Eli Manning knows what Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are slogging their way through right now.
Manning’s lived it. Twice.
“Well, I think the team faces challenges because you’re always going to get everyone’s best,” the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Giants said before New York (3-5) arrived in Seattle for Sunday’s game against the defending-champion Seahawks (5-3).
“Everyone wants to go up against the most recent Super Bowl champion,” Manning said Wednesday from Giants’ headquarters. “So you can lose a few guys, have high expectations, and a lot of things can be asked of you — your schedule kind of gets thrown off.”
Manning won it all in the 2007. He led the Giants to a 12-4 record and an NFC East title in 2008, but lost in the first round of that season’s playoffs to Philadelphia.
Manning and the Giants won the Super Bowl again at the end of the 2011 season. In 2012, New York went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. It’s among four times in the last five years the Giants have failed to qualify for the postseason.
The Seahawks vow they will avoid that post-Super Bowl pratfall. And despite distractions, injuries, a franchise-rattling trade and three losses in their first six games, they are on a two-game winning streak. They still control their NFC West destiny with five of their six division games still to play. Sunday’s test against the reeling Giants, who got trampled Monday night at home by Indianapolis, is the last before Seattle begins this six-game gauntlet: at Kansas City, home-and-aways versus NFC West-leading Arizona and rival San Francisco, and a trip to Philadelphia.
“But Seattle is still playing good football, they have good players. And football is hard,” Manning said. “Each year is different. Just because you did well the year before doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically do the exact same thing, and vice versa. … So each year is its own deal.”
This season has definitely been the Seahawks’ own deal, distinctly separate from the last, championship one.
The Percy Harvin trade. The unsubstantiated national reports of a locker-room divide for and against Wilson. Another report saying the team is tired of Marshawn Lynch’s act, even as they feed him the ball more on pass-rush-slowing screen passes on top of his usual runs. And all the injuries. Eight starters missed last week’s win over Oakland.
Seattle will get a reprieve from that last issue today. Though strong safety Kam Chancellor is likely to miss his second consecutive game and second since 2011 with a groin strain — Jeron Johnson is poised to make his first career start for him — center Max Unger is playing for the first time since he sprained his foot Oct. 6 in the win at Washington. Left tackle Russell Okung is expected to join him after missing the Raiders game with a strained calf. That means 40 percent of what’s been a porous offensive line is back.
Unger’s experienced protection calls one week after the Seahawks were forced to start fourth-string center Patrick Lewis against the Raiders should be an advantage against New York’s active rush ends, Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers. They have 61/2 sacks between them.
“We definitely have to slow down their ends Pierre-Paul and Ayers. They show up on film and they’re electric coming off the football,” Wilson said. “So we’re going to have to do a great job of slowing them down.”
Or going for their heart. On Thursday, three days after the Giants lost at home 40-24 to the Colts in a game that was 40-10 in the fourth quarter, Pierre-Paul questioned whether enough of the Giants had passion.
“That’s what it comes down to,’’ Pierre-Paul told New York reporters. “A lot of talking going on, but at the end of the day it’s all about heart, all about that individual and what he’s got. It’s definitely missing from a lot of guys.
“You’ve just got to have it, man. Like, in this game of football, you can tell when you look at film who’s more passionate about the game. To play this game and you’ve got to have heart, and a lot of guys don’t have it. I can sit here and say we all do, but we all don’t.
“We know what we’ve got to do to win the game. … They have lost some games, too. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down who’s got the heart.”
The Giants are in danger of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, especially considering they play San Francisco and Dallas next.
But Seahawks coach Pete Carroll issued a warning.
“You make a terrible mistake underestimating Coach (Tom) Coughlin and what he’s able to do with his teams. He’s been a world champ for obvious reasons,” Carroll said. “They’ve been a terrific factor in their division for years. Eli has been a great quarterback.
“We’re not going to miss this in preparation in any way. We know that they can be a really good football team. We’re counting on that.”
The Seahawks are also counting on better offense and defense on third downs, and inside the opponents’ and their own 20-yard line.
They are 21st in the league converting 39.4 percent of third downs into first downs, and are tied for 15th in allowing opponents to convert 42.6 percent of third downs.
Seattle is 25th in the NFL scoring touchdowns on 51.6 percent of their trips into the “red zone.” It is 26th in allowing touchdowns on 65.2 percent of foes’ drives inside its 20.
“We’re not as good as we’ve been, and we need to get better in both those areas on both sides of the ball,” Carroll said. “Those are probably the most obvious focuses that we’re working at.”
With New York’s rushing offense inert recently, the Seahawks defense will be specifically trying to affect Manning with pressure that’s increased in the last two games. That, plus keeping rookie wide receiver and punt returner Odell Beckham under control. Seattle’s punt-coverage unit struggled last week with injury fill-ins on it.
Beckham is the Giants’ biggest receiving threat with Victor Cruz out for the season, and is someone Carroll would have loved to have drafted this spring.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete. He really is,” Carroll said of Beckham. “We loved him through the evaluation process. Extraordinary speed and just natural catching ability.”