Giants – playoff contender or pretender?

We have just passed the midway mark of the season and things are pretty much starting to take shape as far as which teams will be playoff teams. While the rest of the NFC jockeys for positions, let's take a closer look at whether or not the Giants are Contenders or Pretenders.

So, are the Giants a Contender or a Pretender? It's humorous to watch the national media guys waffle. They are jumping on and off the Giants' bandwagon with alarming regularity. Contenders don't lose a game like the Giants lost to the Minnesota Loveboats. According to the talking heads, before that game they were Contenders, after the game they were Pretenders.

Here are some other Giants' factors to consider when evaluating the Giants chances:

Prosperity – In recent memory have we seen a Giants' team that can deal with prosperity? No, we haven't. They proved it again with an ugly loss to the Loveboats. It happened under Jim Fassel and now it's a trait that is rearing its ugly head under Tom Coughlin. Put them up against a reserve QB and they struggle. The scariest games the Giants have are the ones they are supposed to win. They almost always play down to the competition.

Second half blues – We are talking about the second half of the season here. Of the last 17 second half of the season games the Giants have won exactly ONE game and that was last year against Dallas. That's a tough record to buck. Perhaps Coughlin will have them up to the task, but that remains to be seen.

A year ahead of schedule – That's right, in the beginning of the year most everyone thought this would be a building year. This was to be the year that Eli Manning gained experience. This was to be the springboard year, but what happened is they won some games and got themselves into contention a year early. While they look a little shaky now, this is a good sign.

The good news is Eli Manning – He has at times looked very good. He has done a number of good things and he is growing as an NFL QB. We saw him progress with the receivers. He started well with Plaxico Burress and then he got on target with Jeremy Shockey. Then it was Tiki Barber. Lately he has been bringing Amani Toomer more into his sights. Eventually he will bring Tim Carter and the rest of the targets into action. We love that he seems to relish the fourth quarter. He doesn't fade like typical young QBs. He takes on the challenge and goes after it. That is a very good trait. When he is on, he can beat any NFC team.

The bad news is Eli Manning – He has had some clunker games, which we expected also. He is still inconsistent. He doesn't see some wide-open receivers. He will try to force a ball when he shouldn't. The most critical issue we have is his accuracy. He just doesn't have it yet. He will get it eventually, but we have no idea when he will turn that corner. Until then they will have to live with his erratic play where you don't know what they will get from week to week. That's part of the learning process.

Questionable pass rush – While there have been signs of life from Osi Umenyiora lately, they need more from the entire group. Strahan is playing his butt off but it's not that difficult to take one defensive end out of the game. That's when the others have to win their one-on-one matchups. The DTs have to get into the action too. They don't need to get sacks, although they would be great to have; they need to collapse the pocket in the middle so that the QB can't step up comfortably. An inside pass rush can do more to disrupt a QB than an outside edge rush. The benefit off all this is improved secondary play. The DBs have looked good lately when they have had a solid pass rush in front of them.

The true Giants' defense – They looked great against the 49ers and the Loveboats, but they struggled before those games. When you look at the caliber of competition it's easy to write off those performances as the result of playing two bad teams. Now we will see which is the real Giants' defense.

Tough schedule – The rest of the way is murderous, including a return engagement in Philly. They have Dallas and Kansas City at home and road games against Seattle, Washington and Oakland. That's why losing to the Loveboats was so bad. This schedule puts it all in their hands, but it is also very tough sledding.

Tiki's quote – After the Loveboats game, Tiki said: "We're not an elite team, we proved it today." That one needs no explanation, he is correct.

In conclusion, the NFC East is wide open. Perhaps one wild card team will come out of this division, but two is probably not likely. We would expect one of the NFC South teams, in particular Atlanta, to get the other wild card. So are the Giants Contenders or Pretenders? Well, as of right now they are Contenders, but they are out on a ledge and it wouldn't take much for them to fall off and become real Pretenders. Stay tuned.

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