The Patriots were the last team to repeat as Super Bowl champions, winning the title after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. And the odds would appear to be heavily stacked against the Giants doing so this season as they prepare to kick-start the festivities against Washington on Thursday.
Steve Spagnuolo's defense, which propelled the Giants to their unlikely upset of the Patriots in Arizona seven months ago, has undergone a bevy of changes. As much as quarterback Eli Manning matured down the stretch, Big Blue wouldn't have stood a chance without the front seven hounding Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four quarters.
But left end Michael Strahan retired and right end Osi Umenyiora was lost for the season to a knee injury, setting off a domino effect. Justin Tuck, who was second on the team with 10 sacks last season while moving inside and out while rotating on a deep line, takes over for Strahan. Mathias Kiwanuka, who was switched to strong-side linebacker and often lined up at tackle on obvious passing downs, had to move back to right end, where he played as a rookie.
Kiwanuka's move prompted Spagnuolo to move linebacker Danny Clark from the weak side to the strong side and insert promising youngster Gerris Wilkinson in on the weak side. They needed two new outside starters because Kawika Mitchell was another free-agent departure.
And the changes don't stop there. Safety Gibril Wilson bolted for big money in Oakland. James Butler returns as the strong safety and Michael Johnson appears as though he'll open as the free safety, although it's only a matter of time before first-round pick Kenny Phillips takes over.
Roster shuffling continues in full effect in the days winding down to the first full slate of weekend games. Among the noteworthy moves:
--The Lions signed Rudi Johnson, who was released by Cincinnati on Saturday, to back up rookie Kevin Smith. Tatum Bell, who started training camp as the favorite to win the starting job, won't even be on the roster to start the season after he was cut loose.
--The Bears, realizing their offensive line is in dire straits, picked up guard Dan Buenning from Tampa Bay. He was expendable after the Bucs traded for guard/center Sean Mahan from Pittsburgh. Chicago is expected to started inexperienced second-year man Josh Beekman at left guard with Terrence Metcalf recovering from knee surgery.
--The Broncos felt they had a glut of defensive backs after Karl Paymah won the nickel job and they picked up Calvin Lowry on waivers from Tennessee. So they shipped Domonique Foxworth to Atlanta, where he will soon push first-year starter Brent Grimes opposite Chris Houston. Grimes is small and raw, while Foxworth has the experience and talent to start for a handful of teams.