By Chris Burke
August 20, 2013
Victor CruzVictor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks combined to catch 13 TDs last season, three fewer than the year before. (Elsa/Getty Images)

With the 2013 NFL season rapidly approaching, we’re taking a spin around the league for a closer look at all 32 teams. Track all of our Snapshots here.

Call it a Super Bowl hangover. Or blame it on injuries to such players as Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, Chris Canty, Kenny Phillips and others. Whatever the cause of last season's frustrating 9-7 record, capped with a 3-5 finish, the Giants simply did not get the job done as defending champs.

There's plenty of blame to go around. The defense, which ranked 31st in yards allowed, struggled to get stops when New York needed them, a problem made more evident by offensive letdowns against Cincinnati, Atlanta and Baltimore over the season's frustrating second half.

The Giants ought to have a chip on their shoulders, after watching the upstart Redskins run off with the division crown last season. There is enough talent here -- maybe more than on any other roster in this division -- to reclaim the top spot and to take aim at a home game Super Bowl.

But will the Giants of 2013 catch fire late, as the 2011 champs did after slipping to 6-6? Or will adversity and a tough schedule conspire to keep New York out of the postseason for a second straight year?

Biggest storyline: Watching the wide receivers.

Is this the final season for Giants fans (and QB Eli Manning) to enjoy the Victor Cruz/Hakeem Nicks one-two? The six-year, nearly $46 million contract Cruz received in July means that answer all depends on Nicks, and the Giants may not have the desire or the money to re-sign him before he becomes a free agent after this season.

The duo flourished in the Giants' 2011 Super Bowl season, combining for 158 catches and more than 2,700 yards receiving. Their dueling contract situations have stolen plenty of headlines since then, with New York choosing to lock up Cruz first.

A decision on Nicks may also hinge on what the Giants see from the rest of their receiving corps this season. Specifically, how 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle develops. The franchise is extremely high on Randle, so high, in fact, that they may let Nicks chase money elsewhere and promote Randle up the depth chart, much as the Steelers let Mike Wallace go and pinned their hopes on Antonio Brown. That Nicks has spent much of this summer banged up has provided Randle extra opportunities, and he has made the most of them.

For all their talent out wide, the Giants finished just 12th in the league in passing last season. Manning would love to bump that ranking into the top 10, and he will need everyone contributing to do so.

Most intriguing positional battle: Middle linebacker.

The Giants' last Super Bowl win may not have happened had they not picked Chase Blackburn up off the street and moved him into their starting lineup. Blackburn, who started 15 games at the MLB spot last season, is  gone again, leaving Mark Herzlich and former Cowboy Dan Connor to battle in his place. Herzlich opened camp running with the first-team, after starting a pair of games for the Giants last season. Connor, meanwhile, has 27 career NFL starts under his belt and has continued to keep himself in the conversation.

This contest appears to be headed right down to the wire -- neither Herzlich (four tackles) nor Connor (three) did anything of particular note Sunday night against the Cowboys. Of course, Blackburn was inconsistent at best during the 2013 season, so at least there is some strength in numbers now for the Giants. Either the up-and-coming Herzlich or the veteran Connor ought to be able to fill Blackburn's shoes in the middle of New York's 4-3 defense.

New face, new place: Brandon Myers, TE.

Last season, Martellus Bennett became one of Eli Manning's most reliable targets with a 55-catch performance. Two seasons ago, Jake Ballard filled that role, right up until blowing out his knee at the Super Bowl. And before that, Kevin Boss was an integral part of the New York offense from 2008-10.

Long story short, Manning and the Giants love having a sure-handed tight end to throw to, which is why Bennett's move to Chicago threatened to leave a void. Enter Brandon Myers. The 6-foot-3 former Raider is coming off a breakthrough 2012 (79 catches, 806 yards, four touchdowns) and reportedly developed quick chemistry with Manning in summer workouts. Myers should find openings, too, with the Giants' talented receivers and running backs commanding plenty of attention from opposing defenses.

Impact rookie: Damontre Moore, DE.

A brutal pre-draft run-up for Damontre Moore sent his stock plummeting from a potential spot in the top 10 all the way to Round 3. There, the Giants snagged him ... and now he he has an opportunity to redeem himself as one of the draft's biggest steals.

Moore certainly raised eyebrows in the Giants' preseason opener at Pittsburgh, when he made four tackles, blocked a punt and broke into the Steelers' backfield on numerous occasions. The athletic former Texas A&M edge rusher provides a terrific complement to starting defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, allowing the Giants to pick and choose when they unleash him. Plus, as evidenced by the blocked punt, his knack for making plays (12.5 sacks in 2012) will come in handy on special teams.

The only thing holding him back right now is a bruised shoulder. That injury kept him out of New York's second preseason game and, perhaps more important, has cost him valuable practice time.

Looking at the schedule: If there is a break at all in the regular season for the Giants, it comes in Weeks 9 and 10. That's when New York enjoys its bye and hosts the Raiders, respectively, a two-week stretch that should bring a win and some needed rest amid a trying schedule.

That game against Oakland is the first of three straight at home for the Giants in the middle of the season, with Green Bay and Dallas coming in the following two weeks. And that's pretty much par for the course in 2013 -- New York will seldom be able to take its foot off the gas.

The Giants open with a critical NFC East showdown at Dallas, then host Denver in Week 2. Three of their next four are on the road: at Carolina, Kansas City and Chicago, with a home game against Philadelphia in the mix. New York closes the year with three of five away from the Meadowlands, including trips to San Diego, Detroit and a home-and-home with Washington in Week 17. There's also a Week 15 matchup with Seattle and a Week 7 visit from Minnesota.

New York has won eight games or more every season since 2005. Keeping that streak alive and tracking down enough W's for an NFC East title won't be easy, but it's a reasonable goal.

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