The Giants rallied around their underdog status last year. They wanted to prove they could win for their embattled coach and QB, that he NFC didn't belong to the Cowboys and and that Patriots weren't unbeatable.
Now all of that motivation is gone. Why are they going to bleed for Tom Coughlin? The Giants were never talented enough to just blow teams away. They're going to be in a battle almost every week. Do they have the inspiration to come out on top against hungry teams on a consistent basis?
New York showed just how thin the line is between winning and losing in last year's playoffs. If that ball hadn't magically stuck to David Tyree's head, tonight's NFL season-opener game would be in Foxboro. The Giants couldn't afford any offseason hiccups if it hoped to defend its title. But they may have taken a couple of major steps backward, losing Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan. Their defensive line singlehandedly won games last year. Without Umenyiora's six-sack domination of the Eagles and Strahan's three-sack performance against the Lions, the Giants may not have even been in the playoffs. Defensive end Justin Tuck looks like an up-and-coming star, but that's against single coverage. Can he thrive as the primary guy?
Enter the Washington Redskins, who have been about as unimpressive as an NFL team can be in the preseason. They were outscored 71-6 in their two final preseason games. But to be fair, many of their best players were on the bench and new coach Jim Zorn undoubtedly held back a big chunk of the playbook. And of course, preseason under any circumstances is completely meaningless.
Even with the adjustment the Redskins have had to make to a new coach, they're still an NFC East team, and at the end of the day, is there really that big a difference between these four teams? On any given Thursday, any of them can surprise the other. In Week 15, just a few weeks before Manning magically transformed into a Super Bowl hero, the Redskins came into the Meadowlands and made him look like a high school quarterback (18-for-53, 184 yards) in a 22-10 win.
Washington enters the season with a lot more to prove than the Giants. Zorn was generally perceived to be a last-choice pick for head coach. Quarterback Jason Campbell doesn't get any respect and the only marquee name on defense is veteran Jason Taylor, who may not even play this week. The Redskins can take advantage of that us-against-the-world mentality that propelled New York to a championship. Don't be surprised if all the festivities and accolades around the Giants actually make Washington the more fired-up team tonight.
This year's Giants are reminiscent of the 2002 Patriots - coming off a miraculous upset win in the Super Bowl with a clutch quarterback and a solid, young nucleus. New England had an emotional letdown that year and missed the playoffs. Don't be surprised if the Giants get off to a slow start as they grow into their role as world champions.
Prediction: Washington 24, New York, 23 - The Redskins run and throw to Clinton Portis all night, letting their big offensive line mow down the suddenly susceptible Giants front seven.