NFC Playoff Picture: Reasons to be optimistic, and pessimistic, about the Giants

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants return to work Monday after their bye week hoping, at 2-6, that they still have both the time and the ability to make a playoff run. Here are three reasons to feel optimistic and, because we believe in balanced writing the way Tom Coughlin believes in balanced offense, three reasons to feel pessimistic.

[Related: The complete playoff picture]

Reasons for Optimism

1. Eli Manning -- Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP who spent the first half of the season more often resembling Christian Ponder or Blaine Gabbert than one of the league's best quarterbacks. Whatever the reasons for his inconsistencies through the first eight games you have to believe the second half of the season will be better. Don't you? It should be -- there is little doubt Manning is a better player than the one we saw in the first half of the season.

2. Improved Defense -- Ten quarters without allowing a touchdown is 10 quarters without allowing a touchdown, even if most of it did come against an over-matched Josh Freeman, an injured Michael Vick and an under-whelming Matt Barkley. The Giants' defense may not be able to dominate everyone the way it did the past two games, but it has improved from the group that gave up 30+ points in the first five games. The arrival of Jon Beason, improved secondary play, dominant run defense and a glimpse recently of an improving ability to rush the passer make you think the sieve-like defense of the first five games should be a thing of the past.

3. The NFC East -- No one is the division appears capable of running off four or five victories in a row and running completely away from the Giants, even after their 0-6 start. The 3-5 Redskins ran off seven straight victories last season after a 3-6 start. Maybe they can do it again, but they have not looked like that team. Maybe the Cowboys can, but history tells us they won't. Maybe the Eagles can, but they have been a Jekyll and Hyde all season and don't look like a team capable of that kind of consistency. The Giants haven't shown at any point this season that they are capable of sustained, solid football. But, why not the Giants? Wacky stuff happens sometimes, and in the ridiculously awful NFC East there is no telling how things might end up.

Reasons for Pessimism

1. History -- From 0-6 to the playoffs has never been done before. In fact, since the AFL/NFL merger 0-5 to the playoffs has never been done and only one team, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, has made it to the playoffs after starting 0-4.

2. The Schedule -- The Giants have a daunting slate of games during the second half of the season. There are three division games, one against the Cowboys and two against the Redskins. There are no more Josh Freemans on the schedule. After Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders, they face top-flight quarterbacks the rest of the season -- Tony Romo (Cowboys), Robert Griffin III (Redskins), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions). Going at least 6-2 with that schedule is a tall order.

3. The Standings -- Reality is that the Giants are in last place. The Giants need to be better than all three teams in the division the rest of the way and even if they accomplish that they probably need to hope that the tie-breakers fall in their favor. The Cowboys are already 3-0 in the division while the Giants are 1-2. One stumble in the division most likely kills any chance the Giants think they have.

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