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Giants' playoff hopes resting on Cowboys

Michael Boley #52 of the the New York

Michael Boley #52 of the the New York Giants celebrates after sacking quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons. (November 22, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

Why are the Giants so confident? They just got creamed by the Eagles, their defense is in disarray, their coordinator is under fire and they haven't been able to win back-to-back games since they faced the Chiefs and Raiders in October. There are only three games left in a season which, were it to end today, would mark the first time in four years that they'd miss the playoffs.

Why you ask? Because the Cowboys are in so much worse shape.

Eli Manning nearly snickered when asked about the Giants salvaging the season and not having a chance to control their own postseason destiny. "We all know who Dallas plays and they've got a tough schedule," he said. "We are in the mind-set that if we win these three games, we think we will make the playoffs."

In some ways, the Giants game on Sunday night wasn't the most important game of the day for the Giants. Sure a win would have put them in a three-way tie for first place in the division and given them a tiebreaking edge for the crown. But the most significant game on that day ended before the Giants even took the field. In Dallas. When the Cowboys lost to the Chargers.

That left the door open for the Giants to limp through. And they probably will. While the Giants have the Redskins, Panthers and Vikings left on their schedule, the Cowboys face the Saints on Saturday and then the Redskins and the Eagles. The Giants trail the Cowboys by one game for the final NFC wild card, but after sweeping the season series with them hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even if the Giants lose one of the last three games, if the Cowboys lose two - and it is December, remember, despite Jerry Jones' petitions to cut the calendar to 11 months - the Giants would get into the playoffs.

Think of the Giants as the Phillies trailing the Mets by two games in late September. They might as well start popping the Champagne now.

What kind of damage can a team that flops into the postseason like the Giants do? That's almost besides the point. The idea is to get into the tournament. After that (cough, cough, 2007, cough) anything can happen.

"We still have a great opportunity," Tom Coughlin said. "Our whole purpose right now is to prepare ourselves to play well against the Redskins."

The Giants also have their hot start to help them. From 1990 (when the current playoff format was introduced) to 2008, there were 31 teams that started a season 5-0. All but two of them made the playoffs (the 1993 Saints and 2003 Vikings).

The worst-case scenario for the Giants would be a flip-flop in the standings between the Eagles and the Cowboys. If the Cowboys beat the Eagles in the regular-season finale to win the division, that could drop the Eagles into a tie with the Giants for the wild card. The Eagles, of course, swept the Giants and would get into the playoffs based on that tiebreaker.

So for the next three weeks, besides worrying about their own issues, the Giants will have a happy little tune running through their heads: "Soar, Eagles, Soar!"

Their best and most likely chance for survival into January remains a Cowboys collapse. And at this point, that may seem like easy money.

"We can still make it," Osi Umenyiora said. "A couple of things have to happen, but we can still make it."

They have to be careful they don't collapse themselves, too. Twice in the last few weeks the Giants have felt as if they turned a corner with a win only to flop the following week. The amazing thing is that they are not only confident that they can still make the playoffs, but they aren't scribbling out wild mathematical formulas to prove they are still alive. It's a simple path. Win and watch the Cowboys fade.

"Once we look at it and know that statistically we still have a chance, we're just worried about focusing on this next week," Mathias Kiwanuka said. "If there's still a chance, then we're going to go out and play hard."

Does Kiwanuka believe the Giants will make the playoffs, even though they need help to get there?

"Absolutely," he said.

Hey, he's seen the Cowboys play in person twice this season. Who would know better?

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