Oh, brother: Giants D gets early tests

It won't take the Giants long to try to gain a little redemption for last year's December debacle -- and to find out if they have a suitable replacement for Antonio Pierce.

The Giants' schedule was released Tuesday night and they will open the sparkling New Meadowlands Stadium (sorry, Woody Johnson and the Jets) versus the Carolina Panthers. The Giants say they still are angry over the way last season ended, and they'll open 2010 looking for revenge against a team that humiliated them 41-9 in their final game at Giants Stadium. New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will have to find a way to stop the Panthers' vaunted running game, which has had its way against the Giants.

After that, the Giants will find out exactly how good they are on Sept. 19 when Eli Manning visits big brother Peyton and the Colts for a Sunday night Manning Bowl. It's a good bet that Peyton will expose the Giants defense, which will be without Pierce as it tries to match wits with the Colts' all-world quarterback.

The Giants released Pierce -- their defensive captain and heart and soul -- in the offseason, and if they opt to draft a middle linebacker and start a rookie, Peyton Manning might devour the G-Men.

The Giants get another AFC South team, the Tennessee Titans, at home the following week. Head coach Tom Coughlin will need his linebackers to come up big again to try to contain the human blur Chris Johnson.

The Giants, home for three of their first four games, host the Bears in Week 4 on a Sunday night. This could be a test for Fewell's secondary since quarterback Jay Cutler now has Mike Martz calling the plays for him.

In Week 5, Fewell's defense faces stud wide receiver Andre Johnson and the Texans in Houston. Coughlin will certainly be hoping that safety Kenny Phillips is healthy and back in a groove by then, playing alongside offseason acquisition Antrel Rolle.

The Giants get the perennially rebuilding Lions at home before the monster showdown with the Cowboys in Jerry Jones' house on Oct. 25, their only Monday night appearance. This will be the Giants' first division game, and what better way to send a message to the NFC East than beating the Cowboys on Monday Night in Dallas?

The Giants' bye week comes in Week 8 before they take a West Coast flight to Seattle to visit Pete Carroll on Nov. 7.

This is where the schedule takes a rough turn -- and where the Giants will find out if they are truly NFC East contenders. Not long after playing in Dallas, the Giants are reunited with Tony Romo and the Cowboys again at home in Week 10. Beating the Cowboys twice in four weeks would really put the Giants in the driver's seat.

Coughlin's team won't have much time to recover before getting a look at Andy Reid's project when the Giants visit Philadelphia on a Sunday night to play Kevin Kolb and LeSean McCoy. As always, this will not be an easy game, even if Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook are gone.

Speaking of McNabb, the Giants will see him in Week 13 after hosting the Jaguars the week before. The Redskins will have had 12 weeks to mesh with McNabb and new head coach Mike Shanahan before arriving to the New Meadowlands.

That game starts a brutal finish to the schedule. The Giants close the final four games at the Vikings, home against Philadelphia, at Green Bay and then at Landover against the Redskins.

So, the Giants could be fighting for a playoff spot at Minnesota with Brett Favre likely coming back. They'll play their home finale against the rival Eagles before traveling to Green Bay on Christmas and playing the Packers and Aaron Rodgers on Dec. 26 at Lambeau. They'll have to not only deal with the weather but also a Packers' offense that should be dangerous again this season.

Fittingly, the season closes in Washington against McNabb. If this ends up being a big game for New York -- and you know it probably will be -- Coughlin will have to beat an old Giants killer in McNabb. This is why the Giants were hoping McNabb would be dealt out of the division. Of course, McNabb will have to stay healthy despite playing behind Washington's shaky offensive line.

Considering the way their schedule ends, it's imperative the Giants get off to a quick start in a new stadium. Of course, they did get off to a furious 5-0 start last year, only to lose four straight and self-destruct for an 8-8 finish. Another ending like that, or a failure to get to the playoffs again, and Coughlin could be looking for a new job next offseason.

Five biggest games

Week 2 at Indianapolis: It's only the second time the Mannings have met as opposing starting quarterbacks and Eli hopes this time he comes away with a win. More important, the Giants will see how they fare against Peyton without a seasoned middle linebacker after Antonio Pierce's release in the offseason.

Week 7 at Dallas: The Giants must wait until Week 7 to play their first all-important NFC East game, and it comes on a Monday night against the hated Cowboys. The division will likely be decided by Giants-Cowboys games.

Week 14 at Minnesota: Brett Favre is likely coming back. If so, the Vikings will be Super Bowl contenders again. Playing in Minnesota this late in the season against Adrian Peterson will give us an indication of just how good the Giants are.

Week 16 at Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are a team on the rise. The Giants may be returning to the place where they won the NFC championship and advanced to the Super Bowl during the 2007 season, but don't count on Rodgers throwing an ill-advised, game-clinching interception this time.

Week 17 at Washington: The Giants finish the regular season at Washington against old foe Donovan McNabb. He has defeated the Giants four out of five times in the last two seasons, including a playoff win two seasons ago. That was with the Eagles, but McNabb knows how to beat the Giants. If a playoff berth is on the line in this game, the Giants will be wishing the Eagles had traded McNabb out of the NFC East.

Prediction: 10-6 season

How does rest of NFC East schedule look?

Dallas: If the Cowboys are going to win the NFC East, they'll have to earn it. They open with the Redskins, who will be looking to revive the rivalry with Donovan McNabb's debut on Sunday night.

Like the Giants, Dallas must travel to Minnesota and Green Bay. Those matchups come during a five-game stretch in which the Cowboys also have to play the Giants twice.

And on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys won't get a Turkey-day pushover. Instead they face the defending Super Bowl champion Saints. Then it's on to Indianapolis before having to play division foes Philadelphia (twice) and Washington (once) in three of the last four regular-season games. Hopefully Jerry Jones wasn't around any cell phone video cameras when the schedule came out.

Washington: McNabb opens against the Cowboys, who defeated McNabb three times last year, including in the playoffs. Then the Redskins' new quarterback gets what is expected to be an improved Houston team at home before playing at St. Louis.

Then comes the big one: McNabb's return to Philadelphia in Week 4. The Redskins will get Green Bay and Indianapolis at home in consecutive weeks but then a winnable stretch of games at Chicago, at Detroit and at home against Philadelphia.

If the Redskins are going to make the playoffs, McNabb will have to show that he can still win in the NFC East with a new team. Washington faces the Giants twice and the Cowboys once in its last five games.

Philadelphia: Kevin Kolb will have to prove himself right from the start when the Eagles play against Green Bay in the season opener.

Kolb might want to ask Rodgers for some advice on how to handle playing against a former franchise quarterback for the first time, because in Week 4 he will have to face McNabb in Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see how the young Kolb responds.

Andy Reid is in the middle of a youth movement with Kolb and LeSean McCoy taking over for McNabb and Brian Westbrook, and will likely have to go through all the growing pains with his new quarterback. Kolb's last four games of the season are at the Cowboys, at the Giants and then at home against the Vikings and Cowboys. It could get ugly for the Eagles at the end of the season.

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.