards per game and yards per rush), but that was not the case in the postseason.
They got a significant contribution from the running game in the postseason wins over Atlanta, Green Bay, San Francisco and the Patriots.
It may not have been their intention, but the Giants have painted a road map for a more balanced attack. During last year's regular season, the Patriots, Packers, Saints and Giants all virtually ignored the running game.
The Pats, Packers and Saints failed to win the championship. The Giants earned it when they at least had enough of a running game to give their offense balance.
Ahmad Bradshaw should be in position for a bounce-back season as the Giants put together a solid middle-of-the-pack ground game. He should get plenty of help from speedy rookie David Wilson, who will provide plenty of flash.
Offensive balance is admirable, but defensive excellence is what the Giants want to bring on an every-week basis.
Led by the stellar pass rush, the Giants will have the opportunity to shut opponents down regularly. Perry Fewell is almost certainly in his last season as a defensive coordinator. If the Giants defense plays the way it can this year, he will be a head coach next season.
Fewell is going to look to Jason Pierre-Paul to become the NFL's best edge pass rusher for the second straight season. He is all but unstoppable and sets the standard.
Despite the great talent up and down the roster, it won't be easy. The schedule is brutal following the Week 11 bye and the Giants will get tested by the Packers, Redskins, Saints, Falcons, Ravens and Eagles in the season's final weeks.
But the Giants have more than enough talent and know-how to survive.
They are worthy champions and they have the type of roster needed to bring home a third Super Bowl in the last six years.
Respect? They don't really need it from the outside world. They've got self-respect, which is a lot more important in the long NFL season.
Do you think the New York Giants can repeat as Super Bowl Champions? Let us know in the comments section.
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