Giants Have Shot to be League's Best

The Giants have a chance to do some real damage now. They are one of the three best teams in football. They come into the Bengals game as the most balanced team in the league.

Now they have a chance to show it. They have a chance to get on a roll, beat up on teams they are supposed to beat up, earn a little cushion leading to the varsity portion of their schedule.

They have a chance to be the best team in football.

Starting with the Cincinnati game, the Giants face four relatively soft opponents -- Seattle, Cleveland, and San Francisco – before traveling to Pittsburgh in late October. We won't hold them to it, but the Giants can easily be 6-0 by the time they play the Steelers.

Looking ahead on the Giants' schedule usually qualifies as risky business. Not with this team. And that's because the Giants resist looking ahead. That becomes their greatest quality when they line up against the Cincinnatis of the NFL.

The Giants have earned our trust, no small proclamation given their history. This time last year, fans were calling them a lot of names, but not one of them was 'trustworthy'. They couldn't stop anybody. They dearly needed to win at Washington, and even after doing so, the Giants looked like a shaky operation. But starting with Washington, they rattled off six straight wins mostly by beating teams they were supposed to beat.

A year later, the Giants have the chance to do the same thing, this time as defending Super Bowl champions, this time knowing they are good instead of believing they are good. They can start to position themselves for a top playoff seed by beating inferior teams leading up to the Steelers game.

"No one is complacent,'' Justin Tuck said before the Bengals game. "I kind of worried about it coming into this year. Young guys: their first year here, their second year, and they go on to win a Super Bowl title. You kind of get to the point where (you think), 'I've arrived.'

"We don't have guys like that. We have guys that are very hungry and definitely want to do it again.''

The Giants' season within a season begins at Pittsburgh. First the softies, then the hardcore football operations. They face a tough Steelers team and then get into the ring with teams from the toughest division in sports, the NFC East. Dallas and Philly follow the Steelers game, and the Giants will play five of seven games against NFC East teams before finishing the regular season against Carolina and Minnesota.

Anybody who watched the Cowboys-Eagles Monday nighter knows the Giants will have their hands full against both of them. Washington's no gimme either, no matter how lost its offense looked in the opener. The Redskins will be a lot better when they play host to the Giants in late November, beginning with their quarterback, Jason Campbell, who is trying to grasp about the 100th different offense since he joined the team in 2005.

But the real scary teams are, in order, the Giants, the Cowboys, and the Eagles. And the Giants, after two games, are the best of them all. They are the best because they are the most balanced, better than both Dallas and Philly on defense and special teams, better than both Dallas and Philly when weighing coaching staffs, better than both Dallas and Philly when considering mental makeup and focus.

Still, there isn't a lot separating these three heavyweights. An injury here or there can change the pecking order. I wouldn't be surprised if all three split their head-to-head games. They are going to make for some of the most exciting regular-season football the league has seen in years.

Tony Romo or Eli Manning or Donovan McNabb?

DeMarcus Ware or Justin Tuck or Trent Cole?

Marion Barber or Brandon Jacobs or Brian Westbrook?

Those are only a small sampling, of course. The battles within, like the Giants' defensive line against Dallas' O-line, Tuck vs. Marc Colombo in particular, will be a pleasure to watch.

Maybe by the end, Washington will be included in the conversation. But leading to week three, we didn't just have a three-team division. We had a three-team league and a bunch of question marks.

The perennial bigs of the AFC looked mortal. New England tried to move on without its all-world quarterback. Indianapolis looked vulnerable. San Diego lost its first two games and will go the rest of the way without Shawne Merriman.

If you look closely around the league, there don't appear to be a whole lot of powers. Outside the NFC East, the list of big-time teams entering week three numbers five: Indy, Denver, New England, Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

Minnesota's already on its second quarterback. Jacksonville and Cleveland, which won 11 and 10 games last season, both started 0-2. Tennessee was about the least scary 2-0 team you'll ever see.

These are exciting times for Giants fans, and not just because their team is so good. The league isn't exactly bulging with Super Bowl-caliber teams. I know, I know: We haven't even played 20 percent of the regular-season schedule. Nobody needs to tell Giants fans how quickly things can change.

But for now, folks around the country are learning what most of us already knew. Eli Manning is way past the impressionist we saw through many parts of the 2007 regular season. This defense of theirs isn't going to wilt without Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora in the lineup.

Wow, outsiders are realizing, that Giants running game is pretty darn deep and versatile. And that Tuck fella might just play in a Pro Bowl or five before hanging up the cleats.

But before we get too happy with the Giants, they need to take advantage of an early gift from the schedule maker. They need to maintain our trust.

Kevin Gleason covers the Giants for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.

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