Fresh Rushing Game Just One Reason New York Giants Are ’13 Super Bowl Contenders

Once Dez Bryant’s knuckles were ruled out of bounds on this play October 28th, the New York Giants sat comfortably atop the NFC East at 6-2, 2.5 games ahead of the Eagles and Cowboys, primed for another playoff appearance. Coming off a Super Bowl championship, it was logical to feel confident the experienced Eli Manning could lead his team through a serious championship push for the second straight year.

Ultimately, it seemed the Giants grew complacent with their game and let their guard down to ultimately miss the playoffs entirely, an utter disappointment for a franchise and fan base expecting more.

But 2013 will be different for Eli & Co. The brightest light at the end of 2012’s depressive tunnel was a renaissance of New York’s running game, one with energy we haven’t seen since Tiki Barber’s pre-Eli days. Journeyman-turned puzzle piece Andre Brown showed fans his brute force capabilities and rookie David Wilson showed us the explosive step Ahmad Bradshaw never offered. Couple this with New York’s weaker schedule and the fresh pressure to avoid a second straight “losing” season, the New York Giants will contend for the Super Bowl in 2013.

An athletic neophyte, Wilson’s agility and 4.40 40-yard dash (video) offer a glimmer of hope Big Blue can represent a game-changing back comparable to a Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, or even Robert Griffin III (According to the New York Times, Wilson has run the 40 in 4.29 seconds). While a long shot, there’s finally enough quickness to evoke a glimmer of hope.

In the last five games of the regular season, Brown recorded five touchdowns on only 35 carries, many in Brandon Jacobs-like short yardage situations. While I couldn’t find the numbers, I don’t remember Brown rushing for a loss many times in those games.

If there’s chemistry, this duo has the potential to propel the Giants to the other end of the rushing spectrum. Both of their ’12 performances qualify for guaranteed rushes in ’13, but this “friendly” competition will add fuel to their respective fires. That extra drive should ultimately bring out the best in one, if not both of the Giants’ running backs.

In its best-case scenario, the Giants’ new-found rushing game will force defenses to allocate more attention on the ground, therefore leading to more open receivers and an even more successful passing game.

*How the Giants won last year’s Super Bowl with the league’s worst rushing numbers is a mystery I will never solve. And while given his fair share of kudos, I feel Eli’s 2011-12 accomplishment is still underrated given that statistic.*

The only other silver-lining of New York’s underachieving season is the motivation it offers for the upcoming campaign. Before this year’s Baltimore Ravens, no team since the 2006 Steelers won a Super Bowl the year after winning a playoff game. While winning is always the ultimate goal, I theorize an underachieving season finale is heavier motivation to win than the fire to repeat. Look at the 2012 Miami Heat.

But while arguments supporting New York’s new rushing game and theories of losing seasons are nice, they’re subjective. Plus, coming into 2012 Wilson and Brown combined for four career rushes. How will they tweak their game to counter defenses’ adjustments? Brown will enter 2013 off a broken fibula and Casper the Friendly Ghost could have blocked better than Wilson. But New York’s 2013 strength of schedule is the most tangible reason the Giants will at least make the playoffs. The scheduling committee gave the Super Bowl champion Giants games against all winners¬† of the ’11 NFC conferences – Packers, Saints, and 49ers. This year, New York will face a much weaker schedule, one that includes the dreadful AFC West. Take out the 13-3 Broncos and that conference boasted a 13-35 overall record this year (2012 standings).

With fresh assets at hand in 2013, a favorable schedule and a new-found motivation to elude the taste of failure, it will be a season Giants fans should look forward to. I correctly predicted the Giants would not make the playoffs in 2012, but am predicting a serious playoff representation in 2013.

Plus, the Giants have home-field advantage in this year’s Super Bowl whether they play or not. That cherry-on-top motivation may put them over the hump should they hit their stride come December.

Playing games 1 and 2 on the road is an advantage

I have a friend that works in New York City, and two days a week he has to deal with this one higher-up who he can’t stand. It makes his day miserable and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Put yourself in this situation – perhaps it’s very easy, would you rather deal with that person on Monday and Tuesday, or Wednesday and Thursday?

Abstractly, that’s the question you can pose to the remaining eight teams in the MLB postseason.

Because MLB adopted an additional wild card game after the 2012 schedule had been released, headquarters was forced to squish an extra day of baseball into a month-long period originally designed for one less game.

To make room, the team with home-field advantage in the division series will play games three, four, and five at home instead of the conventional sandwich setup of games one, two, and five at home. This takes out the second potential off-day of travel.

The first three years of the division series (1995-97) originally featured this “2-3” setup, but switched to “2-2-1” in 1998 to give the team with the better record a better chance to jump ahead in the series, arguing, “Give the best team the best chance to win.”

But I believe starting on the road is more advantageous for the “better” team. Team “Home-Field Advantage,” (referred to as “team HFA” for the rest of this post) can relax knowing one road win is the goal.

And if they lose both, you’re still coming back home for the rest of the series.

This happened in 1995. Don Mattingly and the Yankees faced Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners in the best of five, ’95 ALDS. With that original 2-3 format, the Yankees won games one and two at home before Seattle rallied for three straight wins Northwest. So losses in games one and two is not suicide.

Imagine this scenario:

In the 2-2-1 format, say the Yankees sneak into the playoffs with an 87-75 record and play the 103-59 Texas Rangers in the ALDS. With games one and two on the road, New York’s goal is to win just one of those two games, maybe get lucky, and hope to clinch at home.

On the flip side, Texas, by default, needs to win both home games to maintain home-field advantage. In baseball,¬† momentum changes with the next day’s starting pitcher – winning two straight can be a daunting task.

Probability coupled with a general guesstimation will tell you the better team will win both games only about 30-35% of the time, meaning the “wrong” team will have home-field advantage by game three 65-70% of the time.

So is it an advantage?

This year’s 2-3 setup takes loads of pressure off team HFA. Take the example a few paragraphs up, but now imagine the 2-3. Texas’ goal is to win just one game in New York, forcing the Yankees to win a best-of-three in the Lone Star State.

Essentially, the 2-2-1 setup puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the team with the best record.

If you disagree, here’s an article that argues why I’m completely wrong.

The argument above is if team HFA loses the first two games on the road, then the “wrong” team has stolen momentum and is in a prime position to advance.

“Well, then you should have won one of those first two games on the road. Maybe you’re not the better team,” is my answer to that.

With the 2-3, you take out one less day of travel. One less day of expensive flights and travel coordination. In a potential New York/Oakland matchup, you have a chance to adjust to the time difference and don’t get thrust back on a plane after a single night in a California hotel.

With today’s substantial emphasis on finance, you can use that money elsewhere.

Every time I’ve had a team with home-field advantage in the playoffs, “I” feel forced to win both those games, but with the HFA-Yankees going to Baltimore for the first two, I was more relaxed knowing one win out of the next two is the goal.

If the fans feel that way, then so does the organization.

Mr. Selig, I like this playoff setup. Tell the guy who wrote the article above he’s wrong, and punish him by returning to the format you originally drew up.