|Eli Manning and Kevin Gilbride try to get their offense back to championship level. (US Presswire)|
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning said his wife, Abby, recently asked him a question many Giants fans probably have asked as well:
Why did the Giants make it so tough on themselves when they won their last two Super Bowls, including last February?
"Can we have leads in the fourth quarter and hold one instead of coming back?" Manning said his wife asked.
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His response: "I promise we're trying."
The Giants won in 2007 as a wild-card team that won all three playoff games on the road and upset the undefeated New England Patriots with a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback in the Super Bowl. They had to win two road playoff games in 2011, and scrambled to win the NFC East after a slow start that had many thinking coach Tom Coughlin would be fired.
"We finished the seasons and the games strong," Manning said during a call to promote Gatorade and his part in the company's Beat the Heat program. "But we have to be better during the first three quarters of games and first three quarters of the season."
In 2012, I expect they will be. That's why the Giants are the top team in the CBSSports.com Power Rankings. They ended there and return essentially the same team, maybe even better, so they head into 2012 in the No. 1 spot.
Staying there is the hard part.
Repeating as champions in this parity-filled, free agent-driven NFL is a daunting task. The hurdles are tough, including the perceived complacency from achieving greatness once, the league-wide bulls-eye on you every week and the many things that go into staying a winning team, including the overall health of your roster.
Manning shot down both the complacency theory and the best-shot talk when I asked him about it.
Manning on chance for complacency: "We can win a championship again. That's contagious. We want to do it again. Hold up that trophy. Hugging teammates and winning that championship makes you want to do it every year. It makes you work harder. You realize what an awesome feeling that is. You remember the emotions and you want to get back."
Manning on getting the opponent's best shot just because you are champions: "Each week you're getting the other team's best shot even if you didn't make the playoffs because every game is so important in this league."
A year ago, Manning went into camp with one ring and people killing him for saying he was an elite quarterback. A year later, who is getting the last laugh on that one?
"I was just being honest and didn't think anything of it," Manning said. "I am not caught up in all that. I don't care where I rank. What is the true definition of elite anyway? It's more important to win games."
Manning has one more ring now than brother, Peyton Manning, and enters this season with a real chance to get another.
The Giants open in the top spot in our CBSSports.com Power Rankings. Whether they can stay there will be the real story.
One more note about these rankings: They are a start. So if you are comparing them to my game-by-game prediction column, don't. This is a start. That's all.