Despite what our minds, eyes, and common sense say, all of us here, even the post pessimistic, have a feeling deep inside our hearts that the Giants may accomplish the ridiculous and actually come back to win the division. It seems inane, but the Giants are only two games back at the halfway mark for the division (Washington has only played 7 games so far, but we'll ignore that for now).
Everyone wants to know if it can be done. No one can answer that and we won't know until the season is over.
But has it been done? That is a question we can answer now.
I took the liberty of creating a spreadsheet to look at past division winners and their records after eight games, and compared it to the rest of the teams in the division. Below is the chart copied and pasted into the fanpost. It looks kind of gross, so here it is on Google docs. Still doesn't look as nice as it does in Excel, but it'll do.
|Year||Div. Winner||Record first 8 Games||Difference btwn other teams, thru 8 games||Record, last 8||Div Winner Record||Div Win Difference|
|2013||TBD||4-4||+1 (PHI), +2 (NYG & WAS)||???||???||???|
|2012||Redskins||3-5||-3 (NYG), +0 (PHI & DAL)||7-1||10-6||+1|
|2011||Giants||6-2||+2 (DAL), +3 (PHI & WAS)||3-5||9-7||+1|
|2010||Eagles||5-3||-1 (NYG), +1 (WAS), +4 (DAL)||5-3||10-6||+0|
|2009||Cowboys*||6-2||+1 (NYG, PHI), +4 (WAS)||5-3||11-5||+0|
|2008||Giants*||7-1||+1 (WAS), +2 (DAL & PHI)||5-3||12-4||+3|
|2007||Cowboys**||7-1||+1 (NYG), +2 (WAS), +4 (PHI)||6-2||13-3||+3|
|2006||Eagles**||4-4||-2 (NYG), +0 (DAL), +1 (WAS)||6-2||10-6||+1|
|2005||Giants*||6-2||+1 (WAS & DAL), +2 (PHI)||5-3||11-5||+1|
|2004||Eagles||7-1||+2 (NYG), +4 (DAL & WAS)||6-2||13-3||+7|
|Mean w/o '04||Giants||5.5-2.5||+0||5.25-2.75||10.75-5.25||+1.25|
|Mode||NYG/PHI||6-2 & 7-1 (3 times)||+1 (4 times)||5-3 (4 times)||10-6 (3 times)||+1 (4 times)|
|*Indicates 1 NFCE Wildcard Team||+0 Means won on tiebreaker|
|**Indicates 2 NFCE Wildcard Teams|
|Mean does not include 2013 season|
|Cowboys used for 2013||+X Indicates eventual div winner had X more wins than other team. -X indicates was X games behind|
So first a few things about the spreadsheet. I looked at every team in the NFC East in the last ten seasons. This, coincidentally, coincides with the start of "Coughlin Era" in 2004. From left to right, there's the year the season started in, the eventual division winner, the record of the division winner in their first eight games, the win difference between the eventual division winner and the other teams in the division at the 8 game mark, the record of the division in their last 8 games and final record, and the difference between the division winner and the team or teams in second place.
Below is the mean or mathematical average, median, and mode for all of the different categories. I made a category not including 2004 as the season is outlier-ish in that the Eagles had firm control and the rest of the division ended 6-10. That season was the only time in the 21st century that all of the non division winners in the NFC East were sub .500.
Ideally, I would have gone to 2002 when the divisions were realigned for maximum data, but I think this'll suffice.
So a few things stand out just by taking a glance. The decline of the NFC East is readily apparent if you look at the 2007-2011 seasons. The winning record of the division champion declines by 1 each season, staring with 13 wins by the Cowboys ('07), 12 wins by the Giants in '08, to 11 by the Cowboys in '09, then 10 by the Eagles in '10, to a measly 9 wins by the '11 Giants. The decline is also evident by looking at the number of playoff teams from the NFC East, 3 in '07, 2 in '08 (but not a single team below .500), 2 in '09, and only the division winner in the last three years. From 2005-2009, the NFC East actually averaged 2.4 teams in the playoffs per year. And there in a nutshell is the story of how the NFC Beast turned into the NFC Least.
But what about the division winners? Six out of Nine times, the division leader at the half way mark ended up as the division winner at the end of the season (more on this later). Starting strong has historically been a must, with the division winner averaging 5.5 plus wins in the first 8 games. Last year was the first year a team with a losing record in the first half ended up winning the second half. Competition at the half way mark has typically been very close, with the average actually being 0 games different due to the three "collapses". Even taking them into account, the division winner was usually only one game better than their closes competitor at the time.
It shouldn't be surprising that the division winners have strong second halves, albeit slightly weaker than their first halves (averaging about a quarter less win per season). Every division winner except for the 2011 Giants won at least 5 games in the last half. The eventual division winner has finished with an average 10-11 wins, with typically around one more win than the runner up.
So do we have a chance? Well historically, it looks bleep. I mentioned before that only 3 times in the last 9 full seasons didn't win the division despite having the best record at the halfway mark. If you hadn't noticed before, take a look at those 3 years in 2006, 2010, and 2012. The team that blew them those leads of 2, 1, and 3 games, respectively? Your New York Football Giants. That's not a misprint. In 2006, the Giants were 6-2 and two games ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles. They finished 2-6 and made the wildcard on the account of breaking a 4 way tie. Less egregious, the 2010 Giants started 6-2, one game ahead of the Eagles (...stupid pattern), finished 4-4 and actually the same record as the Eagles, but lost out on the head to head tiebreakers, and was on the wrong side of a 3 way tie for the last wildcard spot (The NFC is much stronger now). 2012 just makes me want to weep. The 2012 Giants were 6-2, 3 games (that's right, 3!!!!) ahead of the rest of the division. The Giants ended on a 3-5 streak, while the Redskins went on an amazing 7-1 run to win the division by a game. 5 out of the last 9 completed seasons, the Giants were in first at the half way mark, but have only won the division 3 times. (You may gag now).
So what does this mean? The norm has been for the division winner to be the leader at the halfway mark, and when this hasn't been the case, it was the Giants who collapsed. So we're doomed then.
Not really, at least I don't think so. This is obviously a historical look at outcomes, and the present is completely independent of past seasons. What the spreadsheet doesn't tell you is is that twice in the last two years, the Cowboys were one Week 17 win away from winning the division and blew their chance. In a similar position in '08 to get the last wildcard spot, they lost 44-6. Despite what I typed about the Giants and their impressive-in-a-bad-way collapses, they might not even have the worst collapses in the division.
So can NYG do it??? The utter uniqueness of this season makes it hard to say. The division is objectively the worst it has been in a long long time. Combine the horridness with Dallas not looking like a world beater, the opportunity isn't as utterly absurd as the situation would normally warrant. Taking a look at Football Outsider's stats, the Giants have played the 3rd hardest schedule so far, compared to Dallas' 19th hardest schedule. Unlikely seemingly every past year, the Giants actually eases up slightly, having the 15th toughest schedule for the remainder of the season. This is actually the toughest schedule left in the division, but more manageable. And while coming back from two games behind has been rare, it's not unprecedented.
Taking off my homer hat, I think the biggest determinant of whether the Giants make the divisional race competitive is the number of turnovers they'll commit. If they continue to turn it over at a historically awful rate, they'll be lucky to win 2 or 3 more games. If they keep it under control, well...It's looking more and more that the Redskins' defensive renaissance in the second half of last year was an illusion, as was their very low turnover rates. The Eagles may be good in the future, but who has faith in the Vick/Foles/Barkley combo? And the Cowboys? They were 8-8 two years ago, 8-8 last year, and 4-4 right now. They're an average team in every sense of the word. If the Giants win the rest of their divisional games, and stop the turnover hemorrhaging...
It may not be the craziest thing if Giants history or even the Coughlin era, but it'd be up there.
***Realistically, the season was probably over when NYG lost to the Eagles the first time. Division wins are important, especially as Dallas is already 3-0 in the division, and going down to 0-2 in the division and 0-5 overall was a big killer. But what's life without some optimism?