As we wait for the Giants and Patriots to take the field in Indianapolis, we're going to be running down the 10 biggest reasons why the Giants are headed to Super Bowl 42. Coming in at No. 6 is Hakeem Nicks.
There's no question that the biggest story at wide receiver for the Giants this season was Victor Cruz.
Going from undrafted free agent to one of the league's most explosive players is just too good a narrative to resist, especially when there's salsa dancing involved after every huge touchdown play. That doesn't mean that he was the only wide receiver worthy of compliments this season though.
When the 2011 season kicked off, Hakeem Nicks was the receiver that everyone was talking about and he didn't do anything to make that talk seem silly over the course of the season.
Nicks caught 76 passes for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns, numbers that would normally make a player the subject of so much attention that you want to reach for the mute button every time broadcasters started talking about them.
Nicks is making the Giants look very smart for spending their first round pick on him in 2009 as he has grown as a player in each of his three NFL seasons. There are still a few too many drops sprinkled among the catches, but Nicks' combination of size and speed make him an invaluable target for Eli Manning.
Beyond that, there's not much chance that Cruz has his breakout season without Nicks on the outside of the offense. It takes nothing away from what Cruz accomplished to point out that defenses keying on Nicks opened up wide swaths of the field for him to attack throughout the season.
When defenses finally got wise to the damage that Cruz could do, they had to adjust and, just like that, Nicks was back to putting up immense numbers. He had a big game against the Cowboys in the game at Dallas and was simply unstoppable in the first two rounds of the playoffs, providing a big reminder of just how much impact Nicks can have when teams don't design their defense to stop him from beating them.
The ascension of Cruz was important to the Giants because it gave them a game-breaker in the slot that could change games with a single play. As important as such a player is, he wouldn't have been enough to lift the offense to the heights it reached this season without Nicks being such a threat on the outside.
You need only look to the NFC Championship Game for that. Nicks hurt his shoulder in the first quarter and could barely lift his arm up to catch a pass the rest of the way, but his presence on the field meant that the 49ers had to account for him and Cruz took advantage with a big offensive day when nothing was really working for the Giants offensively.
Such is the symbiotic nature of an NFL offense and that's what makes Nicks one of the biggest reasons why the Giants are back in the Super Bowl.