The New York Giants will set out to defend their Super Bowl championship this fall, and as the just-released NFL schedule shows, it appears that Tom Coughlin’s team will have a chance to ease into the season.

After opening against Dallas on Opening Night, New York’s next four opponents all missed the playoffs in 2011 (with a combined 22-42 record).  On paper it certainly looks like the Giants should be able to get off to a strong start in their Super Bowl defense – which would be advisable, since the schedule gets much more difficult in a hurry (starting with a Week 6 rematch of the 2011 NFC title game, in San Francisco).
Here’s a look at how Super Bowl champions over the past decade have started the following season.  Half of those winners picked up right where they had left off the year before, while the other half struggled to find solid footing.
  • 2004 New England Patriots (12-1; 14-2 / W Super Bowl)
There was very little doubt throughout the 2004 season as to which team was No. 1 in the league.  A Week 8 loss to rookie Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers may have given hope to the rest of the AFC, but the Patriots quickly put those thoughts out of mind by winning the next six games.  The team that had already won a pair of SBs in the previous three seasons was not yet ready to let go of the championship belt.
  • 2011 Green Bay Packers (13-0 start; 15-1 final record / L in Divisional Round)
It’s nearly impossible to start the season any better than the Packers did last year following their SB XLV win.  Green Bay won its first 13 games in dominating fashion, sparking much (premature) discussion about a possible perfect season.  The winning streak ended at Kansas City in Week 15 (and the Packers closed out the season by shockingly failing to win a playoff game).  It seemed obvious throughout the regular season that Green Bay was intent on proving that its SB win as the NFC’s No. 6 seed was no fluke at all.
  • 2008 New York Giants (11-1; 12-4 / L in Divisional Round)
The only blemish in the first 12 games for the Giants was a rather inexplicable Week 6 loss to Cleveland.  Aside from that road loss, though, the Giants couldn’t have started better the season following the dramatic SB victory over New England.  Consecutive midseason wins against Pittsburgh, Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore established the Giants as a contender to reach another SB.
  • 2007 Indianapolis Colts (7-0; 13-3 / L in Divisional Round)
The Colts' regular-season record in 2007 was even better than the prior year when they won the Super Bowl.  Indianapolis won its first seven games convincingly by an average score of 32-15 before a Week 9 loss to New England.  There was definitely no Super Bowl hangover for Peyton Manning & Co.

  • 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2; 9-7 / Missed playoffs)
The collapse of Pittsburgh’s 2009 season was hard to explain.  Unlike the season following their SB XL win, the Steelers played well the first half of 2009.  After fourth-quarter meltdown losses in Weeks 2 & 3, the Steelers rattled off five straight wins to share the AFC North lead – before losing five straight to doom the season (reminiscent of the 1998 Steelers team that lost its final five games after the infamous botched Thanksgiving Day OT heads/tails call).
  • 2010 New Orleans Saints (4-3; 11-5 / L in Wild-Card Round)
It wasn’t until halfway through the year that the Saints started rolling, winning six straight after the 4-3 start.  In those early losses, they allowed 27 points once and 30 points twice.  The defense flexed its muscles in a Week 8 win over then-5-1 Pittsburgh, and the Saints were on their way.  However, because of the early losses, New Orleans couldn’t catch Atlanta for the division title and was forced to travel to Seattle for the first round of the playoffs.  That trip did not end well for Who Dat Nation.
  • 2005 New England Patriots (4-4; 10-6 / L in Divisional Round)
After two consecutive SB triumphs, everything seemed to be a struggle for the 2005 Patriots.  The early season was marred by several embarrassing home losses, including a 41-17 pasting by San Diego and a 40-21 loss to Indianapolis.  Bill Belichick got the ship righted, and New England won the AFC East division before losing a road playoff game.
  • 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3; 7-9 / Missed playoffs)
With the same coach and the same QB, the Bucs still struggled for consistency after winning SB XXXVII.  Tampa Bay alternated wins and losses through the first seven games (before a three-game losing streak put them under .500 for good).
  • 2002 New England Patriots (3-4; 9-7 / Missed playoffs)
A four-game losing streak in the first half of the season forced the Patriots to play catch-up the rest of the season.  New England was outscored by an average of 25-13 during those four losses.  The Patriots wound up tied in the W column with the New York Jets and Miami, but lost out on tiebreakers and missed the playoffs.

  • 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6; 8-8 / Missed playoffs)
After a Week 1 victory, the Steelers proceeded to lose six of the next seven games, starting with an embarrassing 9-0 loss to Jacksonville in which the offense generated a total of 153 yards.  Pittsburgh finished strong (and knocked Cincinnati out of the playoff hunt with an OT win in Week 17 – in Bill Cowher’s final game as head coach), but it was too late to salvage the season.