When it comes to making offseason predictions, I'll take the wisdom of Arnie V. over Phil Simms.
Arnie V., a charter member of this blog's (precursor) email group, has a very simple way of predicting what the Giants will look like each season. Paraphrased, "if they looked bad last season, they'll end up playing well, and if they were good last season, they'll end up being bad." It is the contrarian attitude, and it is probably grounded in those Fassel years where Gentleman Jim could not handle an ounce of prosperity. The moment the team did well, it did poorly, and then it would bounce back and do well, then poorly once again. In 7 years, Fassel did not have two consecutive seasons with a winning record.
So here we are in 2010. Phil Simms, one of the UltimateNYG gurus, says the Giants are not ostensibly a contender... they should instead be viewed as a team in transition. Glenn opined on this late last week, concurring with the ex-Giant. Glenn's reasoning was based not in small part on the belief that the NFL has caught up to the Giants model of a strong defensive line; opponents will target the Giants' mediocre linebackers.
In the old NFL, it would be correct to view the Giants as a team in transition. In the new NFL, that is a simplistic generalization. We always say, NFL stands for Not For Long. Well, teams that have a bad season are not bad for long. Teams that have a good season are not good for long either. Some franchises with strong head coaches and strong front offices can stay reasonably competitive consistently over extended periods of time. Other franchises (like the Raiders, Lions) need a (GM, think Davis and Millen) lobotomy to get it turned around. But for the most part, most teams are constantly fighting within that quick cycle of losing and winning.
This contrarian argument is grounded in the power of complacency. Teams who are good and lack leadership get fat and happy. You spend all that time working your tail off, doing every little EXTRA thing to get better, you do well, the season is over... AND YOU HAVE TO WORK YOUR TAIL OFF THE NEXT SEASON HARDER THAN THE LAST ONE JUST TO STAY IN PLACE. Here is the cycle:
(1) underachievement brings (2) focus on renewal, back to fundamentals, hard work (3) which brings some results (4) which brings on greater effort and focus (5) which leads to improvement (6) success (7) respect (8) which breeds complacency (9) softness (10) vulnerability (11) losses (12) losing (13) underachievement. Repeat cycle.
The eye-opener for me was the 1999 Rams. Where did this team come from? In 1998 they were 4-12. In 1999 they were 13-3, the Greatest Show on Turf, the best offense I have ever seen. To me that proves one big thing- every team in the NFL has a chance to win it all. There will be some who will argue that the Saints came out of nowhere. NO THEY DID NOT. We have our fair share of misses, but we accurately understood that the Saints were going to be a live team before the season started. They had a solid coach, a new/credible defensive coordinator and a lethal offense from 2008 that just could not win on the road the previous season. But the point is all the same, that teams missing a little bit of something can straighten it out and become contenders.
The Giants are missing more than the Saints were missing, but there are some parallels. They brought in a new defensive coordinator and have an offense with talent.
Now before you go away thinking that I am some big time optimist like the folks over at Big Blue View, let's remember we are the pragmatists who are grounded.
- I'd take Sean Payton over Tom Coughlin.
- Tom was the guy who presided over a defense that was freelancing.
- Tom was the guy who did not pull the plug on his alpha-male Jacobs after a Week 1 injury, when by Week 3 it was obvious to everyone that something was very wrong.
- Tom was the guy that presided over the 40+ point drubbings, where he "did not know what he was going to have on Sunday..."
- And lastly, Tom presides over Kevin Gil*****, an underachieving offensive coordinator who is quite honestly best described as vomit.
So how can I be optimistic about 2010? The answer is simple. The Giants want and crave respect. The Giants are at the bottom of the cycle with enough talent to regain the necessary focus to win games and get back to winning ways.
People did not understand the 2008 season. 2008 added to 2007 because no one respected them as Super Bowl Champions. They were still fighting for respect. It was only during 2008 that people first respected the gmen, saw the 11-1 juggernaut and recognized the talent of Steve Spagnuolo. 2009 was all about having gotten requisite respect, some injuries, the killer loss of Spagnuolo and the complacency/age of the offensive line. Now that we are back down to earth and the players have stopped getting those warm and fuzzy press clippings, they realize they have to go back to work like the other teams of this league who need and want respect. That means A TON in a league where almost every team is evenly matched in skill. My grandmother could be a better DC than Sheridan was last year. There was an unofficial mutiny, for heaven's sake.
We, the site that has been begging for a LBer for forever, recognize that the defense is flawed. It will take a healthy Phillips, a healthy Tuck (who has NOT been healthy for two consecutive seasons) and some inspired play from DL in order to hide the mediocrity of LBer. But you can never underestimate the power of motivation. I do not expect a Super Bowl this year. But I do not expect 'a team in transition' either. Simms is good for being sane and sober. We should be as well. So do not expect miracles, but expect a lot more effort. This team may end up 9-7 this season, but it is going to be in a lot of games and will not be giving up 40 per. I'd be more bullish if the team had more at LBer than Sintim and Wilkinson as starters, but it will have to do.
This blog post is not a 2010 season's prediction by any means. Sometime in August/September we will have much better visibility on guys like Phillips. We'll know more about the relative health of the RBs. We'll hopefully see a full camp from Canty and the entire squad, not the hamstrings from last August. We'll get a better sense of Fewell. We'll get some insight into the Diehl/Beatty/McKenzie wars. We'll see if Smith is right about Bradshaw. We'll see from camp if Nicks and Thomas are ready to have big years like we expect them to have. We'll see if DEs and DTs make any splashes as rookies or more likely do not.
Summary: The weakest link on defense is at Linebacker. The weakest link on offense is the Offensive Coordinator. The biggest reason to be optimistic is that the team was bad last year and is going to be fighting for respect. We'll take the fight for respect as a reason for why the Giants will play better and be competitive. Once we get that, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. Right, Arnie?!