EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - For a change, the New York Giants are off to a great start in the year after winning the Super Bowl.
The Cincinnati Bengals are just off. Or is that awful?
If Sunday's game between the Super Bowl champions (2-0) and Bengals (0-2) at Giants Stadium seems to be a mismatch, don't bother telling that to either side.
All either team wants to discuss is the Giants of 2007. After playing poorly in losing the first two games, New York staged a remarkable turnaround to win the NFL title. The change, of course, started with a win on the road in the third game of the season. So can this be the Bengals ' year?
"We were in the same position last year, and you know, they always say the most dangerous animal is a wounded one," Giants offensive tackle David Diehl said. "We know what they are going to bring. They are a good football team. Their record doesn't show it, but we are going to prepare ourselves for a fight because that is what it is going to be."
The Bengals can't afford another bad game. They have not started 0-3 since coach Marvin Lewis' first season in 2003.
"I hate to say that, but it is a must win," receiver Chad Ocho Cinco said. "It is, it is. We, as a team, we don't have the time or the room to put ourselves in a hole. ... We need to hit the ground running, which is the way we wanted to start, but if we don't start that way, this would be the week we need to climb out of that hole."
Cincinnati hasn't shown much in losing to Baltimore and Tennessee. Despite having an offense that features Carson Palmer throwing to Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Bengals rank next to last in the NFL in total offense. Cincinnati's defense is ranked 21st overall, and that was playing against a Baltimore offense run by rookie quarterback Joe Flacco in the opener and a Tennessee offense run by backup Kerry Collins last week.
"This is a perfect opportunity," Palmer said. "I said it after the (Tennessee) game that when you're 0-2 and you don't show a lot of chemistry on offense or defense and things aren't going well, what better place to go than the defending world champs at their home? They're 2-0. They're talking, I'm sure, about repeating; their fans are talking about repeating. What better place for us to go into this situation and try to get a win, try to get us on a roll?"
The Giants have started the season the way they ended last year, hitting on all cylinders. After an OK win against Washington in the opener, the Giants rolled to a 41-13 victory over the Rams last weekend for their 12th straight away victory, counting the Super Bowl. Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and the offense are ranked fourth overall, including fifth in rushing with a 177-yard average.
Defensively, New York is third overall, having yielded 20 points in two games. New York will be looking for its seventh straight win, dating to the start of the playoffs last year. The last time the team started 3-0 in the regular season was in 2000, a season it also went to the Super Bowl. Watching the Bengals on film, the Giants feel they are a step away from making big plays. That could be the result of Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh missing almost all of training camp.
"We're inconsistent," Bengals guard Bobbie Williams said. "We're not getting the job done. We have to do better, plain and simple. There's not a whole lot of explaining to do. We put it out there on the field, and it's not pretty."
For a team that lost Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to a season-ending knee injury, the Giants have shown a lot of maturity. After winning the Super Bowl in 1987 and 1991, New York failed to make the playoffs. This year's group isn't satisfied with one title.
"We have guys that are very hungry and definitely want to do it again," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "They want to prove guys wrong; they want to prove the media wrong. They want to prove everybody around the league wrong."
The Giants have one other motivating factor. This is their final game before a bye week, and they don't want to have to listen to Tom Coughlin harp about a loss for an extended period. "You definitely don't want to go into a bye week with a loss, especially after the way we started," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said.
"It would be a long week sitting there thinking about it, because you do. You try to put losses behind you and you try to put the game behind and if you have to sit around the house another week, it's tough."