In a rollercoaster season that has already featured a five-game winning streak, a four-game losing streak, and a surprising sweep of division rival Dallas, the Giants have found themselves in control of their playoff destiny.
New York is accustomed to this kind of thing, and it seems to happen every season around this time. In 2006, we all know how the team began their season at 6-2 and then went straight downhill, only to rebound and sneak into the back door of the playoffs at 8-8 and nearly pulled an upset against the Eagles in the divisional round. In 2007, the team again started 6-2 but bounced back and forth until they were facing a must-win in Buffalo with unbeaten New England on the horizon for the following week. The Giants fell behind early, but fought back in snowy conditions and clinched a playoff spot. In 2008, the team had already wrapped up their division but needed a win at home against the Carolina Panthers to ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Giants rallied and won the game in overtime.
The Giants are in one of those crunch-time situations again, and right now they’re sandwiched between two divisional games, with one battle won and the other yet to be fought. Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan rolled the dice against Dallas, shaking up his defensive line by subbing out veteran pro bowler Osi Umenyiora as well as Fred Robbins and linebacker Chase Blackburn, in hopes of a spark. The defense played much better, and really were only responsible for 10 of the Cowboys’ 31 points because the offense coughed up a fumble which led to a touchdown and Cowboys QB Tony Romo fired a meaningless touchdown in the final minute to make the scoreboard look a little better.
Giants QB Eli Manning’s injured foot clearly hindered his throwing abilities at times in the game, and made some errant throws off his back foot without any pressure. The Giants have been monitoring Eli’s foot just about as much as the New York Post has kept track of the Tiger Woods scandal, and the Manning has received treatment as well as a special boot to prevent further injury.
The Philadelphia Eagles will be making their way to Giants Stadium for the final time, barring any post-season possibilities. The last time Philadelphia played at Giants Stadium, QB Donovan McNabb personally quieted Giants Stadium as he ran for first downs and danced on the sideline in celebration. McNabb even picked up the phone on the sideline after a run to pretend he was making a phone call.
The post-season picture looks good for both teams, but one of these two teams will be in trouble following the Sunday Night showdown in five days. The Giants can take possession of first place with a win if the Cowboys lose to the Chargers earlier in the day, but a loss will all but eliminate the Giants of any chance of an NFC East title, as it would put them two games behind at least one team depending on the Dallas result.
If the Giants go on and beat Philadelphia, a potential 3-way tie in the NFC East at season’s end would be handed to New York as the Giants own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas and the common games tiebreaker over Philadelphia.
The Giants are still on the fence in the wild card picture following last night’s Packer victory. The Packers won a terrible game in which there were the second most penalties in an NFL game. The referees made several questionable calls against Baltimore that put the Ravens away for good. Thankfully for the wild-card hopeful Ravens, the remaining schedule is nearly a gimme.
As for New York, the remaining schedule has its bumps but also could be easier than some may think. The team will fly through some serious turbulence when they face Philadelphia, and could really have a hard time against the Redskins, who have showed some serious life in recent weeks. The Giants will play their final regular season home game at Giants Stadium when they face the Panthers in Week 16, but could be receiving a late Christmas present when they face a Minnesota team in Week 17 that may rest the majority of their starters due to their clinchings.
So when McNabb and the Eagles offense takes the field for the first time on Sunday, Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan will send out his squad hoping to see a defense reminiscent of traditional Giants football.
As the late owner Wellington Mara would say,
“I always root for the defense.”