Back on October 10, the New York Giants were left for dead. They played another poor game in a Thursday night loss at Chicago and had fallen to 0-6. But over the last month, the Giants are steadily rising, having won three in a row and talk of whether they can win the NFC East is actually a legitimate topic of discussion.
So let’s discuss the New York Giants NFC East title chances–can Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and the rest of Big Blue complete a stunning around and actually host a postseason game in January?
We have to begin by pointing out the obvious. The biggest reason this topic is on the table is because the division is lousy and the Giants’ recent schedule hasn’t exactly been Murderer’s Row.
The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are each 5-5 and are tied for first place. The Eagles have had the good fortune of going to Washington in Week 1 for RG3’s first game back and going to Green Bay this past Sunday when Aaron Rodgers was hurt. And the Eagles are still only .500. The Cowboys are…well, they’re the Cowboy as we’ve come to know them over the past 17 years.
Then there’s the woeful Washington Redskins, who tackle as though they’re playing flag football and have the same 3-6 record as the Giants. But 3-6 means you’re just a game back in the loss column and there’s plenty of football left.
New York, to their credit, used a soft part of the schedule to get themselves back on their feet. They beat Minnesota on a Monday Night game when Josh Freeman made his ill-fated attempt at being the Vikings’ starter. Last week, the Giants won a home game against the Raiders that was far from impressive. In between was a nice win over Philadelphia, but even at that, Eli Manning didn’t play a good game.
Nonetheless, winning three in a row in the NFL is always noteworthy, and when you’re 0-6, it’s cause for celebration, no matter who the opponent. Now, what about the Giants going forward?
Tom Coughlin’s defense is playing very well in the two key component parts, which would be yards-per-attempt allowed in both the running game and passing game. They ranked 3rd and 6th respectively. That’s the only real strength you can draw from the previous nine games. Everything else is about counting on veterans to improve their play.
Manning has been a turnover machine, the worst in the NFL at throwing interceptions, and that fact means the Giants’ defense is giving up points at a rate not commensurate with how well they defend the run and the pass. Another part of the problem for the defense is its own fault though, and it’s the lack of big plays.
Jason Pierre-Paul is bothered by a shoulder injury, and is completely unproductive. Justin Tuck has been the same, depriving the defensive front of its customary pressure from both ends of the pocket. Pierre-Paul and Tuck have combined for just 3.5 sacks this year. If they each had 3.5 sacks individually, this would be a serious problem. The combined lack of pressure is unsustainable and it has ripple effects in that the secondary does not get interceptions against quarterbacks rushing throws.
The running game has been complete disaster all year, ranking 30th in the NFL. David Jacobs is lost for the year, although he didn’t do anything when he was in the lineup. Peyton Hillis has been given a chance and done nothing. Last week, Andre Brown got a crack, and he produced 115 yards in the win over the Raiders. It was the first sign of hope for Coughlin’s offense, and a running game would ease the pressure on Eli.
Thus, the New York Giants NFC East chances come down to basics–get the running game at least back to respectability, Eli takes better care of the ball, the defensive ends get a pass rush, and that all builds off the current strength of the defense to go 6-1 down the stretch and steal a mediocre division at 9-7.
I’m not ready to predict it–Dallas is in a strong situation with wins over all three divisional foes. But given the track record the Giants have shown in recent years for being able to come on strong after being left for dead, they’ve at least put themselves back in the discussion.
THESPORTSNOTEBOOK’S NFC PLAYOFF PROJECTIONS
(6)Carolina at (3)Detroit
(5)San Francisco at (4)Dallas
BYES: (1) Seattle, (2)New Orleans