The New York Giants can repeat as Super Bowl champions, but they almost certainly won't. That's not a knock on Big Blue. It's simply an acknowledgement of two significant obstacles.
History and the rest of the NFC.
History tells us Super Bowl champions seldom return the next season to the NFL's championship game, with the 2004 New England Patriots the last team to do it. OK, so it happened. But they're the only team in the past 12 seasons to make it.
Then there's the NFC, and this is where it gets tricky. The Giants are the best club out there right now, but tell me how many people truly, madly, deeply believe they win the NFC East next season. I'm not talking about repeating as conference champions; I'm talking about repeating as division champions.
The Giants were 3-3 within the NFC East this year, losing twice to Rex Grossman and the Washington Redskins, and 7-7 overall at one point. But it's not Grossman and the Redskins who are speed bumps; it's Philadelphia and Michael Vick.
The Eagles won their final four starts, finishing a game behind the Giants, and beat New York in late November with Vince Young as their quarterback. They have talent. They have Vick. They have a history of success. And they finished the season with a rush, playing down the stretch like the club they were supposed to be.
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Granted, not one of their final four opponents had a winning record, but let's not get picky. New England didn't conquer a team that finished with a winning record all season until overcoming Baltimore in the AFC championship game.
All I know is that the Eagles were 4-for-their-final-4, hammering opponents by an average of 19.8 points. If they didn't blow a 20-point fourth-period lead vs. San Francisco or if Jason Avant doesn't fumble vs. Buffalo, they reach the playoffs ... and cause trouble.
There is no one ... absolutely no one ... that wanted to play Philadelphia in the playoffs, and it's easy to see why when you watch the Eagles over the final month. They finally jelled, and you'd expect a carryover next season.
Then there's Dallas, and, OK, so the Giants swept the Cowboys this season. But look at that first victory. The Cowboys held a 12-point lead with 5:41 left and could have closed out Big Blue had Tony Romo completed a third-and-5 shot down the field to an open Miles Austin.
So they were close.
But there's also history involved here. Over the past eight seasons, the NFC East had a different winner each year. If the trend continues, someone other than New York makes it to the top in 2012 -- and I just gave you the two most likely choices.
The Giants return their core of veterans -- with no one more important than quarterback Eli Manning. But they have four Super Bowl starters who could leave as free agents -- cornerback Aaron Ross, safety Deon Grant, tackle Kareem McKenzie and linebacker Chase Blackburn -- as well as a passel of significant contributors like defensive linemen Dave Tollefson and Rocky Bernard, punter Steve Weatherford and Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham.
"Oh, man, I really want them keep this team together," Brandon Jacobs said. "It's a great football team. This football team could do it again. I honestly believe that."
I do, too. But it probably won't.
Not only haven't the six previous Super Bowl winners made it back to the game; they didn't score a single playoff victory the following season. You can look it up. The Giants were one of them, losing to Philadelphia in 2008 after gaining home-field advantage that season. Green Bay was there, too, losing to New York this season after the Packers won 15 of their first 16 games and were declared a Super Bowl lock.
They didn't win one playoff game.
The Giants were lucky to escape San Francisco in the playoffs -- winning after Kyle Williams botched two punt returns -- but they did it, and sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The Giants were both down the stretch and were deserving of the Lombardi Trophy. I said weeks ago I thought they were the most dangerous club in the NFC, and they were.
But now that they've proven it, they're going to have to prove it again ... and good luck.
"If we won this year," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said, "there's no doubt in my mind we can [win another]."
There is in mine.