The New York Giants probably over-achieved during their expectation-raising 6-1 start to the 2022-23 NFL season. They have probably under-achieved during a depressing 1-4-1 skid over their past six games.
Right now, none of that matters any more. What matters is that they are in a position no one would have forecast for them back in the spring or summer. They are 7-5-1 overall, playing meaningful December football games with a legitimate chance to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season.
Are they a great team? Heck, no.
Are they a playoff team? They will show us over the next four games whether or not they deserve to be one.
Beat the Washington Commanders on Sunday night in Landover, Md. they probably reach the NFC playoffs as a wild card team. Do that and one more victory in their final three games against the Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles would get them to nine wins, which should be enough.
Lose to the Commanders on Sunday night, they probably go home after the Week 18 season finale.
The New York Times playoff simulator gives the Giants a 91 percent chance of making the playoffs in the beat Washington on Sunday, a 38 percent chance if they don’t. Other playoff prognostications similarly point to the importance of Sunday night’s game.
The Giants understand the stakes.
“Coach (Brian) Daboll always says, ‘What we do in December is what people remember,’” offensive tackle Andrew Thomas said on Monday. “These games mean the most, and we’re blessed to have our opportunity to compete, have an opportunity to play in the playoffs. We’re looking forward to the challenge – we’ve just got to do a good job of executing.”
Daboll acknowledged his team’s recent slide when he spoke to media on Monday.
“It’s a long season; there’s quite a bit of adversity throughout it. Maybe for some teams, it’s in the beginning. For some teams, it’s in the middle, and other teams, it’s at the end,” Daboll said. “We’re going through a little bit of it right now, and I think it’s important to stay consistent, do the things that you need to do to try to win games with your preparation and practice. You explain that to your players, which I think they all understand. Again, whether it’s the coaching staff or the players, they’ve tried to remain as consistent as you can be. And that takes some mental toughness throughout the year.”
Few expected the Giants to be in this position, holding, albeit tenuously, a spot in the playoffs. Some preseason predictions had the Giants winning as few as four games as Daboll and Joe Schoen began the process of revamping a team that was tied with the New York Jets for the worst record in football from 2017 through 2021.
Are the 2022-23 Giants a playoff team? They will show us on Sunday night, and perhaps in the three games following that one.
Can they pick themselves up after Sunday’s beatdown by the Eagles, and after a stretch of football that has seen them squander much of the advantage their 6-1 start provided them?
We know the Giants don’t have the most talented roster. We know that their path to victory has been a narrow one and that they have certain weaknesses that have shown themselves consistently throughout the year.
Can the Giants show the mental toughness Daboll spoke of to shake off their recent doldrums, put together a winning performance on Sunday and finish off what has been a surprisingly successful season with the bonus of a playoff appearance?
Again, they will show us the answers Sunday and in the weeks to follow.
The Giants have veteran players like Jihad Ward, Justin Ellis, Tony Jefferson and a few others who have been through these late-season playoff battles.
For much of the core of the roster, though, this stretch of meaningful NFL football in December is a first. How will they respond to it?
I know I am curious to learn the answer. You are also probably curious. Daboll himself seems curious.
“We have a fairly young team. We have some guys that have been here for a few years that have had 10-plus (game) losing seasons however many years in a row. We have some other veterans that have been some places that have won – same with the coaching staff,” Daboll said. “But the most important thing is you develop the team – you developed it through OTAs and training camp to withstand certain things that come your way. And again, it’s really about the week you’re playing. I don’t think you can make more or less out of each and every week.
“Obviously, we know this is a big week. Last week was a big week. So, our focus has to be on the things that we can control – which is the here and the now – and do the things that we need to do to give ourselves the best chance and then ultimately go out there and play well and coach well on Sunday.”
Dexter Lawrence is one of the young Giant leaders going through this for the first time. He is looking forward to the spotlight.
“It’ll tell you something about yourself as person and as a team, how you accept the challenge,” Lawrence said. “I think we’ll all be ready.”
The Giants as a team will tell us a lot about themselves on Sunday night.