Coughlin, Giants embrace 'challenge'

It won't be a cakewalk for the 2013 Giants. ESPN.com Illustration

Upon getting his first taste of Robert Griffin III last year, Justin Tuck cursed the football gods "for putting him in the NFC East."

"To face that guy twice a year is going to be a headache," Tuck said.

How about twice in one month?

The schedule makers apparently like making Tuck and the New York Giants reach for the aspirin. While the 2013 schedule isn't littered with as many land mines as last year, when they owned the toughest schedule in the NFL, the Giants will have to face the defending NFC East champion Redskins and RG III twice in December, including the regular-season finale at MetLife Stadium.

"When I looked at the schedule, the first word that came to mind is 'challenge,'" Tom Coughlin said in a statement from the team. "The schedule presents us with many challenges, because of the outstanding teams we play and the way it is set up."

The Giants, who finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs last year, open with Dallas for the second straight season. But unlike last time, they will play at Dallas, where they have won four straight in Jerry Jones' new stadium. In 2007, the last time the Giants opened the season at the Cowboys, the G-Men lost in the old Texas Stadium. Of course, the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.

After facing Tony Romo, the recently minted $119 million quarterback, the Giants return home for Manning Bowl III, which will perhaps feel even bigger than the season opener with all the hype that surrounds the Mannings. Big brother Peyton Manning faces Eli Manning for the first time as a Bronco, and he comes armed with a receiving trio of Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

Last week, the Manning brothers worked out with some of their receivers at Duke University, where Eli said he tried to get a head start on Peyton.

"I was trying to kind of ask his receivers some questions about some of their reads and hots and what their defense was doing a little bit," Manning said with a smile. "But I think [Peyton] had prepared them pretty well not to tell me anything.

"I cherish those moments whether before the game or looking across during the National Anthem and seeing my big brother and seeing him at the coin flip," Manning added. "Hopefully the Giants will get a win for once [against Peyton]."

The Giants, who typically start the season strong, will have to become road warriors again to get off to another impressive start. They will play five of their first eight games on the road at Dallas, Carolina, Kansas City, Chicago and Philadelphia.

"I will say this: Here comes the challenge again," said Coughlin, whose team finished 3-5 on the road last year. "We didn't play as well last year on the road as we had in previous years, and so that's a great challenge for our team."

The Giants have their bye week smack in the middle of the season, which Coughlin said will be a welcome bonus. The G-Men host the Raiders coming off the break before embarking on a seven-game stretch that will likely determine their playoff fate. The Giants face Green Bay, Dallas, San Diego, Seattle, Detroit and Washington twice during to end the regular season. Three of their last five games are on the road at Washington, San Diego and Detroit.

Last year, the Giants opened the season 6-2 but lost five of the next seven and were blown out in Atlanta and Baltimore late to lose their grip on a playoff spot.

The Giants, though, don't have to contend with the likes of the 49ers, Steelers, Saints, Falcons or Ravens on their schedule this season.

The Giants' keys for getting back to the playoffs and making another Super Bowl run usually are the same every season: They have to be consistent, play clutch football when it matters most and stay healthy. The Giants will also have to play better on the road this season, improve last year's 31st-ranked defense and hope for bounce-back seasons from key players such as Hakeem Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul, Corey Webster and Tuck. Lastly, they'll probably need at least 10 wins and the NFC East title.

While it remains to be seen how Griffin will recover from knee surgery on Jan. 9, the Giants were a tad unlucky in not getting to face the Redskins until December.

By then, Griffin's knee could be stronger. Or he could be gimpy and ineffective. It's hard to predict.

When healthy last season, Griffin completed 33 of 49 passes (67 percent) for three touchdowns and one interception while rushing for an average of 80.5 yards in two games against the Giants.

"Until I exit stage right, it seems like he's going to be a fixture in my dreams and nightmares," Tuck said last year about the dynamic quarterback.

Tuck's December either could be filled with more nightmares or the Giants could be heading toward another dream run to the Super Bowl.

Only time and RG III's surgically repaired knee will tell.