The Giants haven't been in this situation for nearly a decade, facing three games with no playoff implications against a grim three-word backdrop: playing for pride. The last time they were out this early was Year 1 of the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning era, when they went 6-10 after Manning took over from Kurt Warner midway through the 2004 season.
But two Super Bowl championships later, this season's 5-8 record is a far greater disappointment and likely will lead to changes heading into next season. Here's a look at what the Giants need to do:
1Bring back Coughlin.There have been some questions about whether Coughlin will return, but two championships have earned him that right.
His contract expires after next season, but adding a year or two to prevent him from being a lame duck shouldn't be an impediment. Coughlin remains highly energized and motivated at 67, and he'll surely be anxious to improve on this year's dud. Keep in mind, too, that his Super Bowl titles came after major disappointments the previous year. He was 8-8 and nearly fired after the 2006 season. The 2010 Giants went 10-6, but they missed the playoffs after losing to the Eagles in Week 15 despite leading 31-10 in the fourth quarter.
2Don't overpay for Hakeem Nicks. The wide receiver's contract is up after this season and he'll be looking for a huge payday, probably in the vicinity of Mike Wallace's $60-million deal with Miami.
Should the Giants give him that much? No way. Offer a competitive contract, but don't get into a bidding war for a player with a history of injuries. And don't use the franchise tag on him, especially with Rueben Randle ready to step into a starting role. An adequate third receiver is a must; the Giants don't have one if Nicks is gone. And if there's a solid tight end in the draft or free agency, add him. Brandon Myers was underwhelming.
3Retool the interior offensive line. Chris Snee's future is uncertain after hip and elbow surgery. Center David Baas has battled injuries throughout his run with the Giants. The tackles are set with first-rounder Justin Pugh and Will Beatty, who struggled after signing a big contract. But GM Jerry Reese needs to beef up the middle of the line, where the Giants were consistently exposed.
4Hope David Wilson returns, but be ready to add a running back or two. The first-round running back hopes to return after shutting it down early this season because of neck problems. If not, draft a replacement, and sign a free agent, too. One possibility: Bring back Ahmad Bradshaw. He is better after having neck surgery and unlikely to return to the Colts, leaving him available to rejoin a team he helped win two titles.
5Re-sign Jon Beason. The Beason trade with the Panthers was huge, as the middle linebacker immediately became a force. He'll be a free agent but has expressed a desire to stay with the Giants. They have to make sure he does.
6Bring back Justin Tuck at an affordable contract. He's unsigned for 2014 but still a valuable pass rusher, with six sacks in the last two games. Damontre Moore should be ready to contribute more next year. It looks as if this will be it for Mathias Kiwanuka. The Giants are optimistic that Jason Pierre-Paul will be healthy going into next season. Because of his limitations this year, they don't need to extend his rookie contract anytime soon.
7Re-evaluate the coordinators. Perry Fewell's defense underachieved much of the season, and the pass rush was abysmal during the 0-6 start. The Giants' 334 points allowed was ninth worst in the NFL through Sunday. The secondary, erratic most of the season, was lit up Sunday by the Chargers.
Injuries can't be ignored. Pierre-Paul recovered slowly from offseason back surgery, and a shoulder injury limited him just as he was rounding into form. Safety Stevie Brown was lost to a knee injury in the preseason.
Fewell has a Super Bowl ring and Coughlin is fiercely loyal to his assistants, so it would not be a surprise to see him return. If not, Coughlin might want to consider his other Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, now a Ravens assistant.
Longtime offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was limited by injuries at wide receiver, running back and on the line, and tight end Myers was spotty. Gilbride has two rings, and Manning has developed a comfort level with him.
Tom Quinn's special teams have not distinguished themselves. Coughlin might feel compelled to make a move to shore up this critical area.