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Giants begin title defense without much attention

By Tom Canavan
Associated Press
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. ó In honor of school opening and the NFL kicking off another season, letís start the year with a one-question pop quiz to be graded in February.
Answer before the New York Giants play the Washington Redskins on Thursday night.
Pencils ready?
Whoís going to win the Super Bowl?
Dallas? New England? Indianapolis? San Diego? Philadelphia?
Havenít forgotten about the defending champion Giants, have you?
A lot of people donít like the Giantsí chances of repeating after the retirement of seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan; the season-ending knee injury to fellow Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora; and the trade of former Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans.
Their current odds of repeating are 25-1, according to John Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas.
iThere is not a lot of respect for this team out of the box,î Avello, a New York native, Giants fan and oddsmaker for 21 years said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. iThis is not your normal Super Bowl winner. Normally people are jacked up on the Super Bowl winner, looking at them to make another run, and thatís not the feeling I am getting from the team and the customers that bet these games.î
Most bettors wagering on whether the Giants will win more or less than nine games this season are taking the under, Avello said.
In addition to the Giantsí personnel losses, many feel that everything aligned right for the team last season and that every club in the NFC East has improved, making their job that much more difficult, Avello said.
The last time a Super Bowl champion was this overlooked was Tampa Bay in 2003, he said. The Bucs went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
iWe love it, we love it,î middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said with some deep sarcasm. iWe ask for more. Honestly, itís not enough yet. Please add on.î
The positive for the Giants is that they are playing the Redskins, a team bound to get their attention.
Not only does Tom Coughlinís players have to be ready to adjust to the wrinkles of new Washington coach Jim Zorn, but they also have memories of their two meetings last season.
New York had to rally in the second half to win the first game in Washington, and then did little against the Redskins in a 22-10 loss here in December ó the third of four straight losses at Giants Stadium to end the regular season.
iIt wonít be just a regular game because it is our season opener and it means so much more than the preseason,î said Zorn, a first-time head coach replacing Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs. iIt is kind of the next phase, if you will, for every NFL team. Now you are starting the season, the record counts.î
Coughlin could not be happier to play a real game after an offseason of parades, tributes, a White House visit and a ring ceremony to celebrate the organizationís third Super Bowl title.
iIím excited about that,î Coughlin said. iI feel like our team always has something to prove and there is nothing different about it.î
While the Giants will be without Strahan, Umenyiora and Shockey, the team has not changed much otherwise.
Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning will lead the same 11 players on offense who took the field against the Patriots in February in the stunning 17-14 win. The one change this season is receiver Plaxico Burress, who had the winning reception in the title game, is healthy and looking to build on a career-best 12 touchdown receptions.

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