Giants' schedule presents daunting task in attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champs

The last seven Super Bowl champions spent their offseason strutting, celebrating and planning on repeating, or at least contending for another championship.

None came close.

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Not only did none of them repeat or return to play in the Super Bowl, none of the seven made it even to the conference championship game.

Two failed to reach the playoffs at all.

The trend line here is no secret and, it stands to reason, will be something Tom Coughlin reminds his New York Giants as they prepare to defend their title. (No repeat champs since the New England Patriots won back-to-back in 2003 and '04).

You can't coast in the NFL. You can't lean on last year. You can't expect everything to work out again.

The NFL released its 2012 schedule Tuesday and the message for the Giants is clearer than ever.

New York's slate appears, at this point, not only stout and not only filled with teams seeking revenge, but back loaded with particularly tough games. The Giants may not be able to afford to start slow and hope to gather focus as the season goes on.

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New York will open at home against the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday, Sept. 5. The NFL is moving up its traditional Thursday night start by a day so it doesn't conflict with President Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention.

It only gets tougher from there. The Giants face seven teams that made the playoffs last year. And twice late in the season they deal with three-game stretches against 2011 playoff teams.

November features Pittsburgh, a bye week, at Cincinnati and home against Green Bay. December brings New Orleans, at Atlanta and at Baltimore. The season closes with a home game against a Philadelphia team that underperformed most of 2011 but is full of talent and closed on a four-game win streak.

New York has to play all three teams it beat to reach the Super Bowl a year ago: Atlanta, Green Bay and San Francisco (on the road Oct. 14). All three will be eager for redemption.

It's not that the Giants can't run that gauntlet, win an improved NFC East and roll through the playoffs again. It's just that even for a team that seems to thrive walking a tightrope, it would be helpful if it got off to a strong start and didn't need another December resurgence to save their season. This is not the year for complacency.

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"To get where we want to go you have to play the best teams in football and we certainly are playing the best teams," Coughlin said in a statement.

There's even more to it. New York's early season is, on paper, easier, but it is also unusual. The Giants get 10 days off between the opener and a Week 2 home date with Tampa Bay, but then only three days off before visiting Carolina, where they get to chase Cam Newton around.

Who knows how they get into a rhythm for that.

"Our first three games are Wednesday-Sunday-Thursday," Coughlin said. "We play two road night games early, come home for a week and then go to San Francisco.

"Our people are going to have to be really good about it."

They are going to have to be really, really good about it.

The Giants have won two Super Bowls this century, trailing only New England's three. Unlike the other superpowers of the day – New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis – they aren't known for week in, week out, season in, season out consistency.

Just last year they were all but left for dead after an ugly 10-6 home loss to lowly Washington in Week 15. They were 7-7 and had lost five of six games. They wound up not losing again.

That's the Giants: When they get it right, they really get it right. With a 2012 schedule that looks daunting on paper and could be even tougher if the Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins are improved as expected, they'd do well to get it right from the start.

November and December look rough. Positioning in the playoffs, or reaching them at all, is paramount.

More than a handful of teams have sat where the Giants do now. They all dreamed big. They all expected much.

None came close.

New York would be wise to make September count if it wants to avoid the same fate.

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