Quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants has stressed...

Quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants has stressed that he and his teammates can't take the 0-11 Cleveland Browns lightly. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Giants were guaranteed to leave Sunday night’s game against the Cowboys in control of a wildcard spot with three games remaining in the regular season no matter the outcome. But results throughout the day on Sunday before they even took the field made the game much more imperative to their playoff chances when the regular season ends.

The biggest game of the year got bigger.

There were five games the Giants, 8-4 entering the weekend, were keeping an eye on Sunday. All five of the teams the Giants were hoping would lose wound up winning. The Bucs and Falcons each won their eighth game while the Redskins, Vikings and Packers all won their seventh of the year.

That left the Giants needing a victory last night against Dallas to keep the competition at arm’s length. A Giants loss against the Cowboys would not only allow them to clinch the NFC East title and a first-round bye in the playoffs (thanks to Seattle’s loss), but leave the Giants in the final wildcard spot with head-to-head losses against the three teams that trail them by just one game.

The Giants have the toughest remaining schedule among the playoff contenders in the NFC, finishing their slate against the NFC North-leading Lions at MetLife Stadium next week then the Eagles and Redskins on the road.

JPP pitches in

Jason Pierre-Paul may not have been able to help in the game, but he was on the field for the warmups and delivered a fiery pregame speech to the team.

Dressed in street clothes and a winter coat, JPP stood in the middle of the team and delivered his address.

Pierre-Paul had surgery to repair a sports hernia on Wednesday. He’s expected to miss 4-6 weeks, meaning the Giants would have to get deep into the playoffs to give him a chance to return this season.

Giant steps

Snow fell steadily during pregame warmups that began about two and a half hours before kickoff, and the players had to dodge a tractor dragging accumulating snow off the field while they ran routes and stretched. By the time the game started, though, the snow had stopped, the field was mostly cleared. Temperature at kickoff was 32 degrees . . . Giants LG Justin Pugh (knee) was inactive for a fifth straight game. Marshall Newhouse started in his place for the second straight week . . . RB Shane Vereen, added to the 53-man roster from injured reserve on Saturday, played last night for the first time since Week 3 . . . Former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera served as honorary captain for the Giants.

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