'Experts' wrong to count out champs

Associated Press
Super Bowl XLII MVP Eli Manning and his Giants teammates have been getting little respect in the off-season.

The NFL is back. What, you never thought it left? Seems that way, with all the off-season headlines. As training camps get set to open, Brett Favre says he might come back after announcing his retirement. Or he might be traded. Or he might stay retired. And on and on.

 

Everyone from Roger Goodell on down will keep an eye on Bill Belichick to make sure he's not cheating.

And the Dallas Cowboys, with their 331/2 Pro Bowlers (the half being the newly self-christened "Adam" Jones) have been conceded the NFC's Super Bowl spot. Jerry Jones says so and so do the "experts."

The team that shocked the Patriots and won the Super Bowl last season?

If you pay attention to the jibber-jabber, the New York Giants will be lucky to make the playoffs.

In fact, when the Giants were discussed at all during the offseason, it was to write off their upset over the Patriots as a fluke and dismiss them for 2008. A few folks were nice enough to "rank" them sixth or so among 32 teams in May and another had them 10th. ESPN's "official" televised preview dismissed them as the third-best team in the NFC East behind Dallas and Philadelphia.

That's enough incentive in itself for the Giants.

"I don't feel that respect. Talking to guys throughout the league, a lot of them said: 'You guys played a hell of a game,' " New York middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said in June after the Giants ended minicamp.

"A hell of a game? So the other 16 games in the regular season and the three playoff games really didn't do anything for us. You hear that among players."

The Giants have their own history to contend with.

The first two times they won the Super Bowl, after the 1986 and 1990 seasons, they failed to make the playoffs the next year.

Coach Tom Coughlin, of course, is spouting the usual clichÃs to ensure his team will only look ahead.

"It's a new season," he says. "We go to camp and start fresh and don't look back."

Naturally, his quarterback says the same thing.

"We played four good games at the end of the season. That's kind of the way I looked at it," Eli Manning says.

Nonetheless, this remains a good team and a young one.

Six rookies played major roles in the Super Bowl and the remarkable string of road playoff wins in Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay that preceded it.

Yes, the Giants lost some good players: four defensive starters from the Super Bowl, including Michael Strahan, who retired after 15 seasons, ranked fifth on the NFL's career sack list. But GM Jerry Reese and his predecessor, Ernie Accorsi, knew that was coming and drafted accordingly. They took Matthias Kiwanuka, who missed the Super Bowl with an injury, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. They still give New York one of the league's best pass-rushing trios.

Few teams repeat as Super Bowl champions, so don't write the Giants in, which is what everyone is doing with the Cowboys. But don't write them off either.

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