When the Giants last beat the Patriots at the end of an unexpected Super Bowl run, they entered the next season as a pretty heavy favorite to at least return to the playoffs as a division champ.
That's not the case this time around. Plenty of people still believe in the Giants, but you don't hear much chatter about dynasties the way you did when the Saints and Packers won titles in the last two seasons.
The Giants have themselves to blame for part of that, although you don't really get the sense that they spend much time thinking about such matters. Both of their Super Bowl runs were textbook illustrations about how titles go to teams that get hot at the right time, cash in on opportunities laid at their feet and find faith in themselves when the tides start going against them during the regular season.
Dynasty talk doesn't really fit when faced with those kinds of conditions, but that doesn't stop us from wondering how good the Giants' chances of pulling off the repeat might be. There's no better way to come up with an answer than to break down where they're better and where they're worse than they were a year ago.
They're better because... The defensive line enters this year healthy and, in the case of Osi Umenyiora, happy after being neither at the start of last season. That, plus the expected next steps for Jason Pierre-Paul, should make their defense much better this time around and lead to wins that make life easier than it was last season.
They're worse because... The defensive backfield looks just as easy to pick apart when the pass rush doesn't get home. Terrell Thomas' injury was a real crusher since the Giants don't have a replacement and don't even have the experienced Aaron Ross to step in and/or provide depth if Prince Amukamara finally decides to show the ability that made him a first round pick.
They're better because... They know what they have with Victor Cruz this time around and won't have to waste time on lesser receivers like they did last year.
They're worse because... Everyone else knows Cruz is coming this time and the Giants don't have a third receiver who can ensure that Cruz will find the same kind of single coverage that made him a legend last year. There's also the fact that Cruz had five touchdowns of 65 yards or more last season, a huge chunk of his production and something that hadn't happened since 1951. It's not likely to happen again.
They're better because... David Wilson looks like the kind of home-run hitter at running back that the team has never had. It's a potential new wrinkle for an offense that was already looking just fine.
They're worse because... Unless Wilson becomes a much better pass blocker overnight, everyone will know what's coming when he's on the field. Brandon Jacobs wasn't any good the last few years, but he did allow the team to stay balanced.
They're better because... There won't be any turmoil involving Tom Coughlin, Umenyiora or anyone else unless the Giants decide to release more of their hazing home videos.
They're worse because... Turmoil seemed to agree with the Giants. Tranquil is good, but a little kick in the rear can work well too.
They're better because... Eli Manning returns at quarterback.
They're worse because... Four of the five offensive linemen return as well.
In the end, we're left feeling like the Giants look to be pretty much the same as they were last year. All things considered, that's not such a bad place to find yourself.