It now comes down to this: Who can play the best football in the final seven weeks of the season?
Nothing that transpired before this matters. The Giants losing their first five games is meaningless. The Giants dropping to 1-7 at midseason is irrelevant. If the Giants come out of their bye week showing what is now more than suspected – that they are the most improved team in the NFC East – they will win the division and claim a home playoff game.
If that happens, anyone who wants to decry the NFL system of awarding division winners a home playoff game, regardless of final record, can have at it. It is not difficult to imagine the ruckus Sean Payton (Saints) or Bruce Arians (Buccaneers) would create if their teams finish 11-5 and have to travel to empty, cold and possibly snowy or icy MetLife Stadium for a wild-card game against the 6-10 Giants. Same for the Cardinals, Rams or Seahawks, all 6-3, all vying for a postseason slot in the competitive NFC race. They will all have a point and maybe, if the outcry is loud enough, it leads to the league de-emphasizing first-place finishes and installing a record-centric seeding system.
That is a discussion for another day.
It is difficult to envision the Giants getting any more than six victories. Going 3-3 the rest of the way will be extremely challenging, considering they face two teams with losing records (Bengals and Cowboys) and the combined record of the other four opponents (Seahawks, Cardinals, Browns and Ravens) is 24-12, with all four sitting at 6-3. Washington (2-7) and the Cowboys (2-7) are encountering severe quarterback issues and are trending downward.
The Eagles are 3-5-1 and that Week 3 tie against the Bengals, seemingly so damaging at the time, could actually be the determining factor in their favor in winning the division. A tie being the difference in the NFC East in 2020 would somehow be fitting.
Anyone of the opinion gaining playoff admission at 6-10 is bogus is probably correct. The Giants, though, could not care less. In his first year as the head coach, Joe Judge is building this from the bottom-up. The 27-17 victory over the Eagles, coming three weeks after blowing a lead in Philadelphia, is living proof that Judge’s messaging is getting through.
“Joe has been part of a lot of winning programs,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “All we had to do was buy in. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. You have to stay bought in because it’s going to turn and we felt that.”
Preparing a team for a playoff game is invaluable experience, whether that team is 10-6 or 6-10. It would do wonders for Daniel Jones, in his second NFL season. It would greatly benefit all the young players on the roster and also provide a great challenge for Judge himself. After three years helping Nick Saban prepare for postseason games at Alabama and eight years doing the same for Bill Belichick in New England, Judge would get a shot at it with his own team. That would mean something, no matter how Judge got his team there.
More that came out of the Giants winning their second consecutive game for the first time this season:
— The division came back to the Giants in one big chunk. They are coming off a stretch facing five NFC East opponents in their last six games and went 3-2 in those five games. This is the first time in five years the Giants won their first two home games in the division. The Giants are now over .500 in the division for the first time in four years. They do not return to division play until the Jan. 3 season finale against the Cowboys. So, in order to stay in contention, the Giants need do something they have yet to do this season: Beat someone from outside the NFC East. The next five games are outside the division, where the Giants are 0-5.
— How did Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett deal with Golden Tate? Pretty much as expected. Tate was on the field for 38 percent (27 out of 71) or the offensive snaps and he contributed two receptions for 44 yards. His grab for 38 yards helped set up a Wayne Gallman touchdown run in the third quarter that pushed the Giants’ lead to 21-11. Tate was left home for the game in Washington for what Judge determined was selfish behavior for shouting “Throw me the damn ball” in the loss to the Buccaneers. Tate’s reps were decreased, as he basically split time with rookie Austin Mack (24 snaps). Tate is going to have to work to get back his snaps and may never get all the way back, depending on how Mack develops in the coming weeks.
— Close games are the norm, and so are taking leads. The Giants have built double-digit leads in each of their last six games, their longest such streak in a season since 1989. If they can continue to take leads and improve their late defense, the Giants will have something cooking.
— When Judge was a little kid he probably never had the good sense to come in from the rain. He believes in practicing in the elements and refuses to use the indoor fieldhouse, unless lightning forces him to do so. Case in point: This past week, he kept his team out in the rain. When the grass fields became too water-logged, Judge moved practice across the parking lot, to the turf field at MetLife Stadium. There was a chance of rain late in the game Sunday but it never arrived. So, Judge never got to use the work in the rain to help beat the Eagles. “Probably the only disappointing thing about this week was that it didn’t rain,” Judge said. “The players were probably looking at me like, ‘C’mon man’, but we’re going to be outside, regardless.”
— The adjustments continue for the Giants’ defense. Limiting the running game of the opponent has characterized the recent improvement but there was a lapse in Week 10, as the Eagles piled up 156 rushing yards, the most allowed by the Giants in more than a year. After forcing four turnovers on defense in last week’s victory over Washington, the Giants did not get any. Yet all the Eagles could come up with was 17 points, as they limited Carson Wentz and the passing game. “I think that defense in their style and structure, they kind of force you to just take what’s there and play underneath, try and move the ball slowly in a ‘bend, but don’t break’ type of defense,” Wentz said. “You’ve got to credit that defense, they definitely disguised a lot of looks and brought all sorts of different pressures and made it tough on us. They played a great game and we didn’t do enough to win.”
— Judge learned the NFL game working for Belichick and one of the hallmarks of the Patriots is their penchant to change from game to game. Judge’s Giants are sculpting a similar mold. Jones did not throw a touchdown pass against the Eagles, yet the Giants scored 27 points because they ran for three touchdowns. After a season-best passer rating of 94.2 in Washington, Jones bettered that mark with a rating of 100.9 to beat the Birds.
— This time, the offensive line rotation was minimized. Andrew Thomas played all 71 snaps at left tackle. Matt Peart only subbed in at right tackle for Cam Fleming for two series (a total of eight snaps). Rookie Shane Lemieux played every snap, moving from left to right guard when Kevin Zeitler went out with a concussion. That is the only reason Will Hernandez (12 snaps) got onto the field after missing the past two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
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