Forget about the playoffs. The Giants aren't even in the graphic yet.
That's what struck Jon Beason while he watched Monday night's game between the Panthers and the Patriots. At one point in the broadcast, they put up a list of teams from the NFC and their respective playoff situations. Four division leaders, two wild-card leaders, and four teams that were termed to be "in the hunt," all in nicely presented columns.
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Despite winning four straight games, the Giants were nowhere to be found.
"It kind of upset me," Beason said. "I was like 'Whoa! What's going on here?' "
With a win over the Cowboys Sunday, the Giants would photobomb that playoff picture. They'd pull even with Dallas in the NFC East standings, one game behind the idle Eagles with five games to play. They could even creep into the wild-card conversation, which is important because they could win the rest of their games and still not win the division.
All of that is pretty remarkable considering their 0-6 start to this season, but it will be meaningless if the Giants lose this one. Although a loss would not eliminate them mathematically, it would be nearly impossible for the Giants to overcome a two-game deficit against two division opponents without playing either of them for the rest of the regular season.
"Instead of us digging ourselves out of a hole, if we lose this football game, it's more like them putting dirt on us," Justin Tuck said.
That's why the Giants have invested so much in this one contest, the one that they think will define them going forward.
"It's good to win four in a row, but you just set yourself up for this moment," Beason said. "It was always a game you kind of had that asterisk by."
That was even before the standings shook out the way they have and the importance of winning this game was solidified for both teams, who have one of the league's fiercest rivalries.
"This is a game that, as a Giant, you love to play in," guard David Diehl said. "It's about the history and the tradition of this game. When the schedule comes out, any Giants fan, the first thing they say to you is, 'Good luck and make sure you beat the Cowboys.' "
The Giants coaches know how significant this game is, and they've been listening to the players talk about it for close to a week. Jason Pierre-Paul started it off last Sunday by predicting bloodshed on the field. Others followed, calling this game a must-win and a playoff-like atmosphere and even comparing it to the Super Bowl.
"I could tell our guys are pumped about playing this football game. We just can't get overexcited," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell warned. "We just have to stay within ourselves."
If they can, they'll stay in the race. But they won't be in the lead just yet.
Coach Tom Coughlin said relevance is "a nice word" and said it is good to be playing in a meaningful game. But, he said, each of the previous four games was meaningful, too. And if they win Sunday, so will the next five.
"When you're 0-6, aren't you standing on the edge of the cliff every week?" Coughlin asked before answering his own question. "That's what we've always felt. We're all excited about playing this game, but again, there are six of them, and there will be no evaluation until the end of the season when the six games are played."
As long as the Giants are in the graphic at that point, they'll be happy.