- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New York Giants' title defense has gotten off to a strong, and perhaps fortunate, start.
They are 6-2 at the halfway point and are riding a four-game winning streak. They have dominated at times, such as in their wins over Carolina and San Francisco.
They've needed dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks against Washington and Dallas. They've had controversy, such as the kneel-down episode with Tampa Bay, and they also laid an egg in their season opener.
The Giants look like a team that can win it all again, but they are definitely a team capable of lackluster starts and head-scratching losses.
In other words, the Giants are where they usually are at this point in the season.
The Giants believe they are a better team than what they've shown thus far. They'll certainly get a chance to prove just how good they can be with games remaining against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
By the time the toughest schedule in the NFL is complete, we'll know just how good the Giants really are.
"We've still got a long way to go," co-owner John Mara said. "And you earn your money in the second half of the season."
Giants' midseason awards
Offensive MVP: Manning. Even when he struggles, the league's most clutch quarterback can deliver a 77-yard game-winning bomb at any point.
Defensive MVP: Pierre-Paul. Something tells us he is just starting to get warmed up.
Special-teams MVP: Tynes. He has nailed four or more field goals in a game four times already, and his only misses are a blocked field goal and a 54-yarder.
Most improved: Andre Brown. He has five touchdowns and has shown he can handle the load if Bradshaw gets hurt.
Least improved: Jernigan. Failed to capitalize on opportunity in camp and might have to wait for a chance next season unless there are injuries.
Biggest surprise: Stevie Brown. Former seventh-round pick of the Raiders leads NFL in takeaways.
Biggest disappointment: Rivers. When healthy, has shown glimpses of potential and athleticism.
Best rookie: Wilson. Electrifying on kickoff returns, and we still want to see more of what he can do on offense.
Best offseason acquisition: Locklear. From backup to full-time starter.
Worst offseason acquisition: Adderall. This banned performance-enhancing substance has claimed two safeties and nearly Andre Brown, too.
Best-kept secret: Joseph and Hynoski. Unsung yet key cogs.
Biggest concern: Health. The Giants can't afford too many more injuries to the secondary.
Key to the second half: If there is another annual midseason swoon, the Giants must contain it and not let it spiral out of hand.
Best coaching move: Motivational tactics aside (remember nobody giving them a chance to win in SF?), Coughlin's preparing Locklear to play both right and left tackle in camp has been essential.
Worst coaching move: Even Coughlin confessed he should've run one more play in Philadelphia to get a closer crack at potential game-winning FG.
Game to watch: All eyes will be on their game against Atlanta, but something tells us there will be plenty on the line in the season finale against Philadelphia with the Cowboys and Redskins also playing each other that day.
Giants will win the division if: They win four to five more games and beat the Eagles at home.
Only way they miss the playoffs is: If the Giants suffer a serious injury or a second-half meltdown, they could fall behind in the ultracompetitive NFC. Dallas, Washington or Philadelphia could get hot as well.
Player ready to emerge: Canty. Ready to provide the defensive front with much-needed muscle and size.
Player least likely to return in 2013: Umenyiora. Not because the Giants wouldn't want him back, but because the defensive end will be looking for one final payday.