Having won Sunday in Dallas by the tips of Dez Bryant's fingers, the New York Giants are 6-2 at the halfway point of their season. This is nothing new. It is the seventh time in Tom Coughlin's nine season as Giants coach that they have started 6-2 or better. He's been exactly 6-2 at the turn six times, was 7-1 in 2008 and was 5-3 in the first half in each of his other two seasons. First halves of seasons, under Coughlin, have gone very well for the Giants.
However, in his first eight seasons in New York, Coughlin's teams have posted winning records only twice. The Giants were 5-3 in their final eight games in 2005 and in 2008, and have not done better than 4-4 in the second half in any other season since Coughlin and Eli Manning arrived in 2004.
So, why should anyone expect this year to be different? With road trips scheduled to Cincinnati, Washington, Atlanta and Baltimore and home games against the Steelers, Saints, Packers and Eagles, there aren't too many soft-looking spots on the second-half schedule, right? Factor in Coughlin's .422 second-half winning percentage as Giants coach and the fact that you didn't come out of that Cowboys game feeling all that great about the way the team looked, and Giants fans would seem to have reason to worry, no?
Well, in my preseason preseason predictions, I forecast the Giants to go 12-4 and win the NFC East. And regardless of anything I wrote in that last paragraph, I don't see why they still can't hit that prediction.
First of all, that schedule's not as scary as it may have looked in the preseason. Only four of the eight teams on it currently have winning records, and two of those (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) are AFC teams in a year in which AFC teams are 12-20 in head-to-head games against NFC teams.
More importantly, though, it's important to keep in mind the place the Giants currently occupy in the NFL hierarchy and the opinion of other teams around the league. The Giants are not some plucky upstart trying to gain a foothold among the league's elites. They are one of the league's elites. They are a defending Super Bowl champion with the fourth-best record in their conference. They are a combined 5-0 in this calendar year against the Falcons, Packers, 49ers and Patriots. They may not look as good as they can possibly look each and every week, but they have proven they can beat any team in the league, at home or on the road, and that goes a long way.
The effect of the Giants' most recent Super Bowl title in the Giants' locker room has been a calming one. When they get into trouble, they believe they can (actually will) pull out of it. They have complete trust in Coughlin and Manning and all of the experienced leaders on their roster to guide them through inevitable challenges and tough times, and those leaders have confidence the team's less experienced players will listen to them. They are running the ball better than they did last year. They are deeper at the second level of the defense than they were last year. They have a kick return game. The offensive line is better. There is a pile of reasons to believe this year's Giants are better than the Giants who went 3-5 in the second half of last season before lighting it up in the playoffs.
The last time the Giants were defending Super Bowl champs, they were 7-1 at the halfway point and finished 12-4. That season ended ugly, with the Plaxico Burress arrest and a disappointing playoff loss to the Eagles, and the three years that followed were marked by disappointing second-half flops. But the way last year ended has restored the Giants' organizational swagger. And that's the main reason to believe this will be a good second half instead of a bad one.