Friday, January 6, 2012

Giants: who are they?

My friend Ray had some good insight about all the chest pounding and pronouncements about a deep playoff run for the Giants this year. If you take a look at the season long performance of the team, there's no denying that they are a mediocre team. 9-7 defines mediocrity - a hair better than .500, worst record of all NFC playoff teams, first time ever that an NFC East division was won with such a poor record. Good passing offense, poor running offense and bad defense. If that doesn't scream mediocrity, I don't know what does. With that perspective, it's a little hard to accept that the Giants players and fans are all whispering about Super Bowl and another playoff run duplicating what the team did as a wildcard in 2007. The comparison to the 2007 playoffs has some merit, to be sure, but the context is much different. While Green Bay was the top seed that year and Dallas was second in the NFC, neither was a completely dominant team and were not as strong as this year's first and second seeds in the NFC - Green Bay and New Orleans. Even in the first round, the Tampa Bay team that the Giants beat in their opener was much weaker than the Atlanta team Giants will play on Sunday. While Eli is having a better year and is a much better QB than he was in 2007, the Giants defense was far superior then to what it is now, both statistically and talent wise. Things have to really fall into place for the Giants just to win against Atlanta, much less go on an improbable playoff run.

That's the reality. Now comes the hope.

Consider: a baseball player has had a bad year and is batting .260 for the season, gets hot in September, plays up to, or slightly above his potential and is hitting .420 over this last month of the season. His team makes it into the playoffs and he is at the plate, wagging his bat waiting to hit. What kind of hitter is that pitcher facing? Is he a .260 hitter, because that was his batting average for the entire season, or is he facing a .420 hitter who is seeing the ball well, has covered up every hole in his swing and is ready to rock the ball out of the park. That's the analogy of the hope for Giants fans - it is certainly true that the defense has been poor all season and the statistics reflect that, placing the Giants defense at the bottom of the league. But it is equally true that the Giants have played their best two defensive games of the season in the last two weeks. The defense allowed only 14 points in each game behind a revived pass rush that sacked the QBs 11 times and would have had a few more if elusive Tony Romo had not wiggled out of some of them.

So the blind hope for Giants fans is that the defense played well below their capability for 14 games and in the last 2 games, somehow has fixed all its problems, regained its form and now will be the punishing, dominating defense that we expected all along. Sounds a little too story book and trite to me. I remember going into the 2007 playoffs having absolutely no Super Bowl expectation, in fact would have felt gratified and fortunate to win just one playoff game. Giants were spanked twice by Dallas that year, were spanked early in the year by Green Bay and we thought there was no way they would do anything but make a respectable showing in the playoffs. It was a remarkable run and was extremely unlikely, with a team that was much more balanced, had more areas of excellence and fewer flaws than this 2011 team. To expect another run this year is even more unlikely, but then again, that's why they call us fanatics.

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