Tom Coughlin reacts during an NFL game. (Nov. 23, 2014)

Tom Coughlin reacts during an NFL game. (Nov. 23, 2014) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Tom Coughlin's future has been the subject of intense speculation as the Giants continued to sputter out of playoff contention, but the 11th-year coach doesn't spend much time dwelling on whether he'll be back next season.

All he needs to do is look at his players in the meeting room each week and realize this is not about him.

"It is about all of those eyes that look at me on Wednesday morning," he said. "I am thinking about them, quite frankly. Trying to bring them through the disappointment toward the next opponent."

There has been plenty of disappointment -- too much disappointment -- as the Giants headed into Sunday night's game against the Cowboys. At 3-7, Coughlin's team was clinging to the slimmest shred of hope for a playoff run after two straight years without a postseason berth. And with each passing loss, so the speculation grew about whether this would be the end of the line in New York for the 68-year-old coach.

It was the Cowboys who were supposed to be in this situation based on the preseason sentiments about just how poor their defense would be. Instead, it's the Giants with the miserable defense and the Cowboys with the 7-3 record coming out of their bye week and thinking about their own playoff run after three straight 8-8 seasons under Jason Garrett.

A year after going 0-6 to start the season and then rallying to a 7-9 finish, the Giants came into the Cowboys game with a worse record after 10 games than even last year's meltdown. They reeled off four straight wins after last year's miserable start, but this year's losing streak swelled to five straight after they got to 3-2 in early October.

Coughlin's resolve has never wavered, even if the results betrayed his optimism.

"Keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting, that's all it takes," Coughlin said. "One game at a time. Bounce back."

He has repeated that mantra each week, to no avail. His Giants try hard, but they've been too inconsistent, too injury-riddled, and too mistake-prone to overcome their myriad problems. Which leaves Coughlin in an awkward position as the team reaches the latter part of the season: With two Super Bowl championships and previous playoff success with the expansion Jaguars, Coughlin will be in the conversation for Hall of Fame induction once his career is over. But will that be good enough for Giants president John Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch to retain Coughlin next season? Or will the team's major decision-makers decide to move on?

It's a tricky evaluation based on what has happened so far this season. On the one hand, the Giants have underperformed at various times on both sides of the ball. On the other hand, a ton of injuries and a roster in transition that features many young players has left Coughlin with a difficult set of circumstances to manage.

Throw in the fact that the Cowboys' are the sixth straight opponent with legitimate playoff aspirations this year, and the equation doesn't get any easier. Had the Giants split their games against the Cowboys (twice), Seahawks, Eagles, Colts and 49ers, they'd have been in decent shape for a wild-card run down the stretch. But they hadn't beaten any of them coming into Sunday night, and Coughlin's fate hangs in the balance.The Giants' schedule softens up considerably in the weeks ahead, so Coughlin will need at least a few wins to persuade management he's up for another try in 2015. But if the Giants skid to, say, a 4-12 season, then it may be hard to justify bringing him back. After all, going 1-10 in their last 11 is hardly a convincing argument.

Coughlin remains undeterred, choosing instead to concentrate on lifting his players. He relished the idea of playing the Cowboys as his latest challenge; a game against their division rivals has often brought out the best in the Giants. In both of Coughlin's Super Bowl seasons, wins over the Cowboys spurred the championship runs. In 2007, the Giants beat the Cowboys, who were the No. 1 playoff seed that year, in the NFC divisional playoffs at Texas Stadium. And in 2011, the Giants needed a win over the Cowboys in their regular-season finale to clinch a playoff spot; they got it, 31-14, at MetLife Stadium. Four wins later, they were champions once more.

There is almost no chance of another title run this season, and the Giants faced the prospect of being mathematically eliminated from the division title if they lost to Dallas on Sunday night. All that would be left is a minuscule chance at a wild-card spot, but even with that, they'd have to win out.More than likely, it will be a quiet end to the season, with Coughlin's future the biggest issue to be resolved. Just a few more weeks, and we'll get the answer.

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