Giants-Redskins: Meaningless regular-season finale for NFC East's last two champs
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The last two NFC East champions will meet in one of the NFL's few meaningless games Sunday, a glaring example of just how fleeting success has become in the sport.
Two years ago, the Giants beat the Cowboys on the last day of the regular season to win the division crown and, eventually, the Super Bowl.
Last year the Redskins followed the same script, or at least the first act, by beating the Cowboys in a winner-take-all game to capture the division title. They were bounced from the playoffs when Robert Griffin III's knee buckled in a wild-card game against the Seahawks, but they seemed to be an ascending team nonetheless.
On Sunday, though, there are three games in the NFL that will have no bearing on playoff invitations, seedings, or even the final standings. The Giants and the Redskins at MetLife Stadium is one of them.
"It speaks to what the NFL is all about in terms of the parity issues that we continuously operate under and the fact that you have, from year to year, things happen," coach Tom Coughlin said of the fall from the top that both teams encountered this season. "Teams can play well, as you well know, at the end of the year and be the strongest team and teams can get off to a bad start, as we know, and be scrambling around at the end."
The Giants have locked up third place in the division, so at least they will avoid a last-place finish, a position in which they haven't found themselves since 2003. The Redskins will finish fourth. All that's left to decide, really, is the draft order.
Even though both teams have been out of playoff contention for a month, they seem to be grasping for reasons to fight. For the Giants, it's the chance to say they were 7-3 in their last 10 games, an impressive stretch for any team. If there had been 10 preseason games instead of four, the Giants would be in much better position.
Then there's the idea of winning to springboard into next year. Well, in the 2012 finale, the Giants beat the Eagles, 42-7. All that led to in 2013 was the Giants' worst start since 1976, when they began 0-9.
Oh, and the team that they beat to finish last season? The one that finished in last place? They're playing for the NFC East title Sunday night in Dallas.
"I think the difference right now in the NFL between winning and losing is such a fine line and you've got to be a little lucky in a few different areas," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said of his own first-to-worst plummet. "The margin of error is very, very slim or very, very close, and in order to win the division, you've got to be playing your best football and for whatever reason, if you don't and you lose that momentum, it can slip away very quickly."
As it has for both of these teams who not so long ago stood atop the mountain.
"It says it's tough to get wins in the NFL," Justin Tuck said when asked to decipher the meaning of the last two division champs being relegated to also-rans. "When you're there, enjoy it. It's tough . . . It's tough to win football games consistently."
Of course, there is a flip side to the volatility. The idea that what comes down must go up.
"From one year to the next, it doesn't mean much, whether you've had success the year before or you didn't," Eli Manning said. "You can make big turnarounds from year to year and it's just a small difference between being a playoff team and not being one. In that sense, I guess it gives you hope for next year that we can get back to playing better football and get back to making the playoffs."
Or at least playing in a 16th game that matters.