My initial impression of the upcoming Washington Redskins-New York Giants game is that this is a winnable game for the Redskins.
That doesn't mean that I'm going to pick them to win. I'm not sure about that just yet. But it doesn't seem to me that this is as daunting a task as one normally would think that going into the house of the defending Super Bowl champs would be.
No disrespect intended for the Giants here. I'm not one of those who calls their run to the title last year a fluke or anything like that. Three road wins in the playoffs, two of them against the #1 and #2 seeds, and then beating the supposedly unbeatable team ready to be crowned as the Greatest of All Time in the Super Bowl is no fluke.
The championship run is history. So is the last meeting between these two teams, a 22-10 win for the Skins in Week 15, a game that was not as close as the final score indicated. Eli Manning threw a mind-numbing, record-setting 35 incomplete passes. Clinton Portis rushed for 126 yards on 26 carries. The Redskins were in charge of the contest throughout, building a 22-3 lead in the third quarter that emptied out Giants Stadium early.
If you'd told any of those chilled, disgusted fans then that their team would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in a little less than two months, you would have gotten some strange looks. If you'd told them then that the Redskins would be returning to that stadium in the teams' first game of 2008, most would have looked for a place to bet the Redskins.
So, the question is: Are the Giants a better team now than they were on December 16, 2007?
In regards to personnel, the answer would seem to be no, they are worse. The loss of Osi Umenyiora to injury added to the retirement of Michael Strahan puts a couple of major dents into the defensive line. Fortunately for the Giants the position was one of great strength and depth. Justin Tuck is a quality replacement and while linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka
may develop into a good DE some day, there still is a dropoff from Strahan and Osil.
Tight end Jeremy Shockey was injured and put out for the season in that December game. Kevin Boss starts in his place and while he caught a few key passes down the stretch, the Shockey trade may end up being one of those that seemed to be a good idea at the time, but later on maybe not so much.
Manning certainly rebounded from that dismal showing in the swirling Jersey winds with a nice showing in the postseason. He threw for 854 yards with six TD's to one INT for a 95.7 rating during the playoffs. His confidence—and, just as important, his teammates' confidence in him—grew by the game.
Confidence was what the run was all about. It was at a low point after the loss to the Skins. The next week against the Bills, the G-Men were in danger of missing the playoffs altogether as they bumbled and stumbled and trailed a pesky Bills team in Buffalo.
They came back and won that game to clinch a playoff spot, and then gave the Patriots all they could handle in the season finale. They got on a roll that didn't stop until they dashed New England's dreams of grandeur in Arizona.
But it's seven months later now. Can momentum carry itself through spring and summer, through ring ceremonies and mall openings, through writing books and collecting accolades? If the answer is yes, can Big Mo make up for the absence of Umenyiora and Strahan?