One way or another, the dichotomy of the 2020 Giants season will resolve itself on Sunday.
It’s been a year of two conflicting narratives pulling in opposite directions. The first was the reality of a team that started with five straight losses, was 1-7, and has already lost 10 of its 15 games played. There was never a time when they came close to having a winning record and there were only a handful of games in which they looked even competent on the field for an entire contest. For the most part they couldn’t score points and couldn’t close out games when they did manage to find themselves with a late lead. They were, by just about every football metric, a bad team.
But there was always a lifejacket that kept them afloat and buoyed their spirits… even if the head coach and players often chose to ignore it. That was the historically awful state of the NFC East. Because no matter how poorly the Giants played, how low their record plummeted, and how close they seemed to being knocked out, they could always count on the rest of the division to flounder just as badly as they did. They remained in contention the entire season, through no fault of their own.
And now, on Sunday, those two distinct paths will meet and only one will continue. The Giants’ regular season can conclude with anything from a division championship and postseason berth that includes a home playoff game with a win and some help to the potential third overall pick in the upcoming draft with a loss and, well, some help. It makes it impossible, after 15 games, to neatly wrap the season up in a single sentence or a pass/fail grade with a nice bow on it and start projecting what may or may not happen in the offseason, which is what usually happens at this time of year to teams with 5-10 records.
The great irony, of course, is that the Giants now find themselves in a position to achieve Joe Judge’s stated objective for the season and still may have to clean out their lockers next Monday. They can play their best game of the year, put it all together offensively and defensively, and trounce the Cowboys on Sunday, punctuating a season of growth and development by acing the final exam, but if Washington can beat Philadelphia later in the day they’ll finish in second place. To get to the playoffs, the Giants need to beat the Cowboys and have the eliminated Eagles beat Washington. That would mean a three-way tie atop the standings at 6-10 with the Giants claiming the playoff ticket by way of their 4-2 record in the division.
The Giants would be the first team to ever start a season 1-7 and make the postseason. They would be jus the third team with a losing record to make it – as any of the remaining contenders will be – and, if they get in with 10 losses, would have the worst record of any playoff team ever. Double-digit wins is normally a strong barometer for success in the NFL and an indicator that a team is a contender. Double-digit losses would be entirely new territory for the postseason.
For now, three teams remain alive heading into Week 17, and a season in which no team has been able to win enough games to seize control of the standing will need someone to actually win to achieve first place. There will be no backing in for whoever winds up coming out on top, whether it be Washington (which is the only team that controls its own destiny), Dallas or the Giants.
How it all plays out remains to be seen. Which Giants objectives are met and which prove unreachable will not be resolved for another week. The duel between the micro and macro realities of the 2020 Giants has been fought all season long.
On Sunday, one of them will come away victorious. Just as in the NFC East itself, where someone has to win.