[EDITOR'S NOTE: I talked to Giants radio analyst and former great outside linebacker Carl Banks at length on Wednesday. This is the first of a three-part series from our discussion.]
Are the 2012 New York Giants going to resemble the under-achieving team that went 7-7 through 14 games a season ago? Or, are they going to resemble the Super Bowl-winning team that won its final six games of the season en route to a championship?
That is the critical question with the Giants as the season approaches. Carl Banks thinks it could come down to a few simple factors.
"The Giants, if you take apples to apples, they have an opportunity to become a double-digit win team just by improving in a few categories. If they can increase their return yardage on both kicks and punts by three yards it automatically puts them up there in the top 15 teams in the league based on last year's numbers," Banks said.
"If they can get over four yards a carry that will put them in the top 15 in the league. The Giants rushing attempts I think are where they should be, but their yards per attempt is what I think prevents them at times from getting where they need to be.
"Those three categories could easily put them in a double-digit win category. I don't think any team will be able to run away in the NFC East, they're just all too talented. But it certainly gives them an opportunity."
Banks said that both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles have to be considered legitimate threats to the Giants in the NFC East."Two years ago I would tell you that Dallas had the most talented group of players of any team in the NFC. I now think that the Philadelphia Eagles are the most talented," Banks said.
"Both have capable quarterbacks. Both teams have capable defenses, so you never know. With the NFC Eats it normally comes down to that last quarter of the season to see where it's all going to shake out."
Banks addressed not only the expectations for 2012, but the need for the defending champs to run the football better.
The Giants were, of course, last in the league in rushing a season ago at 89.2 yards per game, with a league-worst 3.5 yards per carry average that Banks called "abysmal."
They're committed to running the football. A lot of what they do is still based on their ability to run the football, or at least to attempt to run the football.
"They have some great down the field receivers, but play-action is still a big part of their package. Just their commitment to running the football makes people commit to stopping it."