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Predicting the Start of the Giants Title Defense

The Packers and Steelers would each make worthy first opponents

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Another date with Green Bay could mark the start of the 2012 season.

    As Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham proved at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night, the Giants aren't yet finished reaping the rewards that come with winning a Super Bowl.

    That doesn't mean that it is too soon to start thinking about the 2012 season, especially when there are a lot of football-less days and nights to fill before we can finally turn our attention back to actual games.

    Free agency, the draft and assorted other offseason business will be here soon enough and that's good for keeping the conversation flowing, but there's still a dead pocket right now that needs attention.

    Let's fill it by figuring out who the Giants are going to play in the first game of their title defense. In addition to oversized rings and the adoration of the masses, the winner of the Super Bowl gets to kick off the NFL season at home on Thursday, Sept. 6.

    We already know the contenders for the spot on the other sideline as the Giants' home opponents have been made public (the full schedule is released in April) so let's break out our crystal balls. We'll rank them from least to most appealing, starting with a team that has no shot of being in New York on Opening Night.

    8. Browns - This might be who the Giants would schedule to give them a college-style return to action against a forgiving opponent, but there's no chance the NFL's marketing machine is going to put the Browns in this spot. Colt McCoy and company will be visiting the Meadowlands on a much less conspicuous occasion.

    7. Buccaneers - While new Bucs coach Greg Schiano has some local roots, Tampa is coming off a terrible season and has little national appeal. The fact that they have actually won a Super Bowl in their existence is the only thing that pushes them above the Browns.

    5-6. Cowboys and Eagles - These are both appealing matchups, obviously, but the NFL has shied away from going with divisional matchups in this Thursday night opener. It doesn't mean that it won't shift gears, but there's a good chance these will wind up as primetime matchups later in the season.

    4. Redskins - Why are the Redskins getting a higher spot on the list than the other teams in the division? There's a chance, however small, that Peyton Manning winds up as their quarterback for the 2012 season.

    If that happens, it will be hard for anyone other than Archie Manning to resist pitting brother against brother in Peyton's return to the NFL. If it doesn't, there's no shot of the 'Skins getting the nod.

    3. Saints - Giants fans should feel happy that this year's date with the Saints isn't taking place on the fast track of the Superdome and you might as well catch a Saints team that looks set for some big offseason changes in the first week. Can't rule them out, but the next two teams seem like they have more to offer from the sales angle than Drew Brees and his band of merry men. 

    2. Steelers - There are storylines everywhere you look with this matchup, starting from the fact that the Mara and Rooney families have actually intermarried (see the Oscar nominated Rooney Mara) in a modern-day twist on the way European royal families used to extend their control over the continent. Beyond that, you have Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning as two 2004 draftees with two Super Bowl rings and two franchises that have won more than a fifth of all Super Bowls between them playing their only game in the next four years.

    1. Packers - On the flip side of the rare matchup with the Steelers is the more frequent date with the Packers. The NFL went with the last two Super Bowl champs to start the 2011 season and Green Bay would give them a chance to do that while also selling it as a chance for the Packers to get a little payback for the playoff loss.

    Throw in Aaron Rodgers vs. Eli for some mythical but heavily hyped quarterbacking crown and you've got yourself the clubhouse leader for Week One of the Giants title defense. Now we just need to figure out a way to fast forward six-and-a-half months to make it happen.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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