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Eli Manning will celebrate his 32nd birthday on Thursday.

The quarterback would rather celebrate by watching film and preparing for a playoff game. Instead, the two-time Super Bowl MVP and the New York Giants are sitting out this postseason after finishing 9-7.

Manning knows the window to win is now and that's why this past season hurts. The Giants have squandered away a precious season in which they were coming off a Super Bowl win and were built to make another run, only to not make the playoffs.

"We have talent, playmakers, guys who understand what it takes to win," Manning said. "To waste that opportunity is disappointing."

While the Giants were wasteful in 2012, their window still remains firmly open to contend for a title.

Their championship core remains intact with young talent like Jason Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz on both sides of the ball and Manning firmly in his prime to direct them back to the playoffs.

General manager Jerry Reese just needs to add a few more pieces and Tom Coughlin and his staff have to get some of their veterans to have bounce-back seasons while developing some of their younger players.

If the Giants can win one or two more games next season –- remember they had the toughest schedule in the NFL last year -- their championship window will be wide open again with a core that already possesses the experience of winning it all.

"It is a big a-- window," Martellus Bennett said when asked if the Giants' opportunity for winning another championship is closing. "We are not talking about apartment windows on the side. We are talking like mansions.

"Like [Evander] Holyfield's house in Atlanta where he had people working the grounds for you," the tight end continued. "I don't think the window is closing. I think there are other guys coming in to open up another window."

Reese said to expect the Giants to "look a little differently next year." The GM will take a long look at a defense that finished 31st in total defense and may tinker with a pass rush that finished with 15 fewer sacks than last season.

If Osi Umenyiora leaves, as expected, for a starting job elsewhere, Reese will have to find another pass-rusher even if Mathias Kiwanuka goes back to being a full-time defensive end.

The Giants certainly can use help at linebacker and Reese will certainly try to fortify his secondary at cornerback.

Perry Fewell's defense doesn't need a complete overhaul. Veterans like Justin Tuck and Corey Webster, both entering the final year of their deals, will need to have bounce-back seasons. Reese will likely bring safety Stevie Brown, a restricted free agent, back and then decide what to do with free agent Kenny Phillips. And if starters like Prince Amukamara and Chris Canty can stay healthy, the defense can improve with another piece or two added on.

The Giants will need one or two young players like Jacquian Williams, Adrian Tracy, Mark Herzlich, Adewale Ojomo, Marvin Austin or Jayron Hosley to emerge next season as well.

"We have some holes in our defense as far as stopping the run and it will be something that we'll definitely evaluate strongly this offseason scheme-wise and personnel," Tuck said. "But I still feel very confident in our scheme [and] in the talent that we have on defense.

"That's the same defense that in those last six games last year shut people down," Tuck added. "I have no reason to doubt we'll have the opportunity to turn that around next year."

On the offensive side, Reese has decisions to make on the line, where left tackle Will Beatty and left guard Kevin Boothe are free agents. Right tackle David Diehl is also entering the final year of his contract with James Brewer, the 2011 fourth-round pick, whom team brass wanted to groom as a starter, waiting in the wings.

Manning's numbers dipped as he failed to crack 4,000 yards for the first time in four seasons. But he will benefit greatly from having a healthier Hakeem Nicks, who limped through the season with a knee injury and pain in his surgically repaired foot.

Cruz, who will be a restricted free agent, followed up his breakout season with a Pro Bowl year. A healthier Nicks will make a big difference for Cruz and the offense.

Manning also needs a third receiving threat as Mario Manningham was missed last season. Rueben Randle will have to be that third guy next season.

Reese will look to bring back Bennett, a free agent who will only get better with a second year with Manning under his belt.

And the Giants have a playmaker with world-class speed in David Wilson. Wilson and Ahmad Bradshaw showed what they are capable of doing as a tandem in the season finale when they combined for 182 yards and two touchdowns. However, Bradshaw, who has two seasons remaining on his contract, seemed uncertain about his future.

Andre Brown did give the Giants a glimpse of what he can do before breaking his leg. If the Giants can provide Manning with a more consistent running game and a third receiving threat, the franchise quarterback likely won't have any more three-game touchdown droughts like he did during the middle of this past season.

Another factor that could help the Giants is their schedule. They will face five teams that made the playoffs this season -- the Redskins, Packers, Vikings, Seahawks and Broncos.

In addition to their division rivals, the Giants will have the Packers, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos and Raiders at home next season. Facing Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning at home helps.

And outside of their division road games, the Giants play at Chicago, Detroit, Carolina, Kansas City and San Diego. Much will change between now and next fall, but, at the moment, this schedule appears slightly more appetizing than this past season's, which was the toughest in football entering the season.

Of course, the players will also have to rediscover the fire and passion that fueled their title run last year.

If they do that, there's a good chance Manning will be busy for his 33rd birthday next year.