From oddsmakers to experts, people aren't giving the New York Giants the respect a Super Bowl champion deserves.
Eli Manning and Co. sneaked into the playoffs last year and then played their best football in January and February. For the second time in five years, they beat the favored New England Patriots to claim the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
With nearly all their starters on defense returning and the core on offense back, the Giants have a legitimate chance to repeat. At least, they should be considered the team to beat in the NFC.
Apparently, that's not the case.
In Las Vegas, 10 teams are listed ahead of the Giants in the Super Bowl odds. The Giants opened at 16-1 and have dropped to 22-1 at the Bovada Sportsbook.
Then there's the AP Pro32 NFL power rankings. The Giants were No. 3 behind the Green Bay Packers and the Patriots in the first-ever poll released July 31.
So, who do opponents think is the best team in the NFC? Even teammates disagree.
"It was a coin flip whether the Giants even got into the playoffs," Philadelphia Eagles guard Evan Mathis said. "They played very well, obviously, and they deserved it, but Green Bay, with their experience, should be the team to beat."
The Giants went 9-7 last year and split with the Eagles, losing at home with Vince Young starting in place of Michael Vick. Had one play gone differently in any of Philadelphia's close defeats, the Eagles (8-8) would've won the division.
Meanwhile, the Packers steamrolled to a 15-1 record and seemed on their way to winning their second straight Super Bowl before losing to the Giants in their first playoff game.
"The Giants are the Super Bowl champs, so they're the team to beat," Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "Each year, each team, it's a new season. But the Giants hold the reign."
Maybe until Week 1.
"We know we've got to improve," Manning said. "We were 9-7 last year in the regular season. That's not good enough. We were a better team than that. Obviously we showed that throughout the playoffs. We've got to have that urgency, that consistency, throughout the whole season, and play our best football for the 16 regular-season games. That's what we're going to work on and just keep grinding, staying hungry to get better and to make sure we can have another successful year this year."
The Packers might not place as much emphasis on the regular season after last year's debacle.
"We went through a great regular season, winning 15 games and doing a lot of things that hadn't happened here in Green Bay before, and got knocked out in the first round," NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers said. "It makes you realize the only thing that matters is winning championships, and you have to win some playoff games to get there."
There are other serious challengers in the NFC besides the Giants and Packers.
The Eagles are looking to bounce back after failing to live up to enormous expectations last year. If Vick can stay healthy, the offense should be dynamic with All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. An improved defense will be the key to Philadelphia's success.Comment on this story
The North might be the toughest division in the conference. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions will make it difficult for the Packers to cruise to another division title.
In the South, the New Orleans Saints have plenty of talent, but must overcome a turbulent, bounty-plagued offseason. The Atlanta Falcons are trying to get over the hump in the playoffs after failing three times in the last four years.
And the West is no walkover anymore. The San Francisco 49ers were perhaps a fumble in overtime away from going to the Super Bowl.