The "ifs" have changed direction.
Just a week ago, the Giants were heading toward the playoffs. If they won, if other teams lost, if scenarios played out . . .
Now? Those ifs are pointing toward elimination. And they seem less like "ifs'' than matters of when.
A week after playing what might have been their last meaningful game of the season and losing to the Cowboys, the Giants could be virtually eliminated from a chance to win the NFC East title Sunday. With Dallas winning on Thursday, if the Eagles beat the Chargers Sunday, the Giants will need to beat the Redskins Sunday night to stay mathematically viable.
An Eagles win and a Giants loss would put the Giants three games behind both Philadelphia and Dallas with four to play. In that case, the only way the Giants could win the title would be to win their last four games and have both first-place teams lose three in a row . . . before tying each other in the regular-season finale.
The Redskins have it a little worse. After Dallas' win, they're on the brink of elimination. A loss and they're done.
Sunday's meeting of the last two division champs was supposed to have some bearing on playoff positions. Instead, the Giants are 4-7 and the Redskins are 3-8. It's not a game about seedings; it's a game about not ceding.
Robert Griffin III said his team isn't going to quit. Antrel Rolle said his team won't quit, either. For most of the week, neither team quit talking about not quitting.
And with good reason. For the Giants, they're looking at this as a division game and a chance to send a message that might reverberate into the 2014 season. It's also an opportunity to end the season on a decidedly brighter tone than it began, with six straight losses.
"It's definitely important, just for our own belief," Victor Cruz said. "We understand we can do it, we understand we can win these games, but we have to go out there and do it in order to keep our belief high, keep our faith high and keep our energy high. I think we're going to go out Sunday night and put our best game forward and really surprise some people."
Down in Washington, meanwhile, they're playing for things a bit more concrete than abstract: their jobs.
"When you play, you're paid to do a job, and everybody's fighting for their jobs," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "Regardless of what your record is, especially if your record is [poor], everybody wants to finish the season strong and show people what type of character they have and hopefully finish up the season the right way."
From the time they fell to 0-6, the Giants realized these days were coming. All they could do was put them off for as long as possible. With a four-game winning streak, they were able to prolong their relevance. They could stay within reach of their goals.
It wasn't the loss to the Cowboys last week that doomed them but the first half-dozen defeats that set them on their tightrope journey across the final 10 games without a net.
In all probability, the Giants will wind up going splat. But if they can grab a few wins on the way down -- starting with Sunday night -- it might slow their plummet enough to soften the inevitable crash landing just a bit.