After missing playoffs, Giants look to bounce back
A year ago, the New York Giants failed miserably in their bid to get back to the Super Bowl and defend their title.
This year, the Giants just want to stay home - and become the first NFL team to play the Super Bowl in their backyard.
The first cold-weather Super Bowl is being held in New Jersey, and the Giants have the offense to get there.
Eli Manning is in his prime. The dynamic Victor Cruz is re-signed and there are enough pieces on the offense to make coach Tom Coughlin's team's a threat for a third title in seven years. The question mark is the running game in the post-Ahmad Bradshaw era.
The concern, however, is the defense, the unit that was the key to titles in the 2007 and `11 seasons. It was the NFL's second worst in 2012 and the new-look unit needs to be better.
''We missed the playoffs last year,'' Manning said. ''That's the goal. You can't win a championship if you don't make the playoffs. It is about doing whatever it takes and making sure we're putting ourselves in position to make the playoffs toward the end of the season and then excelling at the end of the season to finish that job.''
The Giants (9-7) didn't miss the playoffs by much. The difference was a 3-5 finish after a 6-2 start.
Five things to look for as the Giants opening training camp:
1. JPP READY OR NOT: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the catalyst of the defense with 27 1/2 sacks in 48 games, had surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back in June. The recovery time was expected to be 12 weeks which makes him a question mark for the start of the season. With the loss of Osi Umenyiora to free agency, Mathias Kiwanuka is back at DE. Third-round draft pick Damontre Moore has some of that freakish pass-rush talent that JPP has exhibited and he might be the surprise this season.
2. WHO'S IN THE RUNNING? Manning is going to have new faces in the backfield. David Wilson, the first-round pick in 2012, is the No. 1 back with the release of Bradshaw in a salary-cap move. Wilson is a breakaway threat but he has to prove he can pick up the blitz. Andre Brown is No. 2 despite coming off a broken leg. The other concern is at fullback. Henry Hynoski needed surgery on his left knee after being injured in the June minicamp.
3. NICKLE AND DIME DEES: With questions at linebacker and a plethora of seasoned defensive backs, expect the Giants to use a lot of nickel and dime defenses. The three-safety formation was a staple in the run to the Super Bowl in 2011, so coordinator Perry Fewell probably will roll out more gimmick defenses to match the more pass-orientated NFL. Look for veterans Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Ryan Mundy, Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara, Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas - coming off two ACL surgeries - to lead the way.
4. HAKEEM NICKS MIGHT BE KEY: While Manning and Cruz are the offensive catalysts, New York needs a healthy Nicks at wide receiver to open things up. Nicks, entering the final year of his contract, refused to attend voluntary offseason workouts after struggling last season. He broke his right foot in minicamp and hurt his left knee in the second week of the season. A 1,000-yard receiver in 2010 and 2011, he had 53 catches for 692 yards and three touchdowns last season. He can be a second game-breaker if healthy. Second-year receiver Rueben Randle and free agent signee Louis Murphy, a speedster, might surprise.
5. NEW KIDS IN THE HUDDLE: Veteran Josh Brown replaces Lawrence Tynes as placekicker. Top draft pick Justin Pugh should push veteran David Diehl at right tackle. Second-round pick Johnathan Hankins should see time at defensive tackle, even though free-agent signee Cullen Jenkins and Linval Joseph probably will start. Brandon Myers, who had 79 catches for 806 yards with Oakland last season, gives Manning his first proven tight end entering a camp since the days of Jeremy Shockey and Kevin Boss.
Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org