Giants are ready to let chips fall where they may

Tom Coughlin looks on in the final moments

Tom Coughlin looks on in the final moments of an NFL game against the Baltimore Ravens. (Dec. 23, 2012) (Credit: AP)

The Giants have spent the week in playoff purgatory. They're not quite in the heaven of having secured a postseason berth -- or even knowing that a win Sunday would get them in -- and yet not quite roasting in the fires of elimination. They're neither fully dead nor fully alive. They're somewhere in between, in a stressful waiting room waiting to see which train they should board: The Super Bowl Special or The Disappointment Express.

In this odd week, the Giants have been measuring their odds, and they are not particularly good. There are four games that could end the Giants' season, not the least of which is their own against the Eagles. Their chips are on the table and they need to pull four aces.

Their season could be over by early Sunday afternoon if they or the Lions lose. It could be over Sunday evening if the Packers lose. And it could be over later Sunday night, nearly 12 hours after their game began, if the Redskins lose.

Then again, it might not be over at all.

"We have enough guys that were here last year, and enough guys who have two rings, we know that anything can happen," said Mathias Kiwanuka, one of the few Giants who sounded convincing in his belief that there will be a Week 18 to his team's season. "It's all about getting to the playoffs and then making that run."

Most other Giants, though, seem to have accepted their fate.

"We're calm," Victor Cruz said of the team's tenor this week. "You can kind of feel the tension slip away from this team and we're just relaxed and ready to go . . . I think we just understand that now it's either do or die and we've just got to go out there and relax and play football. That's the only thing that's guaranteed for us right now is this game, and all we have to do is just relax and play some ball."

As the defending champions who also have felt the need to carry the burdens of a region affected by shootings and superstorms, perhaps it was that tension that Cruz mentioned that handcuffed them down the stretch of this season. They also went into their final four games with Tom Coughlin calling them must-wins, and with a history -- although a spotted history -- of being able to pull out of tailspins late in the year.

After playing 20 games to win a Super Bowl last year, they might play only 16 this season, but in some ways, this season has felt much longer and been much more grueling.

"I think whether we even knew it or not, I think there was some pressure," Cruz said. "Obviously, going into the last four games where we had to win and we had to keep doing the things we had to do with everybody looking back at last year. So I think there was a little bit of pressure there. But I think all that pressure is kind of gone and we just want to go out and play football and finish the year right if it's going to be our last one."

The Giants were in a similar position two years ago, needing a Week 17 win but only one game's worth of help to get into the playoffs. They beat the Redskins but the Packers beat the Bears, and the Giants were eliminated despite winning 10 games. It resulted in one of the most dichotic postgame locker rooms in recent Giants history, the sweetness of victory mixing with the fumes of failure.

That could happen again Sunday. And it might be the Giants' best chance to salvage some positives from the 2012 season.

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