The New York Giants are playing meaningful December football as a good team for the first time since 2016. Yes, they almost won the NFC East in 2020, but, c’mon! They were 6-10.
This marks the first time in the careers of many young, key Giants players that they have been in this position. In the playoffs with six games to go, and having to fight to keep it that way.
“We’re extremely excited. We’re fired up, ready to go. It’s a divisional game [Sunday vs. the Washington Commanders], like you said – a meaningful game in December,” said quarterback Daniel Jones. “This is where you want to be, these are the games you want to play in. We’re all fired up and can’t wait to get out there.”
“The season starts now,” said rookie edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux. “So, everything we’ve done has put us in position to go for it all.”
“When you play meaningful games in December, I think that’s why we all do this,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “You go all the way back to OTAs and to preseason and the beginning part of the season; now you’re in December. And I’ve been on teams that have played meaningful games in December, and I’ve been part of teams that haven’t. It’s not a lot of fun when you’re not playing meaningful games.”
The question that keeps coming up is this: Even though few expected the Giants to contend for a playoff berth this season, now that they are can the season be considered a success if they don’t finish the job and earn a playoff berth?
In my view, the answer is complicated. You can build a legitimate argument that it would be a failure. You can also build an equally compelling argument that the season has already been a success no matter what happens over the final six games.
Let’s look at both sides of the coin.
Why it could be a failure
Well, they were 6-1
This is really the big reason — actually, for me the only reason — anyone would consider the season a failure.
The Giants won six of their first seven games. No one saw that coming before the season began. Many figured the Giants, in Year 1 with coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen, would be lucky to win six games overall. But, it happened.
Stirring come-from-behind victories over the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens were included in that stretch. Stuff happens — like key injuries, weird bounces and questionable officiating calls — but when a team starts 6-1 and prognosticators put their playoff chances at 80-90 percent you have to believe that team can find a way to go 4-6 or at least 3-7 over its final 10 games and be in position to make the playoffs.
Yes, it was a surprise — maybe a shock — the Giants put themselves on that lofty playoff perch. It was probably likely, and should have been expected, that they would at least somewhat come back to the pack as the season progressed. Especially with a difficult schedule the second half of the season.
Still, it would be disappointing — and OK to be disappointed — if the Giants can’t finish the job and make the playoffs. Especially if the Giants manage to go winless the rest of the way — ending the year on an eight-game losing streak.
Winning is always preferable to losing and, by extension, making the playoffs is better than not making the playoffs. If you consider missing out a failed season, despite the reality that few predicted they would be in contention at all, you’re entitled to that feeling.
Why it would still be a success
I can think of several reasons, most having to do with how the 2022-23 has already shown that a better future is likely on the horizon for a franchise that is still working to end a string of five straight double-digit loss seasons.
I feel comfortable in predicting that the Giants’ string of head coaches who have lasted two years — or less — on the job is about to be broken.
Brian Daboll is going to be around for a while.
The Giants have gone through Ben McAdoo, Steve Spagnuolo (interim), Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge while searching for a worthy successor to Tom Coughlin. It looks to me like they finally found him.
Here is Coughlin in my recent 1-on-1 chat with him talking about Daboll:
“I think Brian is a good football coach, and he’s paid the price. He’s been with Bill Belichick. He’s had tremendous experiences there. He’s had a great experience in Buffalo with Josh Allen. He’s more than prepared for his job,” Coughlin said. “And you can see when he came in, I can see the look on his face, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Brian and to visit with him. He was nice enough to host us over at the Giant facility last spring as we brought in some Jay Fund people. I just think they’ve done an outstanding job. And I hope that they can get back on track here after a couple of difficult losses.”
Daboll has brought a winning attitude, a go for it and live with the consequences if you fall short mentality first on display Week 1 when he went for 2 points in the closing moments — and the Giants succeeded — to defeat Tennessee. He trusts the players, they trust him, and he has brought a refreshing honest, personable attitude to his role.
Another thing Daboll did was assemble an outstanding, veteran NFL coaching staff. He did not turn to cronies and reward them with jobs. He interviewed candidates from a variety of backgrounds, many of whom he did not know and had never worked with, involved coaches already on staff in the process, and ended up with a talented group of assistants that has gotten exceptional play from a roster with obvious limitations.
At the top of that list are offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Both might deserve, and eventually get, head-coaching opportunities of their own. Neither, though, seems high on the list of candidates for potential openings this offseason. The bet here is that both are back with the Giants next season, which is a good thing for New York.
Joe Schoen has done a terrific job in his rookie season as an NFL general manager. I don’t know how you can argue otherwise.
Schoen handled the draft nicely, albeit he did have the advantage of having been gifted the fifth and seventh overall picks by Dave Gettleman. Unfortunately, many of the players he selected have been injured so it will be a while before we see the full benefit of that draft class.
Schoen had the unenviable task of cleaning up the salary cap mess left behind by Gettleman, and trying to field a competent team with just chump change to spend in free agency. He has managed to do that, finding useful players willing to accept one-year veteran salary benefit contracts during the offseason, and adding a number of street free agents during the season who are playing critical roles.
Schoen has also proven to be a person other talented executives want to be associated with. In revamping the front office he has added people like up and coming assistant general manager Brandon Brown, former Miami Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey (assistant director of player personnel) and Chris Rosetti, who is now director of pro scouting.
Through 11 games, the Giants have been able to identify a core of young players they want to go forward with. Dexter Lawrence, Andrew Thomas, Julian Love, Thibodeaux, Evan Neal, Wan’Dale Robinson, and probably Xavier McKinney despite his Cabo incident lead that group.
The Giants have seen a resurgence by Saquon Barkley. That might lead to a new deal for Barkley, provided he does not insist on Christian McCaffrey or Ezekiel Elliott type money — $15 million or more annually.
It is also crystal clear where the Giants need help going forward, and being able to see that is also a good thing in planning for the long term. Those areas include wide receiver, interior offensive line, tight end depth, inside linebacker, cornerback.
The one decision I am not certain Schoen and Daboll have made regards the future of Jones as the team’s quarterback. The way things have gone thus far, I would have to believe that a short-term deal for mid-range quarterback money — maybe two years and $35 million total — might be reasonable.
I would think, though, that how Jones performs in the spotlight of meaningful December and January football will have much to do with the choice the Giants eventually make. So, you can argue that getting into this position gives the Giants an evaluation tool that could prove critical.
As you can likely tell, I fall on the side that believes this season has already been a success for the Giants. My view has always been that whatever happened on the field in 2022 wasn’t the most important thing — because the Giants are at the beginning of a process that will hopefully lead them somewhere long term and not at the end of the process looking for the payoff.
I certainly, though, will understand being bummed if the Giants’ season comes to an end Week 18 in Philadelphia.