Four of the previous six Super Bowl winners have failed to even qualify for the playoffs the following season, forget winning back-to-back titles. Only eight teams in Super Bowl history, and only one of the last eight world championship clubs (New England in 2004 and 2005), have boasted consecutive Super Bowl victories. And the Giants themselves failed to reach the NFC Playoffs following each of their first three Super Bowl appearances. Worse yet, the Giants failed to post a winning record in each of those three ensuing Super Bowl seasons.
They therefore should be most concerned about simply playing one game in January 2009, not the only meaningful NFL game scheduled for February 2009.
Below is The Giant Insider's breakdown of obstacles they could encounter in trying to avoid another post-Super Bowl debacle.
The Giants will have much more cap room once this free agency period begins on Feb. 29 than they had last year, when their only notable free-agent acquisition was weakside linebacker Kawika Mitchell. The Giants will be nearly $25 million under the 2008 salary cap of $116 million, so they can spend more money this year.
Two defensive starters – strong safety Gibril Wilson and Mitchell – can become unrestricted free agents on Feb. 29.
Wilson wasn't rewarded with a contract extension during the season, thus the four-year veteran might want to test his value after a quality year (92 tackles, four interceptions). Mitchell, who signed just a one-year contract with the Giants in March after four seasons as a starter with the Chiefs, will likely command more than his 2007 salary ($1 million) in a multi-year contract because he made several significant plays during the Giants' run late in the regular season and during the postseason. The Giants could also use their franchise tag on Wilson, which would require them to pay him the average of the five highest-paid players at his position in the league in 2008.
If Mitchell capitalizes on being a Super Bowl starter and signs with another team for more money than the Giants are willing to pay him, the Giants could either take a shot on Gerris Wilkinson on the weak side or seek a more expensive replacement (e.g. Arizona's Calvin Pace).
Otherwise on defense, defensive tackle William Joseph, who missed the entire 2007 season with a back injury, will become an unrestricted free agent later this month, too. But Joseph, a complete bust after the Giants chose him with the 25th overall pick of the 2003 NFL Draft, won't be back.
Luckily for general manager Jerry Reese, none of his starters on offense will become unrestricted free agents later this month.
Tailback Derrick Ward will likely hit the open market on Feb. 29, though. With Brandon Jacobs out early in the season, Ward was very valuable to the Giants during his short tenure as a starter (602 yards; 4.8 yards-per-carry). But Ward, who missed eight of the Giants' last nine regular-season games due to a knee injury, has been injury prone throughout his four-year Giants career and Ahmad Bradshaw's emergence diminished his value.
Third-string quarterback Jared Lorenzen is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent as well.
On special teams, the contracts of both kicker Lawrence Tynes and punter Jeff Feagles also have expired. Tynes redeemed himself by kicking the Giants into Super Bowl XLII on Jan. 20 in Green Bay, Wis., but Tom Coughlin could seek a more reliable alternative. They would welcome Feagles back with open arms, but one of the league's best directional punters will turn 42 on March 7 and hasn't decided if he wants to return for a 21st NFL season.
THE MICHAEL STRAHAN SITUATION
The Giants' seven-time Pro Bowler has promised to inform the organization of his 2008 plans prior to the draft, so the Giants won't have to endure another training camp melodrama.
But if the 36-year-old defensive end decides a Super Bowl ring is the perfect retirement present, their defensive front will suffer from his departure. Justin Tuck was rightly rewarded with a five-year, $30 million contract extension last month, but he doesn't play the run as well as Strahan, who was still one of the league's most complete ends over the last five months (57 tackles, nine sacks). Plus, playing Tuck inside, and sometimes strongside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka when he was healthy, afforded the Giants the occasional luxury of fielding four pure pass-rushers at one time.
They lost tight end Jeremy Shockey (leg), Kiwanuka (leg) and Ward (knee) to season-ending injuries, but the Giants remained relatively healthy throughout the 2007 season. They were also fortunate that players like cornerback Corey Webster (for Sam Madison), strongside linebacker Reggie Torbor (for Kiwanuka), tight end Kevin Boss (for Shockey) and Ward (for tailback Brandon Jacobs) substituted capably when those starters suffered injuries.
Quarterback Eli Manning didn't miss any significant time due to injury this year, either. They might not be as fortunate next season.
Their scheduled opponents can improve dramatically through the upcoming free agency period and the NFL Draft, but the Giants will play just the 15th toughest schedule in the NFL next season, according to the strength-of-schedule formula.
Their opponents combined for a .520 winning percentage in the 2007 regular season, slightly higher than the winning percentage (.496) their 2007 opponents posted during the 2006 regular season. Playing a moderately more difficult schedule shouldn't necessarily be viewed a bad thing, though. Chicago's schedule was easier in 2007 than it was in 2006, and the then-defending NFC champions didn't even qualify for the playoffs last month, 11 months after appearing in Super Bowl XLI.
Six of the Giants' 2008 opponents qualified for the recently completed postseason (Dallas twice, Washington twice, Pittsburgh and Seattle). The Giants also played six of their 16 games against teams that reached the playoffs in the 2007 regular season (Dallas twice, Green Bay, Washington twice and New England). But they'll play one less game at home, where they clearly could use some help, in 2008 against playoff qualifiers (three) than they did in the 2007 regular season (four).
Matters might be much more difficult on the road, however.
The Giants couldn't realistically expect to go 11-1 on the road again next season, no matter which teams they play, but the Rams (3-13) are the only one of their eight road opponents in 2008 that finished below .500 in 2007. And two of their four other 2008 road games against non-playoff teams will come against Cleveland, which posted the same 10-6 record as the Giants in 2007, and Minnesota, which embarrassed the Giants at Giants Stadium just two months before they won Super Bowl XLII (41-17 on Nov. 25).
Can Big Blue Pull off Giant Repeat in ‘08?
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