The New York Giants have fresh Super Bowl rings and a 10-game road winning streak, 11 if you include their 17-14 victory over the Patriots in neutral Arizona last February.
But they were 3-5 at home last season, including a 22-10 loss to Washington last December that put their playoff hopes in some jeopardy. But they won in Buffalo the next week, and took three road playoff games to set up that huge upset in the Super Bowl.
The Giants enter Thursday's season opener against the Redskins at the Meadowlands regarded to some extent as ``fluke'' champions. Everyone seems to be noting that after their previous three Super Bowl appearances, two of them wins, they failed to make the playoffs the next season - forgetting perhaps that the circumstances in 1987, 1991 and 2001 are not the circumstances of 2008.
The Giants are favored by 3 1/2 points, just a half-point more than the points awarded for home-field advantage. Although for them, home field isn't much of an advantage - they also were 3-5 at home in 2006.
That's fine with them.
``No one is giving us respect, and we like that,'' said defensive end Justin Tuck, who will replace the retired Michael Strahan at left end after getting 10 sacks last season as a rover on the defensive line. ``We're still the quiet team lurking. That's a perfect sign for me.''
Still, the pass rush that harassed Tom Brady in that Super Bowl win has lost quite a bit. Not only did Strahan call it a career, but Osi Umenyiora is out for the season with a knee injury, causing the Giants to move yet another good pass rusher, Matthias Kiwanuka, back from linebacker to defensive end.
Washington also has injury issues.
DE Jason Taylor, the defensive player of the year two years ago, is a ``game-time decision'' for the Redskins after injuring a knee two weeks ago. And the Redskins' offense is still struggling with a new system installed by coach Jim Zorn.
Another key for New York is Eli Manning, who seemed to come of age in a brilliant playoff run.
If he keeps it going ...
GIANTS, 27-20

New York Jets (minus 3) at Miami
Great plot line: Brett Favre at QB for the Jets against Chad Pennington, whom Favre displaced as New York's quarterback. But the Dolphins have been picking up other people's cuts, an indication they're still a bad team after a 1-15 season.
JETS, 21-13

Dallas (minus 5 1/2) at Cleveland
Troubled preseason for the Browns, including a concussion to QB Derek Anderson. The Cowboys? Why should they be forced to play? Just seed them right to the Super Bowl.
COWBOYS, 34-14

Chicago (plus 9 1/2) at Indianapolis (Sunday night)
Colts open their new stadium with Peyton Manning scheduled to play. He could be a little rusty after offseason surgery and missing the preseason, but Bears QBs are historically rusty.
COLTS, 20-13

Kansas City (plus 16 1/2) at New England
The Pats were 0-4 in preseason and Tom Brady didn't take a snap.
So what.
PATRIOTS, 31-10

Minnesota (plus 2 1/2) at Green Bay (Monday night)
No Brett Favre for the first time in 16 years. Tarvaris Jackson over Aaron Rodgers.
VIKINGS 18-17

Denver (minus 3) at Oakland (Monday night)
Until the Raiders prove they've improved ...
BRONCOS, 22-13

Carolina (plus 9) at San Diego
If Steve Smith wasn't suspended by the Panthers, maybe ...
CHARGERS, 37-19

Tampa Bay (plus 3) at New Orleans
The Dome survived Gustav and is ready for the game. So are the Saints.
SAINTS, 24-20

Jacksonville (minus 3) at Tennessee
Vince Young is still learning.
JAGUARS, 17-10

Seattle (plus 1) at Buffalo
It's always tough for West Coast teams to come east, especially for early starts.
BILLS, 20-17

Houston (plus 6 1/2) at Pittsburgh
A spread based on tradition, not reality.
STEELERS, 24-21

Cincinnati (minus 1) at Baltimore
Joe Flacco starts by default for the Ravens.
BENGALS, 27-17

St. Louis (plus 7 1/2) at Philadelphia
The Rams might be worse this season than last, when they were 3-13.
EAGLES, 37-5

Arizona (minus 2 1/2) at San Francisco
Let's see what J.T. O'Sullivan does in real games.
CARDINALS, 27-21

Detroit (minus 3) at Atlanta
The Falcons are starting from scratch.
The Lions ARE scratch.
FALCONS, 17-16
---
LAST SEASON: 127-121-8 (spread); 170-86 (straight up)

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