The first two weeks of the Giants’ season aren’t two weeks. They are five days.
Because they open this Sunday and then play their second game on Thursday, they have a very fast start to their schedule. The 17-game season may be a marathon, but it starts with a sprint.
And if this season begins anything like those in recent history, well, it may also start with a stumble.
The Giants have begun the season 0-2 or worse in seven of their last eight seasons, and three times during that span they have started 0-5 or worse. None of those teams made the postseason, none of them finished with a winning record. The one exception to the slow starts came in 2016 when they began 2-0 and – imagine that! – made the playoffs.
So how they fare against Denver and Washington in the condensed initial phase of their 2021 slate is likely to tell us a lot about where they will be headed over the coming months.
Joe Judge, though, will be holding out on any early projections based on the first two games.
"To me, September is really an extension of preseason in a lot of ways," he said. "Obviously it counts toward your record in the regular season, but throughout September you’re really figuring out your team. There’s a lot of roster movement. There are guys that we’re going to have on our roster on Day One that we didn’t go through training camp with. That’s just a natural part of the National Football League."
That won’t stop the wave of statistical improbabilities that face any team that begins the season 0-2. In case you’d like to get a jump on those numbers, there have been 118 teams that started 0-2 or worse between 2007 – the year the Giants started 0-2 and won the Super Bowl – and 2020. Only 12 of those slow starters made the postseason, or about 10 percent. In six of those 14 seasons, including the last two, and including last year with an expanded playoff bracket, no team that began 0-2 made it.
Some teams are late bloomers. For about 90% of those who hold out hope to be, however, there is no bloom at all.
Where will the Giants be when their two-game barometer is over on Sept. 16, particularly if they have the same result in both games? They’ll be perceived as either NFL zombies, walking dead through the final 15 games, or one of the upstarts ready to make a run for a title. Neither, of course, will be entirely true.
"You can’t ride the emotional roller coaster," Judge said. "It’s a league of extremes, right? One week you’re the greatest thing out there, the next week you’re the worst thing out there. You’ve just got to stay committed to the process and keep pushing forward every week and do a good job every day, so that on Sunday you can have the rewards."
It would certainly be refreshing, though, if the Giants can sidestep another 0-2 start and the here-we-go-agains that accompany it. Even Judge would agree with that. He’s actually reinforced it throughout the preseason, stressing the importance of starting fast to the players.
"(It) has to be a theme in everything we do," he said. "To me, starting fast is just a mentality and an attitude about how you approach things. Showing up prepared and ready to go and then executing when your number is called."
He noted that he is referring to meetings and practices and individual games. As for starting fast in seasons, that will follow naturally if the Giants can achieve their out-of-the gate goals on a smaller scale.
"To me, you’re never a final product to begin with, especially not early in the year," Judge said. "It’s about going out there, having good fundamentals, giving yourself a chance with execution and operating in the situations."
And, if possible, not having the optimism of the opening of the season crushed in the first five days.