FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 06: Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants celebrates after the game winning touchdown in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots on November 6, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots 24-20. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
WARNING: The following article will either bring out your Big Blue pride or your outside Jim Mora voice.
The days of the 2011 NFL regular season are dwindling down to nothingness. It is time to play hard or go home. There are those teams who have already clinched their divisions and others who are sure to grab a wild-card berth. Unfortunately, the New York Giants do not fall into either of those categories.
Instead, the Giants find themselves in a corner, forced to bring everything that they can throw at the opposition, including the kitchen sink. The current playoff picture is in no way set in stone, division clinchers excluded. In fact, most of the teams who are the current contenders have a record of 7-5. As we all know, the G-Men are 6-6. Is it possible for Big Blue to bounce back from a four-game losing streak and grab themselves a playoff spot? Absolutely. But they will need five things to get it done. Here they are, in no particular order.
1) Chicago Bears:
ChiTown caught a nice wave back in October that lasted for five weeks. The harsh reality about winning streaks is that they don't do much good unless they take place in December, or last as long as the Green Bay Packers streak has. The sudden halt in Chicago's five-game run is largely due to the loss of their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler.
Cutler was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL last season, 52 times to be exact. But it wasn't a sack that put him out of commission. Cutler suffered a broken thumb after a tackle he put on Antoine Cason during the Bears-Chargers game. Ironically enough, Cutler made the tackle after throwing an interception. As if things didn't take enough of a wrong turn, last week the Bears lost their star running back, Matt Forte, who was leading the league in yards from scrimmage at the time. Forte sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament to his knee. His return, as well as Cutler's, is uncertain.
Let's do the math. No Cutler. No Forte. An inexperienced backup quarterback, Caleb Hanie, running the show. Upcoming games against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers. While, the playoff picture has the Bears as a front runner for the fifth seed, the reality is that Chicago is on its way out of the playoff hunt. Their injuries and schedule outweigh their chances for an extended season.
Although the Bucs have a record of 4-8, they have been extremely competitive in all but two of their losses. Two of their biggest wins came against the New Orleans Saints and their volatile offense and the Atlanta Falcons. Tampa Bay gave the Packers a run for their money this year, only to lose 35-26.
The Buccaneers will play the Dallas Cowboys in their final home game of the season. The Cowboys have not done well on the road this year, 2-4 to date. Tampa Bay does not have a stellar record at home (3-4). However, they will be well aware that the only thing they are playing for is pride against the Cowboys, not a playoff spot. Pride is something that this team does not fall short of. They will provide some to the home crowd, sending them off with a win.
3) Michael Vick:
The Philadelphia Eagles have not exactly been a cohesive unit this season. The dream is dead. Their chances of getting into the playoffs became incredibly thin once Vick sustained a rib injury three weeks ago. The injury sidelined him. He is expected to make his return this week against the Miami Dolphins. While he might not be in tip top shape this week, he will certainly have found much of his game play back when he goes up against the Cowboys in three weeks.
As with the Buccaneers, there won't be much for the Eagles to play for except pride, that and a team full of egos. We all know that if an NFC East rival is in position to hurt another, they will do just that. The Eagle Ego and the mentality, "If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me" is going to be in full force. Dallas will lose.
4) The New York Giants Receiving Corps:
This regiment of the Big Blue Army has been playing as well as any team in the NFL. They are ranked fourth in receiving, have the most 40+ yard receptions and are first in yards per catch. Victor Cruz has slowly made his way up to the top of the receiving chain. He is ranked third in the league and is the leading receiver for the Giants. Then there is Hakeem Nicks, who had more than 1,000 yards last season. Highly athletic, highly explosive, Nicks is a guy who can make plays.
The next biggest play maker on the team, and I do mean big, is Jake Ballard. At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, Ballard has erased the memories of that tight end we had last season, Kevin something or other. Ballard is ranked 10th in receiving yards out of the tight ends in the NFL. Mario Manningham, another deep ball threat, is another receiver capable of making big things happen. The Giants have no shortage of receiving weapons in their arsenal. These guys will be instrumental in extending their season.
5) Eli Manning:
He led the league in interceptions last season. He stirred up quite a controversy by responding to the media that he considered himself to be an "elite" quarterback. Now Eli Manning is on his way to throwing for more than 4,000 yards for the third consecutive year. This is an accomplishment that neither Tom Brady or Brett Favre achieved. It is something that Joe Montana never came close to. Not much of a controversy.
Manning has been performing with the precision of a surgeon this year. As any quarterback in the league, he is not without flaw. His fourth-quarter comebacks are well known. He is one of the best at commanding a no-huddle offense in a two-minute situation. All of the above is what made him the MVP of Super Bowl XLII and why he has a Super Bowl ring to match. With a running game that is virtually nonexistent, the Giants have had to rely heavily on their aerial attack. Fortunately for them, they have a field general who is worth his weight in gold.
Let's recap. The Bears have a pretty rough schedule ahead of them and are likely to lose two-to-three of their remaining games. That will leave the fifth seed abandoned.
The Buccaneers will be out to put on a strong performance for their fans and themselves in the last home game of the year. They will be extremely hard to beat for a Cowboy team that has struggled on the road. Chalk this up as a loss for Dallas.
Michael Vick will be back and looking to save face for he and his band of foul feathered friends. They will be looking to take down their division foe, like they did in week eight, 34-7. That's two losses for the Cowboys.
Victor Cruz and the rest of the New York receiving crew will be flying high and making things happen, as they have been all year long. This is a group of receivers with lots of depth. They sit among the elite receiving squads in the league.
Eli Manning, the current iron man quarterback of the NFL, is on track to have his best year to date. He is surrounded by a wealth of receivers that would make any quarterback warm and gooey inside. He has shown tremendous growth as a leader and will steer his team towards the postseason.
My prediction still remains that the Giants will split the series with the Cowboys and go 3-1 of the remaining games. That would make three Dallas losses in the next four games. That will give the Giants the fourth seed.