Kicking off the start of the NFL regular season tonight, the New York Giants will be trying to avoid a fate that hasn’t befallen an NFC team in five years. If the Giants don’t make the playoffs, they will be the first team in the conference since Chicago in 2007 to play in the Super Bowl and miss the postseason the following year.
To avoid that fate, Eli Manning and his teammates will almost certainly have to step up their game from 2011 when they barely made it past the regular season. The team’s potent defense and the emergence of wide out Victor Cruz will certainly help, but the exit of Brandon Jacobs and an aging offensive line may disrupt New York’s hope for a second straight ring.
If his neck can hold up, Eli’s brother Peyton may be the one representing the Manning family in Super Bowl XLVII.
Other than Joe Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs, the history of older quarterbacks moving onto greener pastures with a new team isn’t very spectacular. However, in Manning’s 13 previous seasons, he never showed much wear and tear. A rejuvenated Manning added to an already postseason capable team could equal a magical season in the Mile-High City.
After being replaced in Denver, Tim Tebow will now have backup duties with a New York Jets team that almost assuredly won’t reach any great heights. Nevertheless, the spotlight will still shine bright. There’s a slim chance that Tebow could complement New York’s starter Mark Sanchez and help push the Jets to their third postseason berth in four years. The more likely route is the continual slide from last season. Heading into mid-December, the Jets were actually three games above .500, but three straight losses left the team on the outside looking in.
New York will be battling the slightly revamped Buffalo Bills mostly for a chance at playing second fiddle to the New England Patriots in the AFC East. Bills owner Ralph Wilson opened up his checkbook this offseason, inking defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to long term deals. Even if the defense is shored up, the team will only go as far as its quarterback will let them. Ryan Fitzpatrick, labeled as the franchise quarterback, will undoubtedly have to improve on his league leading 23 interceptions from last season.
The futures of the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins perhaps rest the most with the strengths and weaknesses of their freshly drafted QBs.
In Indy, Andrew Luck will be taking the experiences he picked up from his pro style offense at Stanford into the AFC South, but is joining a team that lost a lot of familiar faces. Jeff Saturday, Pierre Garcon, Gary Brackett, and Dallas Clark have all moved on, leaving the No. 1 overall pick to shape the team, to some degree, on his own. Fortunately, wide receiver Reggie Wayne will still be an option on offense as well as Luck’s former Stanford teammate Coby Fleener at tight end.
Robert Griffin III will be taking over a Redskin team that hasn’t made the postseason since 2007. He’ll be bringing a great arm and almost incomparable agility, but if he can’t adjust to the pro ranks, the team will show no improvement. If that’s the case, Washington may want to shut down the Mike Shanahan coaching experiment as well.
If New York or New England can’t put the pieces together to make it back to the Super Bowl this year, the favorite would likely be the Green Bay Packers. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers may be working with an enhanced offense and an improved running game after the signing of Cedric Benson, but the other side of the ball may not be as polished. Cornerback Charles Woodson is pushing 40 and the team may ultimately struggle to defend the pass.
With so many old faces in new places and breakout players like Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Carolina’s Cam Newton and Houston’s Arian Foster, the NFL is moving into a new era. This season looks to be a dramatic one that may change the league’s landscape for years to come.