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Giants know no game is meaningless

Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York

Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants walks on the field during warm ups prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 14, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jeff Zelevansky

The Giants won't just be welcoming the Eagles to MetLife Stadium Sunday. They'll be welcoming them to their world.

It's a universe in which teams play games late in the season for nothing more than the game itself. No playoff contention. No seeding. No scoreboard-watching or destiny-controlling.

That's where the Giants have spent the last two Decembers, lumbering through the final stages of each season in what the outside world calls meaningless games while the inside world desperately tries to find meaning.

This will be the eighth game in the last two seasons that fits those characteristics for the Giants. Eight out of 32. One full quarter of the games scheduled.

For the Eagles, it will be their first time in that same span, having won the division last season and having spent most of this one on top of it. So not only should the Giants have the home-field advantage Sunday, they should have a psychological one. They know how to play without hope in the immediate, without a bigger goal for the season. In those previous seven "meaningless" games the last two years, the Giants went 5-2.

"Because every week, it is consistently about improvement," coach Tom Coughlin said when asked how he has been able to get his team to play with purpose despite the lack of a postseason carrot. "It's about pride. It's about who we are. It's about our team. It's about trying to be the best that we can be as individuals and teammates. It's about representing your franchise to the best of your ability. It's about doing it for the guy next to you, all of those things. We preach all of that."

It's much easier to accept "all of that" when it comes gradually, when the players have time to shake off their dreams and splash their faces with reality.

The Eagles? Two weeks ago, they were in first place and thinking of themselves as Super Bowl contenders. They probably thought this game would be meaningless because they already would have clinched everything, not because they have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Ah, but this is not foreign to every Eagles player. Quarterback Mark Sanchez played out the string a few times with the Jets. He knows how hard it can be, which is why he challenged his teammates to "be a professional about it."

Sanchez said it would be easy to go in the other direction.

"[You have to] work the same way, study the same way and fight that temptation to want to just throw one in the bag and just kinda let it go, see what happens and coast through the week," he said. "You've got Christmas, all those other things, you've got to fight that temptation because that would be the natural thing to do as the season didn't turn out the way we wanted."

While the Giants have had success while being unsuccessful, their only two post-elimination losses in the last two seasons have come right on the heels of their hopes being extinguished. Last year they were shut out by the Seahawks, this year they blew a 21-0 lead over the Jaguars.

It takes time to adjust to the new mind-set.

That's where the Eagles are now.

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