Giants out to abate the hate in 2012

The New York Giants have heard it for most of the offseason.

Even as they picked up their championship rings at Tiffany, the Giants heard how some believe they got lucky or caught fire at the right time.

Clay Matthews said the Green Bay Packers beat themselves and that the Giants were just the beneficiaries during their NFC playoff matchup last season. Whether it was a so-called expert or one of their peers, the Giants have their share of doubters who are all-out.

"Like they said, it was a fluke for us to get in the Super Bowl or to even get in the playoffs," Jason Pierre-Paul said.

Jerry Jones implored Cowboys fans to come watch Dallas kick some Giant tail this year. And making matters worse, the Giants aren't even being picked by some to win their division.

Of course, Justin Tuck remembers how few were picking the Giants to win the NFC East last year. The Philadelphia Eagles made an enormous splash in free agency, were dubbed "The Dream Team" by then-backup quarterback Vince Young and were a trendy pick to win it all last season.

"If you all recall, there were some teams already fitting their fingers for rings before we even played the football game," Tuck said of the Giants being overlooked this season. "It don't look like people learned too much [from] last year.

"So we relish having the opportunity to defend the title and do what people are thinking that we can't."

On Wednesday night, the Giants kick off the 2012 season and open their title defense in a marquee matchup against the Cowboys.

The Giants are eager to show they are the dominant team that won its final six games of the season and not the sputtering squad that was 7-7 before Rex Ryan called out the Giants before Christmas Eve.

Nobody, not even Tom Coughlin, knows which Giants team will surface in 2012 -- the one that beat the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons, Packers, 49ers and Patriots all in a row or the .500 team that was swept by the Redskins last year.

That is why Coughlin's newest catch phrase is "Build the Bridge."

"'Build the Bridge' means to carry over all the good things that happened at the end last year over into the new season," Coughlin said.

"During the course of the last six games, we gave up 14 points. We only had one turnover. Our special teams made a strong contribution. We rushed the ball better. Those types of things."

Some defending champions want to turn the page as quickly as possible from the season before. The Giants want to remember exactly what it was that got them to the Lombardi trophy.

"We are not still thinking of the glory of seeing the confetti come down and getting our rings," Tuck said. "We are just thinking about our play and trying to build a bridge from playing as an all-in unit."

It certainly helps that the Giants will defend their title with their championship core intact. Eli Manning is now a two-time Super Bowl MVP who is in his prime and has complete ownership of this team. And he's surrounded by perhaps the best arsenal of weapons he's ever had at his disposal.

The wide receiver tandem of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz is among the best one-two punches in the NFL. Despite the loss of Mario Manningham in free agency, the Nicks-Cruz combo could be better than last season, especially with Nicks returning with the kind of confidence only a dominant Super Bowl run can bring.

And while Nicks rehabbed his surgically repaired fifth metatarsal in the offseason, Cruz spent all of camp strengthening an already strong chemistry with Manning.

The offensive line remains a question mark. Sean Locklear is set to start at left tackle for Will Beatty, who has been hampered by a back issue the entire offseason. The line has much to prove and has to find a way to get the running game going after finishing as the worst rushing team in the NFL during the regular season last year.

Ahmad Bradshaw is ready to go, and Manning has another weapon in rookie running back David Wilson, who looked electric at times in the preseason. Tight end Martellus Bennett is another new toy for Manning to use. And Domenik Hixon will start as the third wide receiver, but Ramses Barden and second-round pick Rueben Randle might come in on certain situations as well.

Defensively, the Giants will unleash a healthy three-headed pass rush of Tuck, Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora. And while the run-stopping unit will be a bit thin inside with defensive tackle Chris Canty on the physically unable to perform list for at least the first six games, Big Blue is deeper at linebacker than it has been in years with the addition of Keith Rivers.

Cornerback is a bit of an unknown. Veteran Michael Coe will start opposite Corey Webster. And safety Antrel Rolle might have to cover slot receivers again until the team trusts rookie Will Hill or Jayron Hosley to handle the nickel role.

While the Giants have some positions of concern, they have one advantage most of the league doesn't possess -- championship experience.

"This game is about swagger; this game is about having that little extra niche on you," Rolle said. "I think it makes a huge difference, especially in facing the opponents that we have to face this season.

"Knowing what it took to get that last year, it is going to put a huge mark on us in the mental aspect," Rolle added.

Tuck knows what it feels like to defend a title. The Giants opened the 2008 season 11-1 before being derailed by the Plaxico Burress shooting.

The bridge built from one championship to the next can take a long time to construct and can crumble quickly. But the Giants are ready to build again.

"Hey man, there are a lot of long bridges in the world," Tuck said. "The leadership we have on this football team, that's gonna be the spine of the bridge. We're in a good place as far as where we want to be coming into the game."