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Philosoraptor’s Corner: Looking on the bright side

Is there an upside to the way the season ended?

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is a piece I’ve been thinking about writing for a couple weeks now, dating back to Week 16. I’ve held off, however, because I wasn’t sure just how many New York Giants fans were ready or interested in hearing this perspective.

Giants fans have been grieving, grieving the loss of hope that the team could — against all odds — make the playoffs and make a run. Grief takes time, those feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment take time to process and sort through.

And I understand the disappointment in missing the playoffs. I understand the frustration in a team we feel has improved not be able to take control of their own destiny and win one of the weakest divisions in NFL history. I understand the anger at Doug Pederson over his decisions against the Washington Football Team to end the season.

And part of that anger, disappointment, and frustration stems from the fact that we all knew that the Giants’ post-season hopes were had been hanging by a thread. When I first started thinking about this piece, Washington was in position to win the NFC East in Week 16 with a victory over the Carolina Panthers. But thanks to strained calf for Alex Smith and some horrible play by Dwayne Haskins, the Giants’ season was extended — they were granted an opportunity at a chance. And the Giants did what they could, beating the Dallas Cowboys to finish the season. But they didn’t have control of their destiny and the combination of Philadelphia’s injuries and Doug Pederson’s desire to treat the game like a (very) early preseason game decided the Giants’ fate.

The Giants, and their fans, have a right to be angry.

But those of us on the outside have the freedom to take a longer, more strategic view of events. And from that perspective, Pederson might just have done the Giants a favor, that the way the season ended could have been a blessing in disguise.

How could I come to that stance? Well, let’s take a look at who the Giants are right now and where they could be going.

The Giants are a flawed — in some ways deeply flawed — team that plays hard. They play hard enough, with good enough defense, for games to be close, but that defense is also dragging a bad offense. There’s no two ways about it, the Giants’ offense finished the as the second worst in the whole NFL, leading only the New York Jets at 17.5 points and 299.6 yards per game. But while its viscerally satisfying for a Giants’ fan to see their team be led by the defense, it isn’t sustainable. We saw just this year, and have seen from other teams in the past, that this brand of football simply isn’t sustainable. While the Giants’ defense was able to keep games close for a while, again and again we saw opposing offenses walk away with wins after they adjusted to the Giants schemes.

Yeah, that’s not very optimistic, but don’t worry, I’m getting to the bright side.

Ending on a high note

Not getting the chance to play in the playoffs is a disappointment. But the Giants can go into the off-season knowing they handled their business in the end. That being said, the Giants, as they stand now, are not ready for prime time. They needed a brilliant scheme and a perfect game from their defense to edge out their only win against a team with a winning record. And even in doing so, the Arizona Cardinals were able to diagnose that defense, move the ball with impunity and show the Browns and Ravens the Giants’ weaknesses.

Had the Giants made the playoffs, they would have been rewarded with a match-up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a Tom Brady who has already seen their defensive schemes. While anything can happen, nobody would reasonably expect the Giants to pull out the victory there.

And considering the Bucs have averaged over 40 points per game, the possibility exists that whoever they face in the wild card round is in for a shootout and a potential blowout.

Sitting here, it’s easier to have a feel good heading into the off-season as a team coming off a win over a division rival with a chance to make the playoffs taken from them than a team demonstrably shown to not be in the same class as an 11-win team.

A more winnable schedule in 2021

The events of week 17 might have improved the Giants odds for winning the NFC East in two different ways.

The first, missing out on the playoffs means not having to play a division winner’s schedule next year. And in this case, that means Washington will be playing the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile, the Giants will be playing the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Rams, and while those likely won’t be easy “sure win” games (if there is such a thing), they are certainly more likely to be winnable than the Packers and Seahawks.

As we saw at the end of 2020, two more-winnable games could make a big difference in a team’s playoff fortunes at the close of a season.

The other way is by potentially dealing a blow Washington going forward.

Let’s take a quick look at where the rest of the NFC East is right now:

  • Philly is a salary cap mess with an injury-plagued roster full of aging players on expensive contracts, significant holes at premium positions and injured. They also have a full-blown quarterback controversy to handle. Their loss helped them from a draft perspective, but relationships could well be fragile going forward.
  • Dallas is Dallas. They have talent, but they can implode at any moment. There’s also the quarterback question as Dak Prescott should be healthy to start 2021, but he is either going to be an enormously expensive starter or plying his trade for another team.
  • Finally there’s the division winner, the nominal “best” team in the NFC East. Washington has a dangerous defense and some weapons on offense. Terry McLauren, Logan Thomas, and Antonio Gibson are a dangerous trio. The problem is that their offensive line is porous at best and their secondary needs multiple pieces. The biggest question is their quarterback situation which is anything but stable going forward. Alex Smith is one hell of a story and should be the Comeback Player Of The Year, but he isn’t a long-term option at quarterback. Likewise, Kyle Allen’s future is uncertain considering his own devastating injury and the caliber of player he was before his leg was snapped.

Had Philly won, Washington would be picking about where the Giants are now, which would give them the opportunity to address one of those needs. They could have been in position to add a cornerback to make their pass rush even more dangerous, a top offensive lineman to protect Smith, or — potentially — a long-term starter at quarterback. Now they’ll be selecting at 19th at the very earliest, which should significantly restrict their options.

The Giants’ best path to success next year — and beyond — runs through the division title. That’s a much smoother path if the rest of the division stays weak and trapped on the “rebuilding” hamster wheel.

A chance at a difference maker

As we’ve covered before, the Giants’ roster needs help. They need a pass rusher, their depth at cornerback behind James Bradberry is questionable. They also need a true number one wide receiver to allow Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton to play to their skill sets. It would also help open up the offense to have a receiver for whom defenses must account.

Just like drafting no higher than 19th could limit Washington’s options to fill their needs, the difference between drafting 19th (or lower) and 11th could be the difference between potentially getting a player like Jaylen Waddle or Rashad Bateman. While Bateman is a talented receiver, Waddle has the kind of game-changing speed that can truly stress (and break) a defense. There’s even a chance that a “blue chip” player like Micah Parsons or Ja’Marr Chase — both of whom opted out of the 2020 season — could slip out of the top 10 if the NFL is nervous of a prospect who’s most recent tape is a year old.

The Giants have the opportunity to build on what they showed in 2020, but making smart decisions and taking advantage of their opportunities are a must.

From that perspective, the future is brighter now than it was a year ago. Missing the playoffs, particularly how it happened, is certainly frustrating. But it should be motivation for the team to seize control of their destiny in 2021 and potentially gave them the resources with which to do it.